From the Sidelines: Expect Europe to take fourth straight Ryder Cup title

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September 18, 2008

11:57 PM

With the Olympics in our rear-view mirror, it’s time to focus on the 42nd annual Ryder Cup. This competition steeped in tradition pits America’s best golfers against the strongest players from Europe.

It’s unique because of its team play focus, which is unheard of on the regular PGA and European PGA circuits. Today and tomorrow, American and European twosomes will battle it out in 16 team matches, while Sunday features 10 traditional single-ball matches.

In recent history, the Europeans have always gained an upper hand with success in the partnered
matches, leaving the Americans to play from behind in Sunday’s individual matches and to rely on early wins to creep back into the hunt.

Wins give teams one point while teams split that point in tied matches. With 28 total matches, there are 28 points at stake. You math majors may be wondering what happens if there is a tie. The team who has the cup — Europe this year — needs only a tie of 14 points to retain the cup.

Enough with the formatting. The Ryder Cup kicks off today at the charming Valhalla Golf Club — site of two PGA Championships — in Louisville, Ky. It’s a course that Jack Nicklaus designed and measures 7,195 yards from tee to green — a true American-style layout.

For the Americans, Phil Mickelson and Kenny Perry are the leaders and will attempt to fill the void left by Tiger Woods, who’s out following summer knee surgery. Americans Justin Leonard, who sunk a 45-foot putt to insure the United States’ last Ryder Cup win in 1999, and J.B. Holmes, a Ryder Cup rookie, will be counted on to deliver points all weekend. Holmes will be the hometown favorite — he graduated from the University of Kentucky and was born and raised in the state.

Meanwhile, the Europeans look awfully strong this year. Ireland’s Padraig Harrington is in the midst of an amazing season, having won two majors — the PGA and British Open. Spaniard Sergio Garcia will also be a key player for European captain Nick Faldo. Look for the flashy Ian Poulter to make his mark on this year’s matches as well.

Expect first-time American captain, Paul Azinger, to call the shots with the very flare and unpredictably that
has marked his golfing career. He will need a few tricks up his sleeve to wrestle the cup away from the Europeans, who have held the cup since the 2002 matches in England.

Overall, strong play from Padraig Harrington and Sergio Garcia over the past month makes American hopes at defending their soil and winning the cup an unlikely result. Even though the States will have the crowd on their side, Harrington and Garcia’s one-two finish in the PGA Championship (the last major of the 2008 season) will most likely lead to the Europeans retaining the treasured Ryder Cup, especially since they only have to tie the challenging Americans.

E-mail William Hammer at [email protected]

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