Saturday, 9 October 2010

Europe Expects but America’s Sleeping Tiger is Ready to Pounce

The great and the good of European golf head to Wales’ maiden Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor this weekend with a quiet sense of optimism.

For the past year European golf has been on a high with five players ranked in the world’s top ten players and recent Major Championship victories for Martin Kaymer (USPGA) and Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell (US open). The array of talent on offer to European Captain, Colin Montgomerie, was so strong that he even had the luxury of overlooking world number seven, Paul Casey, for one of his three wild card picks.

However, expectations of a European whitewash should be tempered. Memories of 2008 are still fresh where at Valhalla, Kentucky Europe also started as heavy favourites. Then after a weekend that began with farce, when captain Nick Faldo mistakenly leaked his foursome pairings and ended in disaster, Europe were soundly beaten 16 ½ - 11 ½.

This time round the Americans are on paper slightly stronger than two years ago. They have five of the world’s top ten in their twelve-man squad and have Tiger Woods back after he missed Valhalla due to a knee injury (apparently induced by a wonky swing, although which one we’ll never know).

Woods’ absence from the game following his well publicised crash into a fire hydrant last November, allied to his poor form since his return to the game earlier this year meant that he had to rely on a wildcard pick from American Captain, Corey Pavin, to qualify. Despite his poor form Pavin insists he had no second thoughts on picking the man still officially ranked as the world’s best:

"I have always wanted to have him on the team but I want guys that are playing well and he's starting to play well. I am glad to have him.

"He is the number one player in the world and when Tiger's on his game, he is the best."

There are also a few concerns for the Europeans over the relative inexperience of their side in previous Ryder Cups, with six rookies and only 25 previous appearances in their squad compared to America’s 32, and a recent injury to their leading player Lee Westwood.

However, the most exciting aspect of the Ryder Cup is that all the statistical analysis and conjecture prior to tee-off is normally pretty redundant. The Ryder Cup is full of surprises. For years the USA had a far superior team on paper but Europe always ran them close or even beat them convincingly as in 2002, 2004 and 2006. These results were put down to a better team spirit within the European camp. Yet, last time round with the roles reversed, the Americans won.

It is this mixture of unpredictability, passion and tension that has made the Ryder Cup by far the most watched and anticipated golf tournament. It is where golf not only becomes a team sport but a continental sport. Where a partisan crowd is encouraged. Where any of the 24 players can play horribly for two days but still hold the winning putt on the Sunday. Where for one weekend, We Are All European! And, most importantly, where even non-golf fans watch golf.

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