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The Five: Why each team can win the Ryder Cup

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The Five: Why each team can win the Ryder Cup

    Written by Sean Martin @PGATOURSMartin

    GUIDONIA MONTECELIO, Italy – The Ryder Cup only comes around once every two years, and this is a nonpartisan space. So in that spirit, this special edition of The Five will actually feature double the usual number of entries. Below are five reasons each team can win the Ryder Cup. Europe has dominated at home for the past three decades but the United States is coming off a record-setting rout at Wisconsin's Whistling Straits in 2021.

    Read the reasons for each team's potential success if you want a well-rounded preview of this year’s event or simply scroll down to your favorite team to confirm your pre-existing bias. It’s up to you. Without further delay, here are five reasons each team will hoist the Ryder Cup on Sunday:


    1. Record rout: Momentum cannot be maintained over two years, but the United States can still draw confidence from its 19-9 rout two years ago at Whistling Straits. It was the biggest win by either side since 1967, more than a decade before continental Europe joined the proceedings. Seven of the 12 U.S. players from Whistling Straits will be at Rome. Since the debacle at the 2014 Ryder Cup, which inspired the creation of the United States’ task force, it has gone a combined 6-1 in the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup. Of course, that one loss was a road Ryder Cup, but we’ll get into that later.

    United States defeats Europe 19-9 at the Ryder Cup

    2. Core philosophy: Captains go to great lengths in search of the perfect pairs for the team sessions. Finding the right matches can be the cause of much consternation. Advanced analytics have made the job easier, but it’s still more of an art than a science. Fortunately for the United States, they have two successful pairings that they have been able to pencil into the lineup for several years: Xander Schauffele/Patrick Cantlay and Justin Thomas/Jordan Spieth. These teams are basically “plug-and-play.” All Zach Johnson has to do is point them toward the first tee. They've been a big part of the United States’ recent success.

    Schauffele and Cantlay are 6-3 since first being paired at the 2019 Presidents Cup, including 5-0 in Foursomes. They went 2-0 in the last Ryder Cup, winning two Foursomes matches. They also paired to win the 2022 Zurich Classic of New Orleans.

    “We just have a really good time, and when we get things going, it sort of feels like we kind of kick into cruise control,” said Schauffele.

    Thomas and Spieth are 8-2 as a pairing in Ryder and Presidents cups. They went 4-0-0 in last year’s Presidents Cup and also were 3-1 in the 2018 Ryder Cup in Paris, the most recent one in Europe. If they play two matches this week, they’ll become the most frequent U.S. partnership in Ryder Cup history. They’re both only 30 years old, so it’s a record they could eventually hold by a wide margin.

    Jordan Spieth on how U.S. Team selects Ryder Cup pairings

    3. Europe’s missing core: While a new U.S. core seems to be taking shape, multiple players described Europe as being in a “transitional” phase. Stalwarts such as Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and Sergio Garcia aren’t here this year. That trio has been key to Europe’s success over the past two decades, especially in the team formats. Garcia’s 28.5 points are the most won in Ryder Cup history, while Westwood’s 24 are the third most.

    Europe will need some new teams to step up this year, just as Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood did five years ago. The absence of Europe’s veterans will especially be felt in the unique Foursomes format, which has been a key to Europe’s recent success. Garcia’s 13.5 points in Foursomes are the most in Ryder Cup history and Westwood’s 11 are third-most.

    4. Depth matters: Marco Simone Golf & Country Club’s steep hills and temperatures in the high 80s could limit the number of players who compete in all five sessions. U.S. Vice Captain Stewart Cink said Marco Simone is the most physically-demanding Ryder Cup course he’s ever seen. In order to lighten caddies’ loads, the teams have given players the option of using stand bags this week instead of the oversized staff bags that are a common sight at professional events.

    It has become less common over the years for players to go the distance at the Ryder Cup, but that could be especially true this week. If that’s the case, it benefits the deeper U.S. Team, whose captain’s picks included a player who won a major this year (Brooks Koepka) and former major winners Spieth, Thomas and Collin Morikawa. The United States’ rookies include two major winners this year, Wyndham Clark and Brian Harman, as well.

    Justin Thomas on why he was selected to play in Ryder Cup

    The United States’ depth allows it avoid running its top players ragged before Sunday Singles, while Europe’s top players may have to carry a heavy load for it to succeed this week.

    5. Rested and rejuvenated: Only two members of the U.S. Team have competed since the TOUR Championship concluded a month ago. You can pick your own word that begins with "r" to describe the state of the U.S. Team. They’re either rested or rusty. For the sake of this portion of the story, we will say they are well-rested (we’ll analyze the other side below).

    At the end of a long season, a one-month break isn’t just an opportunity for some R&R. It’s also a chance to work on your game away from the crucible of competition, putting in hours on the driving range and practice green without worrying about having to tee it up anytime soon. Justin Thomas broke out the pool noodles to get his swing back on plane and Scottie Scheffler hired a new putting coach. Scheffler had a historic ball-striking season, and if his putting is sorted, then he could be a truly frightening force this week. And Thomas shows he’s headed in the right direction with a fifth-place finish at the Fortinet Championship, his best since February.


