After last year’s postponement, the excitement surrounding the Ryder Cup is starting to ramp up with the, usually, biennial event now a month away (Ryder Cup Outright – USA 4/7, Europe 15/8, Tie 10/1).
Team Europe dominated at France’s Le Golf National in 2018, winning 17½ to 10½ and their team is shaping up nicely as they prepare to head to Wisconsin’s Whistling Straits aiming to defend their title, starting on September 24.
Jon Rahm, Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton and Rory McIlroy, the first three of whom were debutants in France, sit in the top four places in the European Points list. Meanwhile, on the World Points list, Viktor Hovland looks set to become the first Norwegian to play in the Ryder Cup and could qualify by that criteria alongside the experienced duo of Lee Westwood and Paul Casey.
Matt Fitzpatrick, who played at Hazeltine in 2016, is another closing on his place, as is 2019 Open champion Shane Lowry, but there will be plenty of twists and turns before qualifying ends on September 12, plus the uncertainty of who Padraig Harrington will hand his three wildcards too.
So what of the Americans? Well, the big news is that Tony Finau leapt to sixth in the standings on Monday as he beat Australia’s Cameron Smith in a playoff to win the delayed The Northern Trust, the first event of the FedExCup playoffs.
The result ended the 31-year-old’s 1,975-day wait for his second PGA Tour title, a streak that included eight-second place finishes.
Finau looked nervous on his Ryder Cup debut in 2018 but will be flying after his victory in New Jersey and he will hope to back it up at this week’s BMW Championship (Finau – 22/1 Outright).
If qualification ended now, the Utah-native would take the final automatic qualification place, with US captain Steve Stricker having six wildcards to call on.
If you close your eyes and imagine a US ‘Dream Team’, Collin Morikawa, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka and Justin Thomas would all be in it and currently occupy the top five spots in the standings.
All look set to be involved in Wisconsin, with the likes of Xander Schauffele, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Cantlay and Webb Simpson amongst those hoping to get the call from Stricker.
However, ‘Captain America’ Patrick Reed is a doubt for the tournament, and the remainder of the FedExCup, after revealing he is in hospital receiving treatment for pneumonia, having earlier withdrawn from The Northern Trust with an ankle injury.
The 2018 Masters champion has taken eight points from his three Ryder Cup appearances but may have to sit out in Wisconsin.
Even so, Stricker still has an embarrassment of riches to choose from, with the top six in the US standings sharing 10 major titles between them, while 19th in the list is Phil Mickelson.
Now 51, ‘Lefty’ has still got it, as demonstrated by his brilliant showing at May’s PGA Championship, where he claimed his sixth major.
Mickelson also has course form, not finishing worse than T18 in the three editions of the PGA Championship to be played at Whistling Straits.
The Stars and Stripes look set to be star-studded. However, as we’ve seen so often before, the Ryder Cup is so much more than 12v12 (To Lift the Cup – USA 4/7, Europe 11/8).