There was a curious bit of business going on Sunday and Monday between U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk and a resurgent Tiger Woods.
Woods, who made a charge at a major like he hasn’t done in a while at the 100th PGA Championship, stated that he would like to play at the Ryder Cup, instead of just being a vice captain as has already been determined.
Yet, despite his second at Bellerive and sixth at the Open Championship (with a move to 11th in Ryder Cup points), Furyk won’t tip his cap whether to add Woods as an at-large selection to add to the eight predetermined players who will attempt to defend the U.S. team’s 2016 title.
They are Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed, Justin Thomas, Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Webb Simpson.
The point of the whole exercise is to put together a winning team, even though it feels like just a reward for being in the top 50. But, match play is a different beast and a few of these players may not have that kind of game to bring glory.
We at SportsBreak think that previous experience is the best criteria, and then good all around recent play. Here are our picks for Team USA and Team Europe. Starting with Team Europe and provisionally qualified players identified and individual record (wins-losses-halves).
Europe – Justin Rose (Ryder record: 11-6-2; Qualified)
Rose would be an automatic pick this year, based solely on his Ryder Cup points. However, who we wouldn’t include, though, is Open Championship winner Francesco Molinari. He has a career 0-4-2 record at Ryder Cups in 2010 and 2012, and limited results at WGC Match Play events. Rose, for his part, has been clutch for Europe. He was a rookie in 2008, going 3-1, including a 3&2 defeat of Phil Mickelson in singles matches. When Europe went back-to-back in 2012, Rose again played a huge part, being just one of two players including Rory McIlroy, to play all five matches. He went 3-2, including another victory over Mickelson in singles, 1-up. At the 2014 Ryder, when Europe dominated the U.S. for a third straight title, Rose didn’t lose a match, going 3-0-2. The only “blemish” on his impeccable Ryder record was a 2-3-0 finish at the 2016 tournament, where the U.S. dominated 17-11.
Europe – Tyrell Hatton (Ryder record: Rookie; Qualified)
Hatton has enough points to qualify and barring an injury or complete collapse in the next few weeks, should be at Le Golf National club near Paris for the start of the Ryder on Sept. 28. Hatton finished T-6 at the U.S. Open and was T-10 at the PGA Championship and is currently ranked 23rd in the world. While he has never competed in a Ryder, Hatton went 3-0 at this year’s Eurasia Cup, a match play event won by Team Europe over Team Asia. He teamed with Ross Fisher and Paul Casey to win four-ball and foursomes matches, respectively, then went out and beat world no. 97 Anirban Lahiri 2&1 to craft a perfect 3-0 record. Hatton was also 2-1 at this year’s WGC Match Play tournament, making the round of 16. New blood is important and judging by his play, Hatton will be a good addition.
Europe – Tommy Fleetwood (Ryder Record: Rookie; Qualified)
Like fellow countryman Hatton, world no. 11 Fleetwood has been taking the tour by storm and his inclusion in the 2018 Ryder Cup is pretty much pre-ordained. A solo second at this year’s U.S. Open, after a solo fourth in 2017, have put Fleetwood’s name on most golf fans’ tongues. At the 2018 Eurasia Cup, Fleetwood also went 3-0 like Hatton, teaming for wins in four-ball with Paul Casey and foursomes with Henrik Stenson before beating Shiv Chawrasia 2&1 in singles. Fleetwood was 2-1 at this year’s WGC Match Play championship, finishing T17 out of 64 players. As an amateur, Fleetwood participated in the 2009 Walker Cup with Britain/Ireland, going 1-1. Fleetwood’s game is in great shape, as evidenced by the 63 he shot at the U.S. Open this year — just the sixth golfer ever to record that number.
