By Shane Thomas
In less than 24 hours time, both Europe & America will have teed-off in what has been one of the most hyped Ryder Cups in history. America will be defending the cup which they regained at Valhalla two years ago, and are looking for their first victory on European soil for 17 years. Here are three players from both teams who may have key roles to play over the coming weekend in Wales:
Europe's captain Colin Montgomerie had been their Ryder Cup talisman throughout their most recent victories. With Monty now directing traffic from the side of the course, the mantle has been passed to Westwood. He is now a veteran of the competition and has proven himself capable of being the equal of any player in the world. It's not coincidence that he will be the first man to swing a club in anger for the Europeans tomorrow. If they are to regain the cup, then the World No. 3 must set the pace.
Battle-hardened competitor who has more majors than any other member of the European team. But he has been woeful by-and-large this year. Monty has taken a huge risk giving the Irishman a wild card pick ahead of Paul Casey & Justin Rose. Many had a similar feeling when Ian Poulter received a wild card pick for the 2008 match. Poulter ended up as the team's highest points scorer. While Harrington may not need to score heavily, this is likely to be a closely fought contest and Europe cannot afford any dead wood. Harrington has underperformed at this level in the past and owes Europe & Montgomerie a strong showing this time around.
Secured his wild card selection by winning the Johnnie Walker Classic with "the best finish to a tournament I have ever seen". Not my words, but Montgomerie's. The captain was so impressed that he felt he had no choice but to select Molinari. Matchplay golf is a different animal to the strokeplay format we normally see. Similar to a game of poker, how you play your opponent is as important as how you play the course. Molinari is arguably Europe's best putter, which is perfect for matchplay. He could form a devastating partnership with brother Francesco in the afternoon foursomes.
As seen in an earlier post, Johnson missed out on a chance of winning the PGA Championship this year due to a combination of rotten luck & carelessness. He just may take his frustration out on Celtic Manor. He is a ferociously long hitter and if he gets his game going, he could bring the course to its knees. This is an inexperienced U.S team and if they are to retain the Ryder Cup, Johnson will have to come to the party.
Personal scandal, a shocking year by his standards, and allegedly he doesn't care much for this competition. But Tiger is still the World No. 1, he will surely rediscover his best game at some point, and the team environment may suit him for a change. With the spotlight shared between all 12 players, will it give Tiger the sufficient freedom to play his best? We'll soon find out. His encounter with Ian Poulter in tomorrow morning's fourballs is a must-see for any golf fan.
One thing's for sure with this Ryder Cup rookie. Fowler won't be dull to watch. His style of play matches his attire. Bright, ostentatious and aggressive. Fowler is likely to be the tournament's Icarus. If his game catches fire over the next three days, he and the Americans may garner a momentum that will be tough to stop.
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