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USA looking to Mickelson for leadership in 2008 Ryder Cup

filesmall Ryder Cup | commentmall Written by BigRed

With Tiger Woods out from professional golf until the 2009 season, Team USA and all the nation’s golf fans will be looking to world number two Phil Mickelson for leadership as well as points in this week’s Ryder Cup battle against Team Europe at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky.

After three consecutive European victories - the last two of them real blow-outs - most experts consider Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood and Co. to be clear favourites in the 37th edition of the world’s third biggest sporting event (that is after the Olympic Games and the Soccer World Championships).

However, just because a team has managed to pull off three upsets in a row doesn’t make it the automatic favourite for the fourth match.

Let’s take a closer look at the line-ups:

Phil Mickelson / World Ranking: 2 Padraig Harrington (IRE) / World Ranking: 4
With big names like Woods or Montgomerie missing on both line-ups, Mickelson will have to carry his team if they want to have any chance against the defending champion. After a great start to his 2008 campaign with two wins and a runner-up finish, Mickelson has not quite lived up to the expectations in the second half of the season. The 38-year old has won 10½ points in 20 Ryder Cup matches from 1995 - 2006. Is certainly one of the players (alongside Vijay Singh and Sergio Garcia) who has taken his game to the next level after the injury of Tiger Woods with Major titles number two and three at the British Open and the PGA Championship. Even though he surprisingly has missed out on the qualification for The TOUR Championship, Harrington certainly knows how to bring his A-Game when he really has to.
Steve Stricker / World Ranking: 8 Sergio Garcia (ESP) / World Ranking: 5
Was the PGA Tour’s Comeback Player of the Year for the 2nd consecutive time in 2007 after a career year that saw him climb all the way to number four in the official world golf rankings. 2008 was a lot quieter for Stricker who received a wild card from team captain Paul Azinger and will be playing in his first Ryder Cup. Has missed out on a number of big titles by the smallest of margins after winning the Player’s Championship early this year. Putting and mental strength have improved significantly while his ball striking is as good as ever. Loves the Ryder Cup and will enjoy every minute of it. Expect him to be very hard (impossible?) to beat.
Jim Furyk /World Ranking: 9 Henrik Stenson (SWE) / World Ranking: 7
Even though he hasn’t won on the PGA Tour in 2008, “Mr. Consistency” has easily qualified for the US Team through a number of good finishes. Furyk will play in his sixth Ryder Cup and will be another player the rookies will turn to in the heat of the battle. Uses his mental strength and competitiveness to produce good results even when his game is off. Without a victory in 2008, but very steady and often in contention. Has gorilla strength and hits the ball a long way, so the 7,496 yrds. of Valhalla Golf Club won’t be a problem for him.
Anthony Kim / World Ranking: 10 Lee Westwood (ENG) / World Ranking: 12
The 23 year old Ryder Cup rookie is certainly THE revelation of the season with two victories at the Wachovia Championship and the AT&T National. Kim is extremely self-confident and won’t be intimidated by the special athmosphere at Valhalla. I expect him to contribute at least 2½ points for the American side. Has been a constant on all European Ryder Cup teams since his debut in 1997. Owes his reputation as one of the best “closers” in the game partly to a brilliant Ryder Cup record of 15½ points won in 25 matches. Whoever’s up against Westwood in match play is up for some hard work.
Stewart Cink / World Ranking: 11 Robert Karlsson (SWE) / World Ranking: 17
Did end a long drought with his victory at the Travelers Championship earlier this year and finished 2nd behind Phil Mickelson on the US qualification list. Cink will be playing in his fourth Ryder Cup but he has yet to get his hand on the trophy. Is coming off an impressive two shot victory at the Mercedes-Benz Championship on the European Tour (his first in two years). The 6′5” Karlsson is known to be wild off the tee at times but has tremendous length and an extremly sharp iron game. Is playing in his second Ryder Cup after loosing to Tiger Woods in his singles match at the K Club in 2006.
Kenny Perry / World Ranking: 20 Justin Rose (ENG) /World Ranking: 13