Europe – Paul Casey (Ryder Record: 3-2-4)
Now we dive into the weeds to flesh out the rest of Team Europe. Casey, who is ranked 15th in the world and is 34th in European Ryder Cup points, is deserving of inclusion. He played in 2004, 2006 and 2008 and has an overall mark of 3-2-4. As a rookie in ’04 at Oakland Hills in Michigan, Casey was eased into it, winning a four-ball with David Howell 1-up over Jim Furyk and Chad Campbell and then losing 3&2 to Tiger Woods in singles. He was great in 2006 at the K Club in Ireland, winning two matches and halving two others as Europe dominated 18.5 to 9.5. He beat 2018 captain Jim Furyk 2&1 in singles play on the final day. Casey was a captain’s pick in 2008 — and should be this year — and didn’t do too bad as the U.S. won, going 0-1-2, halving Hunter Mahan in singles. We would have him on our team Team Europe.
Europe – Sergio Garcia (Ryder Record: 19-11-7)
Only one other player among our Team Europe picks has more matches played than Sergio’s 37, but we won’t give that away right now. Garcia has been a fixture for the Europeans at every Ryder Cup except one (2010) since 1999 and his 22.5 points tie him for sixth all-time among European players with Seve Ballesteros. Garcia got his Ryder Cup career off to a bang during the hotly contested ’99 event, going unbeaten in four-ball and foursome’s (3-0-1) before losing 3&2 to Jim Furyk in singles. His best Ryder Cup was in 2006, where he narrowly missed being just the second golfer ever to win all his matches. He won both his four-ball matches with Jose Maria Olazabal and his foursome matches with Luke Donald, only to lose to Stewart Cink $&3 in singles. He’s a lock to make it, in our estimation.
Europe – Martin Kaymer (Ryder Record: 5-6-3)
Kaymer’s record isn’t as stellar as most, but he has proven to be clutch at the Ryder. In 2012 at Medinah, Kaymer dropped the penultimate putt that capped a massive European comeback from a 10-6 deficit before singles play. Kaymer, who only appeared in a afternoon four-ball with Justin Rose, losing 3&2, sank a huge put on the 18th in the second last match of the day, beating Steve Stricker 1-up. The Euros won 14.5 to 13.5 in one of the biggest sporting comebacks of all time, never mind just golf. Kaymer, who is 30th in points and ranked 127th in the world, has been pretty good at recent WGC match play tournaments, going 2-1 in 2017 and beating 2018 U.S. Ryder Cup entrant Webb Simpson. If anything Kaymer is a great singles player, with an overall 3-1-0 mark. which could gain him inclusion and would for our Euro team.
Europe – Rory McIlroy (Ryder Record: 9-6-4)
At seventh in points and ranked seventh in the world, it’s a near dead certainty that McIlroy will be named to Team Europe for the fifth time. His debut at the 2010 tournament in Wales wasn’t a bad one, as he won one, lost one and halved to matches, three of them with countryman Graeme McDowell, gaining two of his 11 career points. In 2012 and then more of a seasoned veteran, McIlroy split his four-ball and foursomes matches, then beat American Keegan Bradley 2&1 as Europe won the second of three straight Ryder Cup titles at Medinah. His victory was part of that massive European comeback we alluded to above. During Europe’s three-peat in 2014, it didn’t look good for McIlroy after three matches, as he lost one and halved two. But, he won with Sergio Garcia in afternoon foursomes on the Saturday and then whipped Rickie Fowler 5&4 in singles to improve to 2-1-2. Any more evidence one needs to include McIlroy can be found in his 2016 record (3-2-0). He was just one of three Euros with a winning record as the U.S. won handily 17-11.
Europe – Thomas Pieters (Ryder Record: 4-1-0)
What a way to make an impression. In 2016, young Belgian Pieters was a Captain’s pick and he couldn’t have done much better. He was one match short of becoming just the second player in tournament history to win all his matches, getting his first loss out of the way paired with Lee Westwood in the first four-ball match (5&4 to Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar). Captain Darren Clarke then paired Pieters with Rory McIlroy for the remaining team matches and they were devastating. Pieters/McIlroy whipped Johnson and Kuchar in afternoon four-balls 3&2, then beat Fowler/Mickelson in Saturday morning foursomes 4&2 and then Brooks Koepka and DJ 3&1 in afternoon four-ball. Pieters capped his magical rookie entree by taking down J.B. Holmes 3&2 in singles. We can’t think of a single reason he shouldn’t be on the 2018 team.
