Europe out to regain title and other talking points ahead of the Ryder Cup

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Europe take on United States in the Ryder Cup at Le Golf National in Paris on Thursday, bidding to regain the trophy lost at Hazeltine in 2016.

Here, we look at five talking points ahead of the biennial contest.

Can Europe overcome a dominant American side?

The American team has been utterly dominant in recent years, winning Ryder Cup, Solheim Cup, Presidents Cup, Walker Cup and Curtis Cup.

Americans have won six out of the last eight majors and are brimming with talent heading to the French capital this weekend. But Europe have superstars of their own in Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy, and are desperate for revenge after a crushing defeat at Hazeltine two years ago.

Europe lost the opening foursomes 4-0 and were eventually beaten 17-11 in a disappointing weekend. Only four members of that team will compete in Paris, and Thomas Bjorn will need these experienced players to step up against a strong American team containing just three rookies, one of whom is a major winner and a former World No1 in Justin Thomas.

Will home advantage help?

America have not won on European soil since 1993 but come into this edition of the tournament with possibly one of their strongest ever teams.

However, the course Le Golf National, which has hosted the French Open since 1991, could prove central to the home side’s chances.

Remarkably, Tyrrell Hatton is the only European player without a top-10 finish in the event, although he finished 12th in 2015.

Alex Noren and Tommy Fleetwood are the last two winners of the French Open, while Ian Poulter has never missed the cut in 13 appearances. In contrast, Thomas is the only American player to compete at Le Golf National, finishing a tie for eighth in June.

How will the European rookies fare?

It was a mixed showing for the six rookies two years ago at Hazeltine where Thomas Pieter and Rafa Carbera Bello shone, but Matt Fitzpatrick, Chris Wood, Danny Willett and Andy Sullivan managed to win just one point between them.

With five rookies in his team this year, Thomas Bjorn will be hoping for more promise and consistency than the 2016 edition, especially with European No1 Tommy Fleetwood and World No7 Jon Rahm in fine fettle of late.

Alex Noren, Thorbjorn Olesen and Tyrell Hatton are three seriously talented players on their day, but the pressure of Ryder Cup golf is like no other, and success and class on an individual level is no guarantee in a high pressure team environment.

Did both captains get their selections correct?

Furyk undoubtedly got his selections spot on, but there was much scrutiny over Bjorn’s wildcard choices.

His inclusion of Sergio Garcia raised many eyebrows, with the Spaniard missing all four cuts in this year’s majors and no top-10 finishes since the French Open three months ago.

Although the 38-year-old has the experience of competing in eight Ryder Cups, his loss of form may prove costly, given the talent of players like Matt Wallace, Cabrera-Bello and Pieters who did more than enough in recent months to warrant a wildcard.

Experience over form is a huge gamble, one that could hinder Europe’s chances of winning the title.

How much of an impact can Tiger Woods have?

The American is returning to the Ryder Cup after a six-year absence and is sure to dominate the headlines for the weekend.

The 42-year-old has been in influential form this season, with his first PGA Tour win in over five years at East Lake on Sunday and five top-six finishes, including second place at the Open Championship last month.

But as the biggest individual draw in sport, Woods’ presence, on field persona, experience and sheer magic around the greens is sure to inspire Jim Furyk’s side as they go in search of back-to-back titles.

Should Woods perform well in a victorious American team this weekend, all the focus will shift to the Masters next April where he will attempt to secure a 15th major title.

The only question mark is his feeble 49 per cent success record at Ryder Cups, which includes 17 defeats in 33 matches.

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Ryder Cup 2018: Meet Thomas Bjorn's European team

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Europe will attempt to regain the Ryder Cup when they face the United States in Paris this week.

Here, we take a look at the 12 players in captain Thomas Bjorn’s team for the biennial contest at Le Golf National which gets underway on Friday.

RORY MCILROY: The four-time major winner won three matches with Thomas Pieters at Hazeltine but was beaten in a thrilling singles contest with Patrick Reed. Has the ability to light up the big stage, but has not tasted major success since 2014. Still remains Europe’s leading light.

IAN POULTER: The 2016 vice-captain has been in blistering form this season, finishing second at the Players Championship and winning the Houston Open – his first win in nearly six years. Has the experience and confidence to be a seminal part of the side.

HENRIK STENSON: The Swede clinched his first major title at the Open Championship in 2016 and won silver at the Rio Olympics. His elbow injury could be a concern but the 42-year-old is undoubtedly one of Bjorn’s key men having played in two Ryder Cup winning teams.

PAUL CASEY: The venerable Englishman won his first PGA Tour title since 2009 in the Valspar Championship in March, finishing one shot clear of Tiger Woods. Boasts an impeccable match play record with victory at Wentworth in 2006 and twice a runner-up in the WGC Match Play.

THORBJORN OLESEN: A rocksolid presence on the European Tour, the 28-year-old Dane clinched a win at the Italian Open in June and followed it up with four top-six finishes. Sealed his spot with a T20 finish in the final qualifying event at Silkeborg earlier this month.

TOMMY FLEETWOOD: The Englishman opened his year with a superb win at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship and has looked sublime since. His record-equalling round of 63 to finish a shot behind Brooks Koepka at the US Open is among his stand-out displays this season.

JON RAHM: Clinched victories at the CareerBuilder Challenge and Spanish Open as well as top-four finishes at the Masters and PGA Championship. His fifth place at the French Open shows he has form around the greens at Le Golf National. Will be one of the stars Bjorn will be looking to for inspiration.

SERGIO GARCIA: The ironman of so many great Ryder Cup moments has missed eight cuts this season and enters the biennial event lacking in form and confidence. His only top-10 since March came at Le Golf National, but it is hoped he can rediscover his form this weekend.

TYRRELL HATTON: Two top-three finishes early this year effectively secured his place on the team. Finished sixth in the US Open and 10th in the PGA Championship. But it was his final round 64 in New Jersey four weeks ago that stole the headlines, with a putter he bought in a local shop the night before the tournament.

ALEX NOREN: The Swede lost a play-off to Jason Day in the Farmers Insurance Open in January and also reached the semi-finals of the WGC-Dell Match Play. He sealed his spot on the team by coming from seven-shots behind to win the French Open in July.

FRANCESCO MOLINARI: The Italian has never been on a losing Ryder Cup team. Although he failed to win any of his six singles matches, he has taken his game to a different level in 2018, with three tournament wins, including a first major at the Open Championship.

JUSTIN ROSE: Played all five matches in each of the last three Ryder Cups. Hands down Europe’s most dangerous player on current form, with back-to-back runner-up finishes in the FedEx Cup play-offs and a T4 finish at the recent Tour Championship.

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Thick rough was more intimidating than Tiger Woods' comeback, claims Rory McIlroy

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Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy insists he was more intimidated by the penal rough than Tiger Woods’ stunning comeback win at the Tour Championship.

The 29-year-old began the final day at East Lake three shots behind the 14-time major winner but fell away after some poor driving saw him finish six behind.

McIlroy knew what the inference was when asked whether he was intimidated but he expertly avoided the question.

“That East Lake rough was really tough. That was the most intimidating thing about it,” he said ahead of his fifth Ryder Cup appearance at Le Golf National this week. “I didn’t have a good view from the trees so I could not see what was happening that much.

“This week he is one of 12. We’re not looking to beat any one individual and to focus on one player is silly, especially as I might not even see him this week.

“I don’t want to speculate how he’s going to play or how he’s going to do but it’s given their team some momentum coming over here. But we’re looking to beat the USA team not Tiger Woods.”

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