Tournament Preview

It isn’t normally like this.

The script, concocted over many iterations of the Ryder Cup, reads that the US team are supposed to be the overwhelming favourites and the Europeans the plucky underdogs. It’s David versus Goliath, and that’s how it’s always been, right?

Yet, on paper at least, this year’s US and European teams look mighty evenly matched going into Rome 2023. In fact, on home soil, one might even be tempted to consider Europe as favourites to reclaim the Cup they relinquished with minimal resistance at Whistling Straits two years ago.

Since that dominant 19-9 US victory, the world of elite professional golf has been turned on its head by the launch of the Saudi-funded LIV Golf Tour and the subsequent resignation of LIV players from their home Tours.

The defection of several architects of that 2021 victory has certainly diluted what has traditionally been a very deep reservoir of talent jostling for positions on the US Ryder Cup team. And so it is that this year, captain Zach Johnson has faced the unusual dilemma of who to include in his team, rather that who to leave out, when it comes to the final few spots.

It’s a subtle difference that renders the US team, much like the Europeans, top-heavy with superstars, and a touch thin at the bottom end. Ultimately, Johnson has chosen to fill his remaining spots with a collection of dependable veterans and dashing rookies. He also knows that the likes of Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas bring more than just stellar play to the American lineup – they are players of passion who are able to rally those around them.

For the visitors, the top dogs of Scottie Scheffler, Jordan Spieth, Xander Schauffele, Patrick Cantlay and LIV exile Brooks Koepka are expected to feature heavily over all three days of play, while for team Europe, expect to see Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Viktor Hovland and Matt Fitzpatrick play every session.

These golfing studs will bear the weight of responsibility heavily on their shoulders, but it’s those outside this elite group, including the 12 captains’ picks, who will likely make the Ryder Cup spectacle even more fascinating.

For the hosts, LIV has arguably made the wildcard choices easier for captain Luke Donald. There’s simply no need for nostalgia and a hankering to include Ryder Cup legends Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson based on their past performances. Instead, Donald has been able to turn to form players such as Tommy Fleetwood, Ludvig Aberg, Sepp Straka and Nicolai Hojgaard to complete a powerful lineup. The addition of Major champions Justin Rose and Shane Lowry as captain’s picks adds crucial experience to the mix – with the pair expected to add a sense of calm and leadership to the locker room.

Facing a US team without the likes of Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed and Phil Mickelson, the Europeans have got more than just a fighting chance in Rome.

Yet to reclaim the Cup, one senses they will need to play to their traditional strengths and build up a lead in the foursomes and betterball matches – and then hang on during the final day’s singles matches, where history shows the Americans to be a dominant force.

As always, the intangibles of team dynamics, hot pairings and momentum will play a massive role in determining the destination of the Cup but, after four one-sided Ryder Cups in succession, we are certainly overdue a tight, nail-biting affair. Rome, backed by a home team hungry for revenge and a raucous home crowd, should deliver it.

WATCH now!

An emotional Rory McIlroy shares his thoughts after Team Europe’s defeat at Whistling Straits.