The Ryder Cup is as big as any stage in golf. It is a crucible that can define a career.
Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood have a combined three wins on the PGA Tour. But in the hearts of European golf fans they are giants who defined greatness on the Ryder Cup stage.
Did you know Tiger Woods is behind only Phil Mickelson for the most losses in Ryder Cup matches? I didn’t either. You think that grinds his gears? Absolutely.
Every time the Ryder Cup is contested new stars emerge and current stars take a beating. Tiger lost four matches at the 2018 Ryder Cup in France.
That same year, Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood went undefeated and became the best odd couple in sports.
At Whistling Straits in 2021, Cantlay and Schauffele carried Team USA to a resounding victory.
The point is, you never know who might come out of the Ryder Cup week with a crown on their head or their tail between their legs.
Here are four names to watch (two from each team) that I think will either shine or crumple under the spotlight.
Potential Ryder Cup Aces:
Team USA – Max Homa
Homa is a Ryder Cup rookie but has experience in the Presidents Cup. He put together a sterling 4-0 record at that event. In the last year, he’s gone from a fan-favorite underdog to a legitimate PGA star.
I love that Max has not had an easy road to success. He’s had to weather the ups and downs. Through it all, he’s remained upbeat and focused.
His sense of humor and laid-back demeanor make him a great pairing for anyone on the squad. His flair for dramatic shots (think the chip-in at Fortinet and that amazing chip at Riviera from behind a tree) shows he can pull a rabbit out of his hat when he has to.
He was made for this. You can see how important it is to him. Look for Max to have a great week.
Team Europe – Viktor Hovland
This is neither a surprising nor hard pick to make. There may not be a hotter golfer on the planet right now.
Like Max Homa, Viktor Hovland possesses an irrepressible spirit coupled with a flair for the dramatic.
Hovland finally shored up his chipping woes and now has command of the entire bag. It’s difficult to find a weak spot. He, too, will make a great partner for almost anyone on Team Europe. He’s plenty long off the tee, his short game has improved more than anyone on Tour, and he’s on a heater right now.
If Europe brings the Ryder Cup back to Europe, it will be on the shoulders of Viktor Hovland.
Potential Ryder Cup Flops:
Team USA – Jordan Spieth
I know, I know. I love Jordan Spieth, too. I don’t think he’s at the top of his game right now. Add to that the recent birth of a child that prevented him from going on a scouting trip to Marco Simone and I worry.
The truth is that despite some highlight moments in his Ryder Cup career, he barely has a winning record (8-7-3). I also think he is the reason Justin Thomas is on the team. That means we’ll likely see them together in team play. If Thomas hasn’t regained form and plays poorly, I don’t think Spieth can bail them out alone.
In that regard, I’m betting against the Spieth-Thomas Team. If one is off, I suspect it will drag both of them down.
Team Europe – Rory McIlroy
I saved the best for last. Rory has a .500 record at the Ryder Cup (12-12-4). That’s respectable, but not acceptable for one of the best players on the planet over the last 12 years.
What concerns me most about Rory is his ability to maintain control in crunch time. Recall the blown tee shot off #10 at the 2011 Masters and the O.B. tee ball at the first hole in The Open Championship held in Ireland.
I don’t think Rory is a choker. Not at all. I think he gets too amped-up when he’s the storyline or the leader. If the focus on Team Europe lands on Rahm and Hovland, Rory might have a great week under the radar.
But that’s just not going to happen. Win or lose, Rory will be in the middle of the discussion. If Team Europe gets behind early, I think McIlroy will push too hard and flame out.
Team Europe will win the Ryder Cup 14.5 to 13.5. Rahm and Hovland are good enough right now to go undefeated. Fleetwood and Hatton are on form.
I think the bottom half of the US Team will struggle and will just fall short of their first win on European soil in 30 years.