European Ryder Cup dark horses

Rory McIlroy may be world number one but there are a number of unsung heroes in the team, writes Andrew Binner.

    European Ryder Cup dark horses
    This will be Graeme McDowell’s third Ryder Cup, making him one of the most experienced players in the team [EPA]

    As the excitement builds around this week’s Ryder Cup showdown at the Medinah Country Club near Chicago, much of the attention on the European side will be focused on Rory McIlroy.

    It is hardly surprising given that the Northern Irish star, who has already had to deny allegations that he intimidates Tiger Woods this week, is currently ranked the number one golfer in the world.

    However with so much talent and experience in his European teammates, Al Jazeera takes a look at who the unsung heroes are likely to be.

    Graeme McDowell: Age 33, Nat: N. Ireland, Wld Rank: 18, Majors: 1, Tour wins: 10

    Many will forget that it was the heroic performance of McIlroy’s fellow Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell (who will be expected to play together in the pairs) in beating Hunter Mahan to clinch the European team’s victory at Celtic Manor two years ago.

    The 33-year-old clearly enjoys the unique team aspect and thrives on the matchplay format (where holes won are recorded instead of strokes played), saying “It’s the most fun event we get to play and I was motivated to be on Jose Maria Olazabal’s team.”

    Sergio Garcia: Age 32, Nat: Spain, Wld Rank:19, Majors: 0 (runner up twice), Tour wins: 24

    Ryder Cup teams are picked for their combinations and ability to play team golf as much as any individual talent.

    Take, for example, Sergio Garcia.

    The Spaniard has long been considered one of the finest players in the game not to win a major, yet he is one of the most experienced Ryder Cup campaigners on the team. He missed the European victory two years ago but his presence this time round will serve as a big boost for both his captain Olazabal and the rest of his team as they will look to draw upon his experience.

    Garcia won the Wyndham Championship in North Carolina last month and looked on course for back-to-back victories on the US Tour, until a poor final round at the Barclays Classic meant he had to be content with a share of third place. The Spaniard is most likely to play with Luke Donald or Lee Westwood, both of whom he has experienced success with in the past.

    Nicolas Colsaerts: Age 29, Nat: Belgium, Wld Rank: 35, Majors: 0, Tour wins 9

    Rookie Nicolas Colsaerts, left, was a surprise selection by European skipper Jose Maria Olazabal [Reuters]

    The omission of triple-major winner Padraig Harrington from Olazabal’s side will come as a surprise to some, but the captain chose form ahead of reputation in his two wildcard selections. The Spaniard chose Belgian rookie Nicolas Colsaerts and Englishman Ian Poulter as both were ahead of Harrington in the world rankings.

    The laid back Colsaerts is the team's self-confessed 'cool dude'.

    Even so he admitted to feeling nerves until he was summoned to the captain's room at the Gleneagles Hotel after the qualifying period closed on the Sunday night.

    Whether his inexperience proves to help or hinder him in one of golf’s most intense competitions remains to be seen.

    The key word in both team meetings this week will be “momentum”. It is a proven formula of Ryder Cup golf that one team member’s performance affects the rest of the team. Good form is infectious and every player is focused on not letting his side down.

    As the European team touched down this week in Chicago their American counterparts have moved to quickly unsettle them and gain the early initiative.

    Ask any member of Europe’s victorious 2010 team and they will tell you that the home crowd in Wales spurred them on to claim victory in the very close matches.

    Equally USA captain Davis Love III has claimed that Europe’s players may struggle as “Chicago is an incredible sports town and the fans are going to be fired up. The first tee could be the loudest any of these guys have ever seen.”

    Whilst Jose Maria Olazabal admits that it is “these little things that help”, his side should be immune to such early mind-games as his side contains seven players who have tasted victory in the Ryder Cup on American soil: Luke Donald, Sergio Garcia, Paul Lawrie, Graeme McDowell, Ian Poulter, Justin Rose and Lee Westwood.

    Meanwhile Rory McIlroy and Martin Kaymer have both won Major Championships on the other side of the Atlantic so there will be nothing the players haven’t experienced before in terms of pressure.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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