Punch Shot: Predictions for 41st Ryder Cup

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CHASKA, Minn. – We’re on the eve of the 41st Ryder Cup, where Europe is looking to win for a record fourth consecutive time. The red, white and blue are just hoping to stop the bleeding and would love to do so on home soil.

With that, our team at Hazeltine weighs in with answers to three questions.

WHO WILL BE THE MAN OF THE MATCH?

Rex Hoggard: Dustin Johnson. Expectations at the Ryder Cup are always tough to fulfill, but it is difficult to imagine how DJ doesn’t emerge as the U.S. team’s man of the match. No one has the ability to overpower courses, particularly sprawling courses like Hazeltine National, and compartmentalize setbacks better than DJ, which might be the best recipe for match-play success.

Randall Mell: Patrick Reed. The American will thrive wearing red, white and blue again, but this time he won’t be admonishing the crowd to be silent like he did at Gleneagles. He’ll be exhorting the home crowd to make a lot of noise. He’ll be giving them reason to do so as he further develops his image as the American Ian Poulter.

Ryan Lavner: Patrick Reed. Pumping his fist, shushing the crowd, he went 3-0-1 in a road Ryder Cup. He was so fired up Thursday that he was practically bouncing in his seat. Reed and Jordan Spieth will have the biggest target on their backs for the Americans, but that’s a spot both relish. Reed has played some terrific golf this season, and there’s no reason to expect any different in the event he loves most.

Jay Coffin: Rory McIlroy. He’s riding high after that huge payday last Sunday and will play lights-out for three days. Sure, his putting was spotty at the BMW Championship, but it’s the Ryder Cup and I expect to see his top form with every club in the bag. If Europe has any hope, Rory has to be its top dog.

WHO WILL BE A SURPRISE STAR?

Hoggard: Ryan Moore. He may have been a last-minute edition to the team and something of an unknown element to fans and even a few members of the U.S. team, but Moore will emerge from the 41st matches as the American team’s surprise star. He’s neither flashy nor powerful, but Moore enjoys that unknown quality that makes for a truly special match play and Ryder Cup player.

Mell: Thomas Pieters. Seems like everyone’s predicting stardom for this young Belgian. There’s no better place to launch that new arc to his career than in a Ryder Cup.

Lavner: Thomas Pieters. He may have been the last pick for the Europeans, but he’s still one of their best players. The big-hitting Belgian has three wins in the past year, and if given the chance by captain Darren Clarke, he’ll shine on the big stage. He has a history of giant slaying, whether it was winning the individual title at the 2012 NCAAs or providing a clinching point again at the NCAAs a year later. This kid’s the real deal and has immense skills.

Coffin: Rafael Cabrera Bello. It’s already been the most successful year of his career (he’s up to No. 30 in the world ranking) and that trend will continue here this week. At some point he’ll be paired with countryman Sergio Garcia and that Spanish Ryder Cup magic will continue just as it has the past three decades.

WHO WILL WIN?

Hoggard: United States. Europeans light up whenever someone mentions the task force, which to those from the Continent was a silly waste of time. But if the American makeover has done anything it’s given the U.S. players ownership of an event that had become a party where they never seemed entirely welcome. Despite Europe’s dominance of late, most have been decided by the slimmest of margins, and the task force will prove to be the winning edge.

Mell: United States. The Euros finally seem ripe for the taking. With the Euros on foreign soil with six Ryder Cup rookies on their roster, the Americans really are the favorites. After all the task force invested in overhauling the U.S. Ryder Cup effort, the Americans better win.

Lavner: United States. Lee Westwood said it best Thursday: “You form a task force and it doesn’t go right this week, where do you go from there?” Put simply, the Americans HAVE to win this week. They have the home crowd. They have the better team. (Don’t they always?) They have strong, confident pairings. But now comes the hard part – executing when everyone expects them to excel. Europe will keep it close, but the home crowd gives the Americans the 1 1/2-point bump they need.

Coffin: Europe. The Americans should win, they do have the better collection of players. But do they have the better team? The Americans always have more talent, but we all know how that has played out over the last two decades. Until the U.S. finally wins one, I’ll pick Europe.