Has devoted his entire season to the goal of qualifying for this event being played in his beloved home-state of Kentucky. Due to his friendly and modest personality as well as his success on the golf course, Perry is somewhat of a legend in Kentucky. Even though he has lost a bit of momentum after an incredible run of tournaments during the early summer, he will be carried by the support of his friends and family. To be seen if he can stand the pressure of teeing it up as the local hero. Won the European Tour’s season-ending event in Valderrama and the Order of Merit in 2007, but 2008 has been rather disappointing. His best performance came at the Memorial Tournament where he finished runner-up. I consider Rose to be one of the weaker European players.
Justin Leonard / World Ranking: 23 Miguel A. Jimenez (ESP) / World Ranking: 19
The 1997 British Open champion holed one of the most famous putts in the history of the Ryder Cup when he defeated Jose-Maria Olazabal in 1999. Unfortunately, the behaviour of the American fans and players following that putt was rather infamous… The outgoing Spaniard is playing one of his best seasons on the European Tour and did win the Tour’s flagship tournament - the BMW PGA Championship - at Wentworth in May. A member of two European Ryder cup teams, Jimenez has yet to proof that he can produce his best golf under the pressure of a major tournament or Ryder Cup.
Ben Curtis / World Ranking: 30 Ian Poulter (ENG) / World Ranking: 29
After appearing out of nowhere at the 2003 British Open and disappearing almost as quickly afterwards, Curtis enjoys an excellent 2008 campaign with a Top-10 finish at Royal Birkdale and a tie for second at the PGA Championship. Even though this will be his Ryder Cup debut, Curtis should be a lot more relaxed than the other rookies on the US Team, given his excellent record at major tournaments. One of two picks by European team captain Nick Faldo. Owes his selection mostly due to a great showing at the British Open where he finished runner-up after an impressive final round 69 in extremely difficult conditions.
Boo Weekley / World Ranking: 35 Graeme McDowell (NIR) / World Ranking: 32
“Boooo” was the last player to automatically qualify for Paul Azinger’s squad and could be one of the most underrated players on the PGA Tour. His excellent ball striking and easy-going, down-to-earth personality could make Weekley a positive surprise for the American fans. Another rookie for the Europeans, McDowell won twice this season in Hongkong and Loch Lomond and was in contention at the British Open. Even though he certainly is an underrated player I am afraid that a Ryder Cup on American soil will be too much pressure for him. I don’t think we will see much of McDowell before Sunday’s single matches.
Hunter Mahan / World Ranking: 36 Paul Casey (ENG) / World Ranking: 38
Azinger suprised me by picking Hunter Mahan with one of his wild cards. Mahan said earlier this year that “players are treated like slaves at the Ryder Cup” and that he wasn’t looking forward to playing in the event. Given his lack of form in recent months, everyone might have been better off if he would’ve declined the invitation. Had to rely on one of two captain’s picks to make it to Valhalla. Even though he hasn’t had a good year so far, his enormous talent and great Ryder Cup experience will make him hard to beat.
J.B. Holmes / World Ranking: 56 Soren Hansen (DEN) / World Ranking: 42
- -
Chad Campbell / World Ranking: 2 Oliver Wilson (ENG) / World Ranking: 48
- The mostly unknown Englishman is certainly the weak point of the European team. Has yet to win a professional tournament and secured his spot by finishing runner-up four times, e.g. at the BMW PGA Championship behind his teammate Miguel Angel Jimenez. Showed enormous mental strength when he barely made the cut in the last event of the qualification process to finish in a tie for 10th and hold on to the last automatic place on the European team.
Average Ranking Team USA: 24,75 Average Ranking Team Europe: 22,17

As far as I can remember, the 2008 Ryder Cup marks the first time that the average world ranking of the Europeans is better than that of their American counterparts. This is not only due to the fact that Tiger Woods is missing, but also because more and more Europeans continue to climb up the rankings following their strong showings on both sides of the pond.

Let’s come to a conclusion:

- Team USA has the home court advantage
- Team Europe is the defending champion - a tie would be enough to retain the cup
- Momentum is on Europe’s side. They have won three in a row and they certainly feel they can make it four.
- Tiger’s not there…
- For the first time ever, the Americans are the underdogs. In the past, the Europeans have benefited greatly from being perceived as outsiders which put a lot of pressure on their opponents. The situation will be different this time and Team USA will work together as a real team.

I am sure that we will not see another landslide victory by either team, but taking everything said into account I predict a European victory by the score of 14½ / 13½.

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