Predictions for the 2016 Ryder Cup
The best event in golf is finally back, as Team USA and Team Europe are at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Minnesota for the 2016 Ryder Cup. Here are ten predictions before the first ball is in the air on Friday morning.
European player most likely to break out is Matthew Fitzpatrick
Of the six rookies on the European team, Danny Willett is the guy that obviously stands out having won the Masters earlier this year, but it’s Fitzpatrick that you should be keeping your eyes on. The 22-year old isn’t overly long off the tee, as he is currently averaging just a shade under 280 yards from the tee on the European Tour, but he hits a ton of fairways and has an excellent short game. I’d expect that him and Willett will see the most time on the course of the six rookies, and he seems like a perfect fit to be paired with Rory McIlroy if Darren Clarke wants to go down that path. This piece from James Corrigan in the Telegraph sheds a little more light on Fitzpatrick, including some on his not often seen confidence and the fact that he’s planning on coming to the PGA Tour at the end of 2016.
American player most likely to break out is Brooks Koepka
I know, I’m really going out on a limb here suggesting that Koepka is a breakout candidate, but for a lot of people, this may be one of the first chances they’ve had to watch Koepka on a big stage and the course sets up so well for him. He bombs the ball from the tee, which should be a huge advantage for him on a long course like Hazeltine, and he’s been one of the best putters on the PGA Tour during the 2015-16 season. Along with Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, Koepka represents the new group of players that should be leading the charge for Team USA in international events for the foreseeable future, and it should start with a solid performance this week at Hazeltine.
Europe’s new Ian Poulter will be Andy Sullivan
If there’s one player who has personified European success at the Ryder Cup over the last decade, it’s been Ian Poulter. Poulter, who once famously said that once he reached his potential that it would just be him and Tiger at the top of the game, has been a very good player for quite some time, but has never really came close to accomplishing that lofty goal and while his twelve European Tour wins are impressive, his two wins on the PGA Tour have led many to believe that he’s overrated as a player. Where that belief has never resided however, is in the Ryder Cup, where Poulter has been part of four winning teams, and in most cases, has been the catalyst for those victories with a combination of quality play and a larger than life personality. This year though, Poulter is on the sidelines nursing an injury and will only be at Hazeltine in a vice captain role to Clarke, so someone has to fill his tartan laden shoes, right? Enter Andy Sullivan.
Sullivan is cut from the same underdog cloth as Poulter, and there’s going to be a lot of people tuning in this week (Johnny Miller included) who have likely never seen him play a single golf shot. His game resembles Poulter’s in that he’s scrappy, with sneaky distance and a good short game. On top of that, his personality is the kind that has potential to get under the skin of his opponents. You can do a YouTube search to see what I mean, but one of my favourites is from the European Tour earlier this year:
Phil Mickelson will say something inflammatory
There’s no one in golf right now that plays mind games like Phil Mickelson, and there’s no stage he likes to be on more than the one he’ll have this week. Who can forget this from 2014?
He knows exactly what he’s doing when he speaks like this, and if I had to pick anyone to try and stir the pot between now and the conclusion of the event on Sunday night, there’s no doubt that it’d be Phil Mickelson.
Runner-up: Johnny Miller because, well, he’s Johnny Miller.
If any of Europe’s Big Four struggle, it’s all over
Regardless of what four players were on the other side, any captain would feel confident going into a team competition with Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia on their side. The tough thing for those four this time around is that the other guys that they used to lean on, save for Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer, are all gone. Poulter’s hurt and players like Graeme McDowell, Luke Donald, Paul Casey, Padraig Harrington, Thomas Bjorn and others aren’t playing for a variety of reasons leading to a group of six players making their Ryder Cup debuts at the same time on U.S. soil. Throw in the fact that Westwood and Kaymer needed captain’s picks just to get on the team, and it puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the four guys who are clearly head and shoulders above the rest of the team. They’ll be asked to anchor the group against a very strong U.S. side, and if even one of them struggles, it could be very difficult for Europe to overcome.
Tiger Woods will get more television time than Chris Wood
Chris Wood is a fine player who hits the ball a mile, and will be the tallest man in Minnesota that doesn’t play for the Timberwolves. However, I’m pretty sure that he’s going to be the low man on Clarke’s roster this week, which means that while he’ll get some playing time, we might have to rely on him being paired with Rory to actually see proof of him being on the course this week. If he gets sandwiched in the middle of the Sunday singles pile against someone like Ryan Moore, NBC will definitely opt to show the bigger name players, which is a shame considering the sheer amount of coverage they have this week for a relatively tiny amount of golf there is to show.
Meanwhile, Tiger’s presence on the course basically guarantees that he’ll be shown a ton by NBC, even if he’s not doing anything more than driving a golf cart and occasionally giving words of encouragement. The same can be said for Bubba Watson and Ian Poulter, but Tiger’s going to get an insane amount of airtime this week.
Davis Love III will be way more prepared than Tom Watson
Admittedly, this is a very low bar to clear, but it’s an important one. Even though I’m firmly in the camp that the impact of a captain at the Ryder Cup is highly exaggerated, it’s hard to look back on 2014 and not think that there were a lot of missteps that could have been avoided quite easily had Tom Watson just been more prepared. Ultimately, I don’t think that a different captain does enough to win in 2014 because the Europeans were just so much better than the Americans, but man, Watson was bad and so much of it seemed like relatively basic stuff. And sure, Love was at the helm of a Titanic level crash at Medinah, but I don’t think anyone would reasonably argue that Love did a bad job at the helm of that ship. His players were prepared and put in the best possible situations to win, but they just didn’t get it done.
If the Americans don’t win this Ryder Cup, I have a hard time believing that we’ll lay much of the blame at the feet of Love like we did with Watson two years ago.
Patrick Reed will be the top American point getter
If you’re so inclined, Reed is currently going off as the number three favourite (roughly 7-1) for top American point getter at various books, sitting just behind Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth. He’s good value at that number, and while it’s true that betting on team match play where so much of the point total could be reliant on your partner, you know that Reed is going to likely play all five sessions and on top of that, there’s no event that he gets up for more than the Ryder Cup. He’s also been in good form, with no finishes outside of the top-25 since the WGC-Bridgestone in early July.
Rory McIlroy will be the top European point getter
Do I really have to explain this one?
Team USA will win the Ryder Cup
Even though I disagree with Davis Love’s assertion that this is maybe the best golf team ever assembled, there’s no denying that at least on paper, the Americans have a superior team to the Europeans. Now, that has been the case over the years as well despite Europe having won eight of the last ten competitions, but it just feels like the gap is too big this time around. We’re not talking about a 2004/2006 drubbing because there are no Chris Riley’s or Brett Wetterich’s on the other side, and I do think that the rookies will show much better than many are giving them credit for, but it seems reasonable to suggest a three point win for Team USA.
It’s time for the Americans to take back the Ryder Cup, and it happens this week at Hazeltine.