Gleneagles preview: 5 key themes of The 2014 Ryder Cup

Dan Murphy analyses the five factors he believes will decide the outcome of Europe's showdown with America at Gleneagles

1. How the star players fare


Europe’s run of success over the last 20 years has been built on the likes of Colin Montgomerie, Lee Westwood, Darren Clarke, Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald compiling incredible individual records. By contrast, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk have missed one match between them since 1997 yet have a collected cup record in that time of P101 W36 H13 L52.

When your strongest players lose more games than they win, you have an awful lot to do. Europe will look to Rory McIlroy (See No.5); we are yet to see him display the kind of boundless energy that characterises him when all is well in his world. 

The USA need a big haul from the likes of Mickelson and Furyk. They’re overdue.

2.Europe’s pairing issue


One school of thought is that Paul McGinley, Europe’s captain, has much to do in this department. 

McIlroy/McDowell, Garcia/Donald and Westwood/Donald were established pairings that took beatings at Medinah. 

The Irishman might have to be creative at Gleneagles, a new partner for Rory (see No.5) being his top priority. 

He’ll also need someone to bring Victor Dubuisson to life while neither Martin Kaymer nor Henrik Stenson have obvious sidekicks. 

Perhaps, as David Howell suggested recently to NCG, they will come together and lead Europe out on the first morning. 

Justin Rose and Ian Poulter might be the only obvious partnership that end up playing two or even three times together. 

3. The weather could be key

We all know what happened at Celtic Manor four years ago. There’s every chance we’ll have similar problems again this time. 

McGinley ought to know better than most how to get the best out of Europe’s supporting cast" Gleneagles, high in the Perthshire hills, is a glorious scene when the sun is out. It isn’t always like that in late September sadly. Nor is there much, if any, spare daylight to catch up after delays for morning fog. 

It could also make it hard work for the players, not all of whom will relish squally, cold, heavy conditions. Florida-based sun-lover Rory McIlroy (see No.5) to name but one.

The flip side is that McIlroy’s peerless driving will gain him a significant advantage in advancing his ball down soft fairways through cold, heavy air.  

4. Managing of squads

Not so long ago, European captains felt they had little choice but to send out their top men in session after session. 

Now, received wisdom is that with 43 per cent of the total points available in the singles, it is more important to conserve at least some energy. 

As a player, by his own admission, McGinley was never one of the star men. So he ought to know better than most how to get the best out of Europe’s supporting cast. 

Ryder Cups are won by teams who all (or at least 10 of the 12) contribute. McGinley needs points from the likes of debutants Dubuisson and Jamie Donaldson just as much as he needs a big performance from his star player Rory, which brings up to No.5…

5. Which Rory will turn up

That’s right, all roads in this Ryder Cup lead to Rory McIlroy, winner of the last two Majors and the undisputed World No 1. He has a winning record (W4 H2 L3) but not convincingly so. 

Even before his debut, he said: “The Ryder Cup is a great spectacle but an exhibition at the end of the day.” 

He will surely not be paired with six-time partner Graeme McDowell, given the pending court case as McIlroy extricates himself from his former management company that McDowell has a shareholding in. 

And then there is the matter of him turning up late, extraordinarily so, for his 2012 singles against Keegan Bradley. It’s hard to imagine him doing the same in a Major. 

He has much to prove, but the signs are he will deliver.

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