The biggest name in golf may not be there, but the sports’ biggest event is not lacking for anticipation ahead of the first tee shot on Friday morning. The 40th Ryder Cup is primed to get underway at Scotland’s Gleneagles course, with a Tiger-less United States aiming to prevent Europe from furthering its domination in recent years
Once so dominant in the competition that in 1977 Jack Nicklaus recommended that the United Kingdom and Ireland expand their team to the continent in order to make it more of a contest, the U.S. has now lost five of the last six biennial events to its rivals across the Atlantic. The defeat on home soil in Chicago two years ago was surely the most painful of them all. Its tagging of the “Meltdown at Medinah” by Americans and the “Miracle at Medinah” by Europeans speaks volumes for the contrasting emptions after Europe came back from 10-6 down on the final day.
The accusation has long been that the U.S., despite usually having the higher-ranked players, has failed to match the team unity of the Europeans. The greatest player of his generation, Tiger Woods, has long been seen as a symbol for that perceived individualism, with his impressive record in singles contrasted by his meager returns in the fourballs and foursomes that make up the first two days of competition. It is why the absence through injury of a man with 14 majors to his name is being viewed by some as a blessing in disguise.
This time around, having not lost at home in 20 years and with a team that comprises four of the world’s top six ranked players, it is Europe, captained by Irishman Paul McGinley, that head into the event as favorites. And it is they that, following the declining fortunes and fitness of Woods, have the world’s outstanding golfer. Rory McIlroy is coming in off the back of a sensational summer in which he won both the Open Championship and the PGA Championship to set himself apart as the best around.
The U.S. will be hoping that it is now they that can harness the battling underdog spirit. The team is certainly keen to portray a sense of unity, with Rickie Fowler having “USA” shaven into the side of his head and veteran talisman Phil Mickelson taking a light-hearted swipe at McIlroy when asked about the ability of the Americans to play together. “Not only are we able to play together, we also don't litigate against each other. That's a real plus I feel,” he said in the buildup to the event, in reference to McIlroy being involved with a lawsuit with his former management company, which just so happens to represent teammate Graeme McDowell.
Tom Watson, who is back for a rare second time in the role of captain after becoming the last man to lead the U.S. to victory away from home, has suggested that he plans to target four-time major winner McIlroy as well as the man who led the fight back at Medinah, Ian Poulter.
“When you beat the stud on the other side, it gives a boost to your team,” he said. “Basically all you have to do is win a point and a half for the entire matches, and you win The Ryder Cup. That's the bottom line. That's what I'm telling my players. We've got a lot of players to look at. But Poulter, I think Ian with his record, he's an 80 percent victor over the series of matches he's played in. We'd like to reduce that.”
It is perhaps no surprise then that the opening day will see a blockbuster clash featuring McIlroy and world No. 3 Sergio Garcia against arguably the USA’s top partnership and one that won all three of its matches two years ago, Mickelson and 2011 PGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley. It all gets underway on Friday at 7.35 a.m. local time with the opening fourball before the afternoon foursomes. The same schedule applies on Friday, with the event culminating with 12 singles matches on Sunday.
Friday fourball pairings and tee times
Match 1 (2.35 a.m. EDT): Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson Vs. Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson
Match 2 (2.50 a.m.): Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker Vs. Thomas Bjorn and Martin Kaymer
Match 3 (3.05 a.m.): Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed VS. Stephen Gallacher and Ian Poulter
Match 4 (3.20 a.m.): Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson Vs. Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy
Friday foursomes tee times
Match 1: 8.15 a.m.
Match 2: 8.30 a.m.
Match 3: 8.45 a.m.
Match 4: 9 a.m.
TV channel: Golf Channel
Live Stream: Golf Live Extra