    1. Three decades of history: Europe hasn’t lost a home Ryder Cup since 1993 and its part of a larger trend of home success in this competition. The hosts are 7-1 in the past eight Ryder Cups, and the road team’s only victory in that span came from Europe’s historic comeback at Medinah in 2012.

    'It's a week that people dream of' Tommy Fleetwood on Ryder Cup

    2. Home-field advantage: The golf course is a big part of the home team’s success in recent Ryder Cups. Not only does it not have to deal with jet lag from a transatlantic flight, but it also gets input into how the course is prepared for the competition. We’ve seen that play an outsized role, as the United States has favored big, brawny layouts with little rough where they can blast driver with impunity. Europe has taken the opposite tact, setting up courses with narrow fairways and thick rough. Recent European venues have also been courses that host DP World Tour events, giving players an opportunity to get experience on the course.

    Marco Simone isn’t as narrow and penal as Le Golf National (site of the 2019 Ryder Cup in France) but the rough will still be penal this week. “The blades are really thick and it's very different than anything you see almost anywhere,” said European rookie Sepp Straka.

    Marco Simone has hosted the past three Italian Opens on the DP World Tour. Two of those were won by members of this year’s European team – Nicolai Hojgaard in 2021 and Robert MacIntyre last year. Fleetwood was runner-up in the 2021 Italian Open, while Matt Fitzpatrick (2nd), Rory McIlroy (4th) and Tyrrell Hatton (8th) finished in the top 10 last year. Hojgaard finished fifth in this year’s Italian Open, as well.

    European Ryder Cup Team discuss team strength

    3. Ultimate driving machines: Marco Simone requires strong driving, and that suits a European team that possesses several of the best drivers in the game.

    McIlroy led the PGA TOUR in Driving Distance (326.3 yards) this season and was second in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee. Jon Rahm and Viktor Hovland are both possess an above-average combination of distance and accuracy. Rahm ranked in the top five of Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee for six consecutive seasons from 2017-22, leading the TOUR in that metric last year. Hovland is seventh in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee this season.

    And then there’s Europe’s newest addition, Ludvig Aberg, who was playing college golf just four months ago. Aberg was the only player on TOUR to average at least 315 yards off the tee while hitting at least 60% of his fairways this season (min. 25 rounds). He would rank second in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee if he’d played enough rounds to qualify for the TOUR’s statistical rankings.

    This quartet will be especially useful in Foursomes, and should help soften the blow from not having stalwarts like Westwood, Garcia and Poulter on Europe’s roster.

    4. The big three: The United States boasts the No. 1 player in the world, Scottie Scheffler, but the next three players in the world ranking are all on the European side: McIlroy, Rahm and Hovland.

    Rahm’s four wins this season, including the Masters, were the most on the PGA TOUR, making him the favorite to win this year’s PGA TOUR Player of the Year Award. Hovland is the FedExCup champion after winning the BMW Championship and TOUR Championship. And McIlroy has finished in the top 10 in 11 of his last 12 worldwide starts, including a win at the Genesis Scottish Open.

    A lot has changed for both McIlroy and Hovland in the two years since Whistling Straits. McIlroy admitted that he was “searching” when he arrived at the last Ryder Cup. “I didn’t feel in full control of my game,” said McIlroy, whose swing got off-kilter as he chased distance. He went 1-3-0 and sat out a session for the first time in his Ryder Cup career.

    Rory McIlroy talks about Ryder Cup over the years

    Hovland was a Ryder Cup rookie in 2021. His debut was highly-anticipated and he played all five sessions, but went 0-3-2. In the two years since, Hovland has become a more complete player because of his well-publicized improvements to his short game. That has allowed him to succeed on the biggest stages. He has finished in the top 20 in five consecutive majors, including three top-10s, and won three times this season.

    “There's a belief and a confidence that I can get myself out of any situation,” Hovland said, “and I think that's a huge turnaround from last time.”

    5. In form: While the U.S. Team had a month off, the Europeans were competing on the DP World Tour. Not only did that get them accustomed to the time zone – the U.S. crossed the Atlantic twice, both for its pre-tournament scouting trip and this week – but it also kept their competitive instincts fresh.

    Lowry finished third at the Horizon Irish Open to confirm he was a deserving captain’s pick and then T18 at the BMW PGA Championship.

    Aberg gained the most from competing in Europe. He finished in the top 10 in three starts in Europe, including a win at the Omega European Masters in just his ninth start as a pro. He also held the 54-hole lead at the BMW PGA Championship, the DP World Tour’s flagship event, before finishing 10th.

    Aberg was one of seven European team members to finish in the top 10 at Wentworth. Hatton finished second, while Rahm was fourth, Hovland finished fifth, McIlroy was seventh and Aberg and Straka were T10.

    McIlroy, who struggled with a back injury at the TOUR Championship and then finished T16 at the Irish Open for his worst finish since May, rallied on the weekend at Wentworth after making the cut on the number. He shot 67-65 in the final two rounds to finish seventh and give himself positive momentum heading into this week.

    Sean Martin is a senior editor for the PGA TOUR. He is a 2004 graduate of Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo. Attending a small school gave him a heart for the underdog, which is why he enjoys telling stories of golf's lesser-known players. Follow Sean Martin on Twitter.

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