THE Ryder Cup begins in Chicago tomorrow and I have to say that though I still fancy Europe to win – and I have done for some time – this is the time when all of the advantages given to the home team, this year the USA, means that there’s everything to play for.
These are the most evenly-matched sides I’ve seen for a while, but Europe are slight favourites. The atmosphere is going to be huge for the Americans but I must say that, when it was me playing, I found it easier to play away from home.
There’s greater expectancy on you at home which you don’t feel as much when you’re away. And I found that when you’re in the away team, you can use the noise of the crowd to get into your zone. When a crowd’s shouting for you it’s very easy to get distracted but when they’re shouting to the Americans you can really get yourself fired up and try to shut them up by winning the holes.
You actually want to be intimidated and you want to be angry because that can help. To my mind, there are no negatives with such an atmosphere, and therein lies another interesting element: how the Americans handle the home atmosphere. The crowd’s can turn very quickly if things are going wrong for them.
I think there are some fantastic pairings for Europe. Any two from Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, Ian Poulter, Justin Rose, Lee Westwood, Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia and would be fantastic. They largely have a good history together. For America, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods would be a particularly great pair, and one I would like to see in practice.
I’ve spoken to many of the players involved and I have to say that they’re all in great form. They’re all enjoying themselves because it’s a tournament they all adore, so they can’t wait for Friday to come around. None of them will tell you that they’re confident but you can certainly see it in them. There are no nerves at this stage but, of course, you wouldn’t see them until tomorrow anyway.
Europe’s captain, Jose Maria Olazabal, this week compared McIlroy to a prime Woods and that’s something I also can see, he’s been in fantastic form. Woods has said that if they can beat McIlroy then Europe will fold but he’s wrong; I don’t know why USA don’t learn their lesson. This is not about one player, this is about 12 men – the Americans still haven’t got it right. Woods has also spoken of how he feels largely responsible for the US’s recent poor Ryder Cup record, but you can’t do that, you can’t think of only one man.
There are a lot of observers who would like to see McIlroy and Woods go head to head, and I’m among them, I’d love that to happen. I honestly think he’d beat Woods, too.
Olazabal’s decision to feature Seve Ballesteros on all of Europe’s team bags, by the way, was excellent. It’s great that he can still be around.
SAM ON TEAM EUROPE
“Two-time Major winner and the world No1 – Rory’s the best player on our team.”
“A Ryder Cup stalwart who’s playing great and been doing a lot of work on his short game.”
“Justin’s in top form and was the runner up last week in the FedEx cup, he’s playing great.”
“No one has more fire or desire to win. Ian’s a great man to have on your side in any format.”
“A great foursomes player and one of the straightest hitters out there. Weak on the greens, though.”
“A Major winner who has Ryder Cup experience – I’m glad that he’s on our side.”
“This is Paul’s first time back in 13 years but he’s in the best form of his life. Can’t wait to watch him.”
“Martin’s a bit off form but he showed some improvement last week finishing fifth in Holland.”
“One of Europe’s best ever players, it’s great to have him back. He’s a great asset.”
“Won the Ryder Cup with the last time and played his way back this year. Not scared of anyone.”
“One of the world’s top players who lives in Chicago – could get us some home support.”
“One of the top three longest hitters in the world. A rookie, but he definitely has talent.”
SAM ON TEAM USA
“Has showed a lot of form this year but has also failed in quite a few Majors. Alway up for it.”
“Watson was this year’s Masters champion but it has to be said that his form’s not been great.”
“Won four times on tour, always seems on top form. A great pick for the USA team.”
“One of the best putters in the game but he’s 45, so his age could be interesting this week.”
“One of the strongest Americans, though his record’s not great. Great player, but beatable.”
“This year’s US Open champion. He’s a rookie, so it’ll be interesting to see how he handles that.”
“A Masters champion. One three, lost three, and tied one in his time at the Ryder Cup.”
“A very good player – one of America’s steadiest. He’s going to be tough to beat. Good putter, too.”
“He doesn’t have a great record but he won the US Open in 2003. He’s a tough competitor.”
“One of the longest hitters in both the game and the USA’s team, he’s up there with Colsaerts.”
“Won the 2011 US PGA Championship so is a Major winner. Golf genes run in his family.”
“One of the new kids on the block. I love his style and want to see how he handles the atmosphere.”