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September 26 2012

2:50 PM

Discuss: 5 best match-play players

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Sergio Garcia boasts a 14-6-4 record in the Ryder Cup.

By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM

With Europe having won four of the last five Ryder Cups, it begs the question: Just w hy has Europe won four of the last five Ryder Cups?

Ian Poulter isn’t really sure why Europe has been so dominant, but the Englishman has his theories.

“We’re all very comfortable with each other in the team room and as people and personalities,” Poulter said.

That’s not to suggest the U.S. team isn’t, but there is a certain “edge,” as Poulter puts it, Europe has in attitude toward the biennial matches.

“It’s not that we don’t like each other,” Poulter said. “But there’s something about the Ryder Cup; boy do you want to kill them in the Ryder Cup. It’s passion like I’ve never seen before.”

With that in mind, here’s a closer look at who I think are the five best match-play performers from either side going into this year’s matches. You’ll notice there’s a decidedly European theme, which perhaps best explains why Europe has beaten the U.S. more often than not of late.

Sergio Garcia (Europe): The Spaniard lives for the Ryder Cup and it has shown in the form of a 14-6-4 record in five appearances. Three times Garcia has helped lead Europe to victory, including in 2006 in the most lopsided victory ever when Europe crushed the U.S. 18 1/2 to 9 1/2. Garcia won his two Four-ball and two Foursome matches each of the first two days before finally losing to Stewart Cink in singles, but by then the outcome was well in hand. Garcia didn’t qualify for the last Ryder Cup, and he went 0-2-2 in 2008, so he’ll be plenty motivated this year. He’s also in a much better place mentally than in recent years and is one of the best drivers and ball-strikers in the game. His putter also seems to turn into some sort of magical sword every two years.

Ian Poulter (Europe): When it comes to the Ryder Cup, Poulter is golf’s version of former NBA sharpshooter and resident villain Reggie Miller. Both love showmanship and the big stage and usually play their best on it. Poulter is 8-3, including 3-0 in singles play, in three Ryder Cups. Poulter doesn’t really know why he’s been so successful in match play -- he also has two individual match play titles having won the World Golf Championship-Accenture Match Play Championship and the Volvo World Match Play Championship -- but his ball-striking and passion are two things than can wear an opponent down. Expect Poulter to have another big Ryder Cup this year.

Tiger Woods (U.S.): It’s hard to believe Woods has been on just one victorious Ryder Cup team in his career -- 1999 at Brookline (he missed 2008 due to injury). He’s also just 13-14-2 in six appearances in the biennial matches. His 14 matches lost ranks as the fourth-most in U.S. team history. That said, Woods is still one of the deadliest match play opponents on the planet, dating back to his days as an amateur when he won three consecutive U.S. Am titles. He also hasn’t lost a singles match in the Ryder Cup since his first year, 1997, and is 6-3 in his last three Ryder Cups. Woods is playing well right now, too, with three wins this season, and ranks seventh in total driving on the PGA TOUR, 19th in greens in regulation and fourth in birdie average. Those stats will go a long way at a Medinah course that will be tailored to the U.S. style of play. Lastly, a budding rivalry with Rory McIlroy seems to have spurred Woods.

Luke Donald (Europe): In three Ryder Cups, Donald is a stellar 8-2-1 and has never played on a losing team. He’s unbeaten in foursomes with a 6-0 mark and has only lost one singles match -- in 2004 at Oakland Hills in his first appearance. His form hasn’t been great this year, but he’s still one of the straightest players off the tee and an incredibly good putter. This year’s matches are also a home game for Donald, who lives in Chicago.

Brandt Snedeker (U.S.): I’m going out on a limb a bit here with Snedeker because others boast better resumes, he’s never played any sort of team match play his entire career and he’s a Ryder Cup rookie. But the latter is in name only and his resume this year has been impressive with victories in San Diego and Atlanta, not to mention the season-long FedExCup. What I like most, though, is that he is the best putter on either team and that can be completely demoralizing to an opponent in match play. At last week’s TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola, Snedeker was first in putting, second in driving accuracy and seventh in greens in regulation. His game and personality can be paired with pretty much anyone and he’ll mesh well in the locker room. I think he’ll have the biggest impact of any rookie on either team.

What's your take? Discuss below.

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