When Europe last lost the Ryder Cup on home soil, Tiger Woods was 17 years old. That was 1993.
As of Sunday, Woods, now 42, is an 80-time winner on the PGA TOUR … and he is, of all things, a captain's pick for the biennial matches at Le Golf National in Guyancourt, France, a lush landscape southwest of Paris.
Talk about depth. World Golf Hall of Famer Phil Mickelson is another captain's pick on the U.S. squad – this is his field-most 14th appearance – but his and Woods' combined record is a pedestrian 31-37-10.
Across the tee box is a formidable foursome of similarly groomed captain's picks in Paul Casey, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter and Henrik Stenson. Their collective record in the Ryder Cup is an impressive 41-24-15.
Indeed, while the U.S. is defending its 2016 title, Europe has had the Americans' number in recent editions. It also owns considerable course experience at Le Golf National. The hosts have totaled 72 starts as a group in the Open de France. The 12 representing the U.S. have appeared only three times in the European Tour event.
NOTE: In a match-play competition consisting of five sessions over three days, only one of which is Singles on Sunday, and with matchups and momentum determined in real time, the ranking of the players below reflects potential impact and value on the event. Consume the ranking with that in mind.
RANK PLAYER COMMENT 24 Henrik Stenson 23 Bubba Watson 22 Phil Mickelson 21 Tyrrell Hatton 20 Sergio Garcia 19 Tony Finau 18 Webb Simpson 17 Bryson DeChambeau 16 Jon Rahm 15 Paul Casey 14 Tommy Fleetwood 13 Alex Noren 12 Brooks Koepka 11 Thorbjørn Olesen 10 Justin Thomas 9 Rickie Fowler 8 Ian Poulter 7 Jordan Spieth 6 Tiger Woods 5 Dustin Johnson 4 Francesco Molinari 3 Rory McIlroy 2 Patrick Reed 1 Justin Rose
The Albatros Course at Le Golf National is the second European mainland site to host the Ryder Cup (Valderrama, 1997). The par 36-35--71 with three par 5s (Nos. 3, 9 and 14) tips at just 7,183 yards.
Along with the experience that the host country has logged at Le Golf National in the Open de France – every European Ryder Cupper has competed in the tournament at least once since it's hosted the event from 1991-1998, 2000 and 2002-present – the setup neutralizes the primary weapon for which so many of the visitors are associated: the driver.
If you ever wondered what it would be like for a match-play competition to be contested at TPC Sawgrass – let's face it, we all have – then this Ryder Cup is for you. Not unlike Pete Dye's risk-reward layout in northeast Florida, Le Golf National presents the kind of hero-goat outcome that has defined the PGA TOUR's flagship stop.
Water is in play on 10 holes. Fairways are pinched and the thick rough will demand pause on club selection, particularly in Foursomes. Bentgrass greens will run slower than what most Americans feel regularly, but Thorbjørn Olesen is the only golfer in the field who isn't a current PGA TOUR member (he was once, though), so there isn't as great a home-grass advantage as may have been argued in decades past.
Like TPC Sawgrass recently, Le Golf National also underwent a two-year renovation that ended in 2015. It included the motivation to maximize on spectator sightlines on the inward nine. Speaking of which, holes 15, 16, 17 and 18 are better known as the Loop of Doom. While that bills as a sideshow for the likes of Travis Pastrana and Robbie Madison at the X Games, another worldwide sporting event will, in fact, be contested at Le Golf National in 2024. The course will be hosting the Summer Olympics.
First things first, however. While the result entirely should be attributed to and blamed on the 24 golfers who represent both teams, captains Jim Furyk and Thomas Bjørn naturally will be lauded and criticized more than they deserve, but that each is at the helm embodies the essence of the fight that will occur in earnest.
Furyk has wrung more out of a funky swing than most in history. His skin is thick. Bjørn is from Denmark, but he looks like any guy from Dublin to Dnipro with whom you wouldn't want to tangle. The facial scruff isn't by accident and he's been one of the most powerful voices in recent years on the European Tour.
What no one who actually will influence what happens can control are the elements. After a gorgeous Friday, cooler air will accompany the dry conditions. It probably will aid in the decision-making because the ball won't be flying as far, anyway. Further contributing to the challenge will be moderate winds from a generally northerly direction.