Watching Bryson DeChambeau win two of the last three LIV tournaments with some of the most spectacular scoring of his career, you couldn’t help wondering what damage he would do to Europe in this week’s Ryder Cup … if he were playing. For the fear factor alone, Luke Donald can thank his lucky stars ‘the mad scientist’ didn’t get a wild card.
The Americans may yet regret not picking any of the LIV juggernauts bar the one they were duty-bound to, their PGA champion Brooks Koepka. Maybe they thought that having won by a landslide ten points at Whistling Straits last time, they would win anyway. That’s what 90% of Europeans thought too for most of the intervening two years. Then our secret weapon, Ludvig Aberg, suddenly appeared, as if from nowhere, and with his prodigious talent came not just a glimmer of hope but a degree of optimism. Yet we saw on Wentworth’s Sunday that the Swede is still very much a work in progress. And one young man, for all his brilliance, cannot close the gulf on his own.
We saw in the Solheim Cup that thrusting an outstanding amateur, Rose Zhang, into the bewildering furnace of huge, partisan crowds and head-to-head top-level matchplay after just a few months as a pro is a big ask. We could see in spells how very good she is but the bottom line was she failed to deliver a point. Aberg and Donald cannot help but have noticed. But you don’t get to be world No. 1 for 56 weeks with a tippy-tappy game like Cool Hand Luke without being a tough cookie and behind that posh exterior Donald is nobody’s fool. Peeved to be only second choice when Henrik Stenson was preferred for the job, he nonetheless jumped at the chance when it unexpectedly came and he may turn out to be the most astute captain Europe has ever had.
He knew straight away he wanted Aberg and will need to be equally decisive if he is to overturn the massive gulf of 200 points between the teams on cumulative world rankings. All the USA’s dozen rate in the world’s top 25. Yet as if we have seen time and again, and as recently as last week in Andalusia, they have little meaning in this one-off mano-a-mano format.
The players you expect to be pillars of strength, the linchpins of the side, like Nelly Korda, Celine Boutier and Charley Hull in the Solheim, often aren’t and the ones you least expect, Caroline Hedwall and the queen of Spain, Carlota Ciganda, come to the rescue. Europe’s highest-ranked golfer Boutier didn’t get even half a point; America’s highest, Lilia Vu, made no contribution until the singles. So expect the unexpected.
This week I’m not expecting anything from Bob MacIntyre as his form bar the Scottish Open, has been unconvincing. But if the chemistry is there to match the passion and Donald pairs him with the right partner, he could turn out to be as big a hero as Hedwall.
There’s nothing scary about the Americans. Even Scottie Scheffler has shown an Achilles heel on the greens. Five of them have not won this year, two more not since March and Max Homa not since January. Winning Majors does not make Brian Harman or Wyndham Clark great players. Great for one week, yes, but not great when they stand on foreign soil with thousands of European voices dinning in their ears and Jon Rahm a menacing presence on the same tee.
No doubt captain Zach Johnson thinks he only has to put those great buddies Cantlay and Schauffele together to get an automatic point but if Donald can lower their colours on the first morning and those of the other two pals Spieth and Thomas when they are unleashed, Europe could be on the way to upsetting the odds. It won’t have escaped his notice that none of that quartet has won this year, all will be nervous, particularly controversial pick JT, all will be vulnerable.
The format of having to play only eight players in each session improves the chances of Europe in one sense given they have on paper the longer tail but could work against them come Sunday when those who have been asked to play 36 holes on each of the first two days on a long, hilly course may have shot their bolt. Playing all five didn’t stop that little Irish tigress Leona Maguire delivering her point on Sunday though, did it?
With FedEx Cup winner Viktor Hovland arguably the best golfer in the world on current form and Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Tyrrell Hatton and Tommy Fleetwood all showing themselves in good nick at Wentworth, I’m anticipating a close-run affair and a repeat of the Solheim scoreline wouldn’t be the greatest surprise in the world. That result of course would mean the USA, as cup-holders, retaining this trophy, a fair swap for not getting their hands on the Solheim glassware despite a highly praiseworthy display. Given the shambles of Whistling Straits, the European underdogs would surely settle for a tied match. No trophy but plenty of honour.
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