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Ryder Cup Dream Team

Dermot Gilleece picks his ideal European line-up

Posted Jan 02, 2014 by Dermot Gilleece

ryder cup team

In the wake of an amazing triumph at Medinah,  Lee Westwood suggested that the European team to defend the trophy at Gleneagles should be named on the basis of “nine spots, two picks plus Poults.”  With the event still nine months away, there will be no need of such an arrangement:  the irrepressible Ian Poulter looks certain to be an automatic qualifier.

The presence of such a talismanic figure will come as quite a relief for skipper Paul McGinley, who had a first-hand view of the Englishman’s extraordinary contribution to the most remarkable away victory in the history of the series.  Yet on the basis of the current qualifying lists, it’s fairly certain that the skipper will not be getting the line-up he would ideally want.

We can anticipate fairly significant changes to those lists before the team is finalised at the end of August, with four qualifiers coming from the Ryder Cup Rankings, another five coming through from the World Points List and the remaining three being wild-card selections by McGinley.  So, I am now offering the team I would like to see in action, rather than the one which is likely to face the Americans.

Phil Mickelson, a leading candidate for the visiting line-up, has some interesting views on head-to-head combat.  “Eighteen holes of matchplay is like sitting down and playing blackjack for 20 minutes,” said the man who is known to enjoy the odd flutter. “There is a good chance you could win.  But if you sit there and play for 20 hours, there’s a better chance you’ll lose.  The more holes you play, the better the chance the top player will win.”   In Mickelson’s view, this makes the Ryder Cup something of a lottery, which is an understandable conclusion given his 18th hole defeat by Justin Rose at Medinah.

Let us look at the European team on that occasion, in singles order: Luke Donald, Poulter, Rory McIlroy, Rose, Paul Lawrie, Nicolas Colsaerts, Graeme McDowell, Sergio Garcia, Peter Hanson, Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer, Francesco Molinari.   On current rankings, the nine automatic European candidates would be: Poulter, Thomas Bjorn, Victor Dubuisson, Henrik Stenson, Jamie Donaldson, Rose, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, Donald and Joost Luiten.  And I would suggest Garcia, McDowell and Kaymer as McGinley’s three choices.

This would give you a side with four absentees from Medinah – Lawrie, Colsaerts, Hansen and Westwood.   Though I would be happy enough to face the Americans without three of those absentees,  I would want Westwood, not least for the fact that in the white heat of battle last time out, he beat the formidable Matt Kuchar by the fairly comfortable margin of 3 and 2.  Meanwhile, I must admit to being less than enthused by the prospect of a return for Miguel Angel Jimenez, who will be 50 on January 5th.

There can be no sentiment in the Ryder Cup and one imagines that the recent groundswell of support for the likeable Spaniard was based on the remarkable achievement of having embellished the distinction of being the oldest winner on the European Tour, rather than his Ryder Cup record.   As it happens, Jimenez played 15 matches in four Ryder Cup appearances.  Of those, he was beaten on eight occasions, including three of his four singles.  So, he must be viewed as an amenable partner in pairs competition, rather than an age-defying man of competitive steel.  Certainly if I were McGinley, I would be looking elsewhere.

Studying both lists and imagining all that could happen before Sunday, August 31st, I would be following the form of acknowledged good putters.  Especially if they happen to be younger practitioners like Shane Lowry.  Experience has shown that all the competitive strength in the world is fairly worthless, if a player can’t hole short putts in the heat of battle.  Never was this more in evidence than at Oak Hill in 1995, when Curtis Strange found it impossible to close out Nick Faldo, despite being one up with three to play.  As it happened, the American covered those crucial three holes in bogey, bogey, bogey to lose on the 18th.  And that was only six years after he had emulated no less a figure than Ben Hogan by retaining the US Open at the same venue.    

As I say, much will happen during the coming months, but here is my team for Gleneagles:  Stenson, Rose, Donald, Poulter, Westwood, McIlroy, McDowell,  Garcia,  Kaymer, Bjorn, Dubuisson, Lowry.  And either way, the return of Stenson bodes really well for Europe’s prospects of breaking new ground with a third successive triumph.

- Dermot Gilleece

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