After an extended wait due to Covid-19, the Ryder Cup returns this week. The best men from Europe and the United States doing battle at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin.
Steve Stricker leads the U.S. team in his home state, with much of the pre-tournament focus on the ongoing feud between his charges Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka, while the host team is without Phil Mickelson or Tiger Woods for the first time since 1993.
Padraig Harrington has the reigns of Team Europe, winners of nine of the last 12 Ryder Cups, with a mix of veterans and new blood to try and maintain the Old World’s grip on the famed golden trophy.
Due to the pandemic, Europe will not have its usual boisterous supporter group on site, but never shy away from entering the biennial event as underdogs against the more fancied U.S. team.
RIGHT: The Europeans will defend after victory in France three years ago. PHOTO: ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP via Getty Images.
DEFENDING CHAMPIONS: Team Europe produced an emphatic win in 2018 at Le Golf National outside Paris. Thomas Bjorn’s team victors by a 17½–10½ margin over Jim Furyk’s men.
COURSE: Lying on the banks of Lake Michigan, Whistling Straits opened for play in 1998 following significant earth moving work under the watchful eye of designers Pete and Alice Dye.
Windswept terrain and an almost unlimited budget saw the design team create a links-style layout with the aim of replicating the courses found in Ireland and the United Kingdom, with high praise coming for the par-71 during all three PGA Championships held at the venue.
Weather will play its role this week, while reports from on the ground indicate the rough has been cut short and fairway lines widened at the request of U.S. captain Stricker to suit his long driving team.
Although some matches won’t reach the final two holes, those which do are sure to see thrilling conclusions across the 204 metre par-3 17th hole lying on a cliff edge, followed by the 471 metre par-4 last named ‘Dyeabolical’.
Dustin Johnson famously threw away his first major in 2010 at the 18th when grounding his club in a hazard.
FORMAT: This year the teams will contest four foursomes (alternate shot) matches in the morning on Friday and Saturday, before the same number of fourball (better ball) matches in the afternoon both days. The event will conclude with 12 singles matches on Sunday.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: On the European side, it is hard to go past World No.1 Jon Rahm as a yardstick for the team’s performance.
Rahm’s form has been unequalled in 2021 despite winning only once at the U.S. Open, and his passionate persona and powerful game suit this event perfectly.
Rahm made his Cup debut in 2018, finishing the week with a 1-2-0 record, his lone win coming over Tiger Woods in singles.
Rory McIlroy has become an unquestioned on course leader for Europe, and his respect for Padraig Harrington will only enhance his value to the defending champions.
The former World No.1 hasn’t had his best year by any stretch, but with a 11-9-4 record at the Ryder Cup will be one to keep a close eye on this week.
A veteran and rookie round out the players to watch in Harrington’s side.
Norway earns its first representative in the form of Viktor Hovland a former U.S. Amateur champion and emerging star of the world game. Hovland has never faced anything like a Ryder Cup on enemy territory and how he and his fellow rookies stand up to that pressure will be important for Europe’s hopes.
It is almost impossible to imagine the Ryder Cup in the modern era without Ian Poulter nicknamed ‘The Postman’ for always delivering.
Poulter’s career will forever be linked to the Ryder Cup, and with his 14-6-2 record is to be feared by the Americans despite his 45 years of age.
For Stricker, Patrick Cantlay is one of the most important debutants in recent memory.
Cantlay’s recent form closing out the PGA Tour season was phenomenal, and he will arrive full of confidence. The 29-year-old also claimed three points for Tiger Woods on Presidents Cup debut at Royal Melbourne in 2019.
Justin Thomas has become a real gun slinger in team events for the United States and will once again be a focal point for the team’s performance this week.
From his only appearance in this event, the Kentuckian went 4-1-0 and played a big part in the American victory at the Presidents Cup two years ago.
Thomas is grouped in a pod of players with good friend Jordan Spieth, the pair a likely partnership that will worry Harrington and Europe.
Most important however for Stricker will be the performance of duelling pair Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau.
The duo are almost certain to not appear as a partnership this week due to their long running feud and being placed in different pods, but the effect of their strained relationship on the team chemistry could have a significant impact on the eventual result.
Beyond the differences, Koepka arrives after reinjuring his wrist when hitting a tree root at the Tour Championship, while DeChambeau’s decision to enter a long drive event immediately following the Ryder Cup and adjust his training to gain even more speed has raised plenty of eyebrows.
Round 1: Friday (Fox Sports 503 10pm – 9am)
Round 2: Saturday (Fox Sports 503 10pm – 9am)
Round 3: Monday (Fox Sports 503 LIVE 2am – 8am)
*AEST, check local guides