The Captains Picks
Both Ryder Cup Captains announced their three selections yesterday (9 players on each side had already automatically qualified in the two year long process) and there was little surprise with whom they chose.
Europe’s Paul McGinley picked Stephen Gallacher, Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter to represent the home team.
39 year old Gallacher will be making his first appearance in the Ryder Cup but has certainly earned his selection with 8 top 10 finishes on the European Tour this year including a win in Dubai. Cementing his selection was his 3rd place finish in last week’s Italian Open when he was fully aware of what was at stake which clearly impressed McGinley. In addition to which, Gallacher who is Scottish, grew up only a few miles from the host venue at Gleneagles and is sure to draw huge support from the locals. And he has great bloodlines being the nephew of 3–time European Ryder Cup captain, Bernard Gallacher.
41 year old veteran Lee Westwood has not been in great form in 2014 but his vast experience and status as a former World #1 ranked player gave him merit as one of McGinley’s choices. England’s Westwood has been a mainstay for the Europeans in the 8 previous Ryder Cups that he has played in and is one of Europe’s most celebrated participants having accumulated a career record of 18-13-6. His recent spark of better golf was highlighted by a 63 at the Bridgestone Invitational and taking the first round lead the following week, at the PGA Championship.
McGinley’s third pick really was pre-determined when he announced that Ian Poulter would be on the team. Like Westwood, Poulter has not had a good year on the PGA Tour with his last Top 10 coming in June, but when Poulter plays in the Ryder Cup, he changes in a phone booth before teeing up and comes out as Jack Nicklaus. The outgoing 38 year old Englishman almost singlehandedly staged the comeback that was the “Miracle at Medinah” in 2012, when Europe overcame a seemingly unassailable U.S. lead to retain the Cup. Poulter’s lifetime record in the Cup is a staggering 12-3 and he is the Europeans’ unquestioned rallying force.
For American captain, Tom Watson, his three selections were perhaps harder due to the gaggle of players that he could choose from.
His easiest selection was 28 year old Keegan Bradley, who may prove to be the American version of Poulter. Bradley was one of the few bright spots for the U.S. at Medinah where he posted a terrific 3-1 record and seemed to rise to the occasion and playing for his country. Bradley has been outspoken when questioned about being on this year’s team in recent weeks saying that he has thought about very little else other than becoming a member of Watson’s squad. Said Watson: “He is the epitome of someone who wanted to get on the team. He has struggled with it, and he wanted to make the team so badly”.
The second player Watson chose was 32 year old Hunter Mahan who won two weeks ago in the first FedEx Cup playoff event http://www.birdgolf.com/hunting-playoffs/ As we outlined in that article Mayhan has an extraordinary background in Matchplay which is borne out by his 18-5 record in the Accenture World Matchplay Championship an event that he has won and finished as the runner-up in. Mahan has also acquitted himself well in two previous Ryder Cups going 3-2-3 but he will need to shake free from the memory of 2012 when he was beaten in Sunday’s singles matches by Graeme McDowell in a loss that gave the Europeans the win that year.
The final of Watson’s three picks was 2012 U.S. Open champion, Webb Simpson. 29 year old Simpson is a four time winner on the PGA Tour and a veteran of Medinah where he was a respectable 2-2 in his rookie Ryder Cup campaign. Weighing heavily in Watson’s mind with his nod to Simpson was that in his two wins at Medinah, he had done so in convincing fashion disposing of his opponents 5 and 4 each time. Simpson is a player that seems to run hot and cold evidenced by his two missed cuts to go along with two Top 10’s in his last 4 Tour events but Watson will be looking for the hot tap to be turned on at Gleneagles.
Samuel Ryder’s biennial get together was once upon a time a stroll in the park for the Americans. But that was yesterday and now Europe has been triumphant in 7 of the last 9 contests. Maybe there is an omen in the fact that 64-year old Watson was the last American to captain a winning team on European soil when he led the U.S. to victory at the Belfry in 1993.
It is just as well for the U.S. that they don’t play these matches on paper because if they did, the Americans would be longshots at best. Four of the World’s Top 5 players, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia head up the power-packed Euros while the highest ranked American is Jim Furyk whose Ryder Cup record of 9-17-4 is not going to be intimidating anyone. Perhaps in the role of a decided underdog, the U.S. team will find the fire that has been absent for the last two decades.
We’ll find out September 26-28.