The Ryder Cup is set to captivate millions of fans when Europe and the USA lock horns at Le Golf National in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines next week. The Europeans have won seven of the last 10 showdowns, but the Americans are the defending champions after securing a 17-11 victory in 2016. The atmosphere became really heated, with Patrick Reed flaming the fans of enmity and several American fans abusing Rory McIlroy. We should be in for another heated, gripping contest when the biennial tournament returns next week. Here are the five main talking points ahead of the 2018 Ryder Cup.
Were the wildcard selections correct?
Tiger Woods is returning to the Ryder Cup after a six-year absence and the former world number one is sure to dominate the headlines. US captain Jim Furyk plumped for experience when making his wildcard picks, bringing in Woods and Phil Mickelson, alongside exciting duo Bryson DeChambeau and Tony Finau. The USA is blessed with a remarkably talented young core of superstars, but Woods and Mickelson should instil confidence in their younger teammates with their mere presence alone. Woods’ upswing in form this year has been remarkable, as the American has climbed 1,178 places in just nine months to reach 21st in the world rankings. Europe captain Thomas Bjorn also went for experience in selecting Paul Casey, Ian Poulter and Sergio Garcia, who will be the oldest member of the team, while Henrik Stenson deserves inclusion. The bookmakers make Woods the favourite to be the top scoring wildcard pick, but second favourite DeChambeau looks interesting as he is the form player in the world right now.
Do the Europeans stand a chance?
The American team has been remarkably dominant on the global stage in recent years, and they currently hold the Ryder Cup, Solheim Cup, Presidents Cup, Walker Cup and Curtis Cup. Americans have won six of the last eight majors, and they are blessed with phenomenal talent. Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed and Rickie Fowler are all brilliant players. But the US has not won on European soil since 1993, and Europe has an extremely strong team too. Four of the world’s top 10 players are now European, with England’s Justin Rose currently occupying the number one spot. If you check out the sports spread betting you will see that the Europeans are the underdogs, but history is on their side. They have genuine superstars of their own, including Rose and Rory McIlroy, and they will be desperate to avenge that bruising 2016 defeat. Write the Europeans off at your peril.
What will the atmosphere be like?
France has never previously hosted the Ryder Cup, and it is not exactly a country that is steeped in golfing heritage and provenance. The locals will not have any French players to cheer on, and they may be somewhat ambivalent to the whole thing. When the Ryder Cup heads to Europe, it usually takes place in Britain and the atmosphere is electric. Yet we are likely to see a number of fans travel to Paris from the US, Britain, Ireland and further afield, so they should create a decent buzz around the course.
Who will earn the most points?
The Ryder Cup provides a platform on which golfers can achieve greatness and immortality. Colin Montgomerie never won a major, but he will always be remembered as a Ryder Cup legend. It is a team contest, but it will be won and lost on the back of individual performances. A small group of players dominate the betting when it comes to top combined points scorer at the 2018 Ryder Cup. The bookmakers expect Thomas, Johnson, Koepka, Rose or McIlroy to end the tournament as the greatest individual performer. Le Golf National is a links style course and that should suit Koepka, who won two majors this year on the strength of his links play, so it would be unsurprising if he earned a major haul of points.
Who will be the top debutant?
Several bright young stars will be making their debuts: Thomas, DeChambeau and Finau for the US, and Jon Rahm, Tommy Fleetwood, Alex Noren, Thorbjorn Olesen and Tyrell Hatton for Europe. DeChambeau is in fine form, while Noren has soared up the world rankings of late, but Thomas is clearly the superstar out of this group. The reigning Golfer of the Year has the ability to punish Europe throughout the competition, and they will have to be at their very best to thwart him. However, Fleetwood also has the ability to thrive in this showdown. He has enjoyed a fairy-tale rise to prominence over the past couple of years and he has remained undaunted by any occasion. “When it is on, the Ryder Cup is by a country mile the biggest sporting event in the world,” he said. “We get the chance to play in that. It has 100% been a massive goal in my life. Teeing off on the first will be ticking off a lifetime goal, so will being on a winning team, whether that is this year or not.”