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39th Ryder Cup Preview

By Jim Brighters, Senior Golf Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Two years is just too long to wait anymore.

Obviously, that time period won't change, but the Ryder Cup has become such a huge event that making us, and the players and captains, endure 24 months between matches is becoming cruel.

The wait is over. It is Ryder Cup week.

Players, some very high on the leaderboard, fielded questions about the Ryder Cup over the weekend at the Tour Championship.

Think of the magnitude of the Ryder Cup like this - players like Justin Rose, or Brandt Snedeker, co-leaders after three rounds of the Tour Championship, were asked about the Ryder Cup when there was one round to go in an event, that is the crown jewel of the PGA Tour and would afford someone a $10 million check after it was over.

Certainly, those players, especially Tiger Woods, pooh-poohed Ryder Cup talk most of last week, but isn't it imaginable that players like Lee Westwood, Phil Mickelson or Sergio Garcia, all at the bottom of the leaderboard at East Lake, were letting their minds wander to Medinah?

Who are we kidding? Garcia's been thinking Ryder Cup for four years. He didn't make the European team in 2010, but he added the Wyndham Championship to his schedule to try and make the team on points. Garcia won it, made the team and the Euros will have the heart and soul back.

This European team, however, belongs to Rory McIlroy. The undisputed No. 1 player in the sport didn't have a great Ryder Cup debut two years ago in Wales, but he's a different player now.

For starters, he's romped to two major titles since the '10 Ryder Cup, but his play of late has been nothing short of remarkable. He won two Playoffs events and is on fire as he heads to Medinah.

McIlroy isn't the only European in fine form.

Since the PGA Championship, which McIlroy won by a mile, Garcia, Paul Lawrie, and Peter Hanson have won a tournament. Justin Rose finished second at the Tour Championship. That's a significant portion of the team that is riding momentum into the Ryder Cup.

The other members of Jose Maria Olazabal's team aren't bums.

Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer have all spent time at No. 1 in the world rankings since the last Ryder Cup.

Graeme McDowell played in the final group on Sunday in two majors.

Francesco Molinari won earlier this season and had a pair of runner-ups as well.

The captain's picks were locks for weeks before Olazabal's official announcement. Ian Poulter has a sterling Ryder Cup record and is one of those European bulldogs who eats, sleeps and lives Ryder Cup.

Nicolas Colsaerts is something of an unknown to American fans. Here's what you need to know - he's freakishly long. Think Bubba/Dustin Johnson long.

That is a strong team that is in form. The Europeans have won three of the last four Ryder Cups, although the U.S. did win the last time on home soil and Love's team is pretty stout.

Woods is about as close to his old form as he can be. Last time at Celtic Manor, Woods was one of Corey Pavin's picks, but this time around he comfortably made the team on points.

So did Phil Mickelson, who will be on his ninth team, which is a U.S. record. He's 42, battling arthritis and will be playing his eighth week out of the last 11. The days of Mickelson in all five sessions are over.

The first two major winners of the year, Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson, will be counted on very heavily. Dollars to donuts, they will play together. They were quite a formidable pair in Australia last fall at The Presidents Cup, but that's a different animal. Watson looked tight in Wales two years ago.

Solid hands like Matt Kuchar, Zach Johnson and rookies Keegan Bradley and Jason Dufner rounded out the automatic eight qualifiers. Love completed the team with two veterans, Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk, and two hot players, Dustin Johnson and Snedeker.

Love has four rookies on his team and their success is vital if the U.S. has any chance. That group is headlined by the FedExCup champion, Snedeker. He is playing spectacular golf at the moment and has to be riding a high from that $10 million check.

Simpson, Dufner, Bradley and Snedeker each bring their own niche to this squad.

Simpson is tough and a great counterpart to Watson's style. Dufner may not be unflappable, but he sure looks it. Bradley will be a huge key for the Americans. His enthusiasm will rile up the galleries and may agitate the Europeans. And if Snedeker isn't the best putter in the world, I'll need proof to the contrary.

The rookies aren't the only ones who hold the Americans' chances in their hands. Kuchar, Watson and the 2 Johnsons will need to play better than they have recently, although Dustin Johnson's form is not a worry.

If guys like Lawrie, Hanson, Kaymer and Molinari show up at Medinah in form, the U.S. will need to offset those men. If that quartet somehow has a big Ryder Cup, the Americans may have no chance.

This sets up as a pretty even Ryder Cup. The stars will play like stars, so it really will come down to the middle of the lineup. If the inexperienced and out of form Americans show up and perform, this could once again come down the anchor match on Sunday like it did in Wales.

Problem is, it just doesn't look likely to happen.

This European side is playing so well right now. If just McIlroy had stomped the competition leading up to this week at Medinah, that would be manageable. But with Hanson, Lawrie, Garcia and Rose in such great shape, how can we expect anything less than great play from them?

Momentum is a huge force in the Ryder Cup. When Paul Azinger successfully changed the qualification process for the American side, getting four picks was a must. He wanted to get the players playing best at the time of the matches.

Love did fine with that, taking Snedeker and Dustin Johnson. But none of the Americans won leading up to the Ryder Cup.

That momentum is huge and that's why Europe is the favorite. It'll be close, but those bottom-lineup guys for Europe will make the difference.

09/24 11:40:52 ET


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