U.S. the Underdog at Ryder Cup but Not Without Hope

Tom Watson

More of the same or an uprising from the underdog. That’s where we are heading in next week’s Ryder Cup in Scotland at Gleneagles.

Europe hosts the Americans having won five of the last six Ryder Cups, including the rousing miracle at Medinah where a stirring singles comeback shocked the U.S. and gave the Europeans possession of the Cup once again after a 14 1/2 to 13 1/2 victory.

The last two Ryder Cups have been decided by a point with the U.S. last winning in 2008 at Valhalla in an upset they will be looking to replicate next week.

While Europe is favored, the Americans are no slouches by any means. The U.S. team boasts six major winners to four for the Europeans and there is only one American on the roster ranked outside the top-30 in the world with three such players for Europe.

Rory McIlroy gives Europe the best player in the event but the U.S. has long held that advantage with Tiger Woods and it hasn’t translated into any meaningful edge or given them much in the way of positive results. In fact, the U.S.’s last win came with Tiger at home recovering from knee surgery and a team of upstarts with a motivating captain in Paul Azinger won back the Ryder Cup handily, 16 1/2 – 11 1/2.

The winner of two majors this season, McIlroy will be front and center and could provide momentum to either team based on his play. IF he wins the Euro’s will feel confident every time he’s on the course, but if the U.S. can steal a point or even a halve from matches he plays, it could go a long way toward giving the Americans hope.

Both teams have three Ryder Cup rookies but in some ways that’s not a bad thing for the Americans. Captain Tom Watson cited experience when making his captain’s picks earlier this month but a quick peek at the roster and their results show that most of the experience the U.S. has is in losing. Only three player on the U.S. team have been on a winning side and one of those guys, Jim Furyk, is just 9-17-4 in the Ryder Cup. Phil Mickelson has won a Ryder Cup before and will be expected to be a leader of the team but even he is just 14-18-6 in nine previous Ryder Cups.

On the other side, Europe has only three players on the team that have never won the Ryder Cup, their rookies, Victor Dubuisson, Jamie Donaldson and Stephen Gallacher. The U.S. rookies are Jordan Speith, who was on two junior Ryder Cup winning sides, Patrick Reed, who went undefeated in match play in helping Augusta State win back-to-back national titles, and Jimmy Walker who won three times on the PGA Tour this season.

Watson, beloved in Scotland because of his Open Championship successes, is the last American captain to guide his team to victory in Europe. He did it in 1993 at The Belfry. Whether Watson can rally the troops once again remains to be seen, but at least he has a positive experience to draw on.

What Watson won’t have is the hottest American player at the moment in Billy Horschel, who will be home changing diapers and counting millions instead of dropping putts and winning points. Horschel recently won the FedEx Cup and $10 million dollars and welcomed his first child – daughter Skylar – to the world on Tuesday.

Watson announced his picks Sept. 2, just after Horschel placed second at the Deutsche Bank Championship, the second FedEx playoff event. Horschel then won the BMW Championship and Tour Championship to wrap up the Cup and renew the debate as to whether or not he should be in Gleneagles. Horschel and Chris Kirk’s performances in the playoffs have led for some calls to move the selection of captain’s picks until after the FedEx Cup. Watson disagrees.

“Logistically, there are so many different things that go into it,” Watson said during a Wednesday teleconference. “It would be awfully tough to make the decision the week before the Ryder Cup.”

That may be so, but it may also be tough to win without the player who is currently playing better golf than anyone on the team. Watson at least recognized Horschel’s impressive run with a text that read, “Billy, you’re a day late, but not a dollar short.”

Funny now, but not so much should the U.S. come up a point short once again.

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John Nestor
John Nestor is a Philadelphia sports fan and veteran sportswriter trapped in Connecticut. Tweet him @nestorjdn