Punch Shot: Biggest question marks at Ryder Cup

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Phil Mickelson with U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson Wednesday at Gleneagles. (Getty)

There are lots of unknowns entering the 40th Ryder Cup. Who are the biggest question marks on both sides? The GolfChannel.com team on site in Gleneagles, Scotland offers its opinion.

By JASON SOBEL

Phil Mickelson is the biggest question mark for the U.S. team.

I don’t mean that as a sign of disrespect to the 10-time Ryder Cupper, but coming off a FedEx Cup playoff run during which he often spoke of his frustrations before literally vanishing overnight, there’s no telling which Mickelson will show up this week at Gleneagles.

Throughout most of the year, he looked tired – and maybe even injured at times. But this event has a way of replenishing the fuel supply, and pairing with Keegan Bradley should get him as excited as he’s been in a long time.

For the European side, the biggest question mark is Victor Dubuisson.

The Frenchman has been deemed an enigma by teammates. He’s the wildest of wildcards that we’ve seen at the Ryder Cup in a long time, which is to say that he could thrive in the match play format and become a driving force for the Europeans, but he could also just as easily flame out under the intense spotlight of a high-pressure environment.

Dubuisson certainly has the short game and flair for the dramatic necessary to succeed here, but it remains to be seen whether the rookie can triumph in this type of atmosphere.


By RANDALL MELL

It’s tempting to say any of the American rookies. You don’t know how Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed and Jimmy Walker will react under Ryder Cup pressure for the first time. It’s also tempting to say Phil Mickelson, because Lefty is the most decorated American in the Ryder Cup ranks, but given Mickelson’s struggles this year, how much do we really expect? The biggest question mark is Jim Furyk. He’s a decorated and respected American veteran who will be expected to lead. And unlike Mickelson, Furyk brings very good form to Gleneagles. Furyk’s Ryder Cup record, though, isn’t good. He’s 9-17-4. He didn’t have a good Ryder Cup at Medinah two years ago, losing a pivotal match to Sergio Garcia in singles that helped the Euros mount their epic comeback. He has won just one match over the last two American Ryder Cup losses. If Furyk turns his Ryder Cup fortunes around, will the Americans follow suit? 

On the European side, Ian Poulter is the largest question mark. With his impressive Ryder Cup record (12-3), his aura and leadership role, Poulter is a symbol of European dominance. His form has been off this year, but it doesn't matter. He still embodies the European spirit in these matches. If Poulter goes down early and hard, will the Euros follow?


By REX HOGGARD

When U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson looks at Phil Mickelson it’s still not clear whether he sees a leader or a liability.

Lefty did, after all, go undefeated in team play in 2012 at Medinah paired with Keegan Bradley and has assumed the role of elder statesman in the U.S. locker room.

But he is also the same player who failed to qualify for the Tour Championship for the first time in his Hall of Fame career this season and if not for a late push at the PGA Championship would not have earned an automatic spot on this year’s Ryder Cup team.

Perhaps an even more concerning question for European captain Paul McGinley is what to expect from Ian Poulter, the wild-eyed magician of Medinah who has earned, as many of his contemporaries figured, a lifetime exemption onto the Continent’s team with his inspired play.

But the Englishman begins his fifth Ryder Cup in perhaps the worst form of his career, posting just a single top-10 finish on the PGA Tour in 2014. There is no question that McGinley should have made Poulter one of his captain’s picks, but there will be plenty of questions when he sets out on Friday.