Europe – Ian Poulter (Ryder Record: 12-4-2)
When it comes to Ryder Cup warriors, not many have been, or are, as fierce as Poulter. His .72 percent point average is among the greatest for players who have played at least two Ryder Cups and his record speaks for itself. He’s been at his best, mano-a-mano, too, never losing in five matches and winning handily in most of them (4-0-1). Among the vanquished were Steve Stricker in 2008 (3&2), Matt Kuchar in 2010 (5&4) and Webb Simpson during the big comeback of 2012 (2-up). Poulter didn’t make the cut in 2016 and it showed in the Sunday singles when the Europeans won just four matches and halved won en route to getting ripped by the Americans. Poulter, who is ranked 32nd in the world, played very well in the WGC Match Play championship this year, going 3-0 in the round robin and making the quarter-finals. We think Europe needs him in France.
Europe – Lee Westwood (Ryder Record: 20-18-6)
If the object of the Ryder Cup truly is to win it, European captain Thomas Bjorn would be remiss to not at least consider Lee Westwood among his captain’s picks. Yes, Westwood’s game isn’t near where it should be, as he is ranked just 121st in the world and hasn’t made a whole lot of noise on the tour. But that Ryder record, compiled since 1997, can’t be ignored, particularly in foursomes, where he has lost just five times in 18 matches (9-5-4) and then in four-ball, where he is 8-6-2. Westwood’s Achilles Heel is in singles, with just three wins in 10 matches, his last a clutch 3&2 victory over Matt Kuchar in the third last match of the day during Team Europe’s stunning come-from-behind victory in 2012. His most successful Ryder was the 2006 event, when he didn’t lose a match, going 3-0-2 as Europe won in a walk, 18.5 to 9.5.
Europe – Alex Noren (Ryder Record: Rookie)
If there was only one spot for a Swede on this year’s European Ryder Cup team, it would go to Noren, who is ranked 13th in the world. Countryman Henrik Stenson, ranked 16th, has done better at the majors than Noren, but has not competed in WGC Match Play the last couple of seasons, while Noren made the quarter-finals in 2017 and was solo third this year. He easily won his group at the 2018 WGC Match Play, beating Thomas Pieters along the way, then dismantling 2018 American team choice Patrick Reed 5&4 in the first round of the playoffs. Noren followed that up by beating Cameron Smith in the quarter-finals before losing to Kevin Kisner in the semis. He rebounded to pound another 2018 American team member, Justin Thomas, 5&3 to capture third place. He could be a force to be reckoned with in France.
Europe – Jon Rahm (Ryder Record: Rookie)
Sitting just outside an automatic berth in the European Ryder Cup points chase is big hitter Rahm, who is fifth and most certainly a strong candidate for inclusion on this year’s team. The no. 5 ranked player in the world finished solo fourth at the Masters and T4 at the PGA championship, proving he is a big time golfer. He also honed his match play chops at the 2017 WGC Match Play tournament, finishing a strong second. Rahm won his group in style, whipping countryman Sergio Garcia 6&4 in his final group play match to go 3-0. In succession in the playoffs he smoked Charles Howell III 6&4, Soren Kjeldsen 7&5 and then Bill Haas 3&2 in the semi-finals. However, he ran into hot no. 1 ranked Dustin Johnson in the final, finally succumbing in the 18th hole, 1-up to the American. He should be a lock for France.
USA – Brooks Koepka (Ryder Record: 3-1-0)
Of the eight golfers already named to the U.S. 2018 Ryder Cup team, only four have winning records. It’s not a dog’s breakfast, mind you, but not a great overall showing. However, we are agreeing with all eight choices and in our final list, experience wins out. Koepka, who was so machine-like in winning his second major of the year at the PGA championship and third overall, rolls into the Ryder with a pretty sterling 3-1-0 record from 2016. Just one of two American rookies that year, Koepka teamed with Brandt Snedeker to win the only American Friday afternoon four-ball match, 5&4 over Danny Willett and Martin Kaymer. He and Snedeker repeated the feat in the Saturday morning foursomes, being the only US duo to come out on top. He lost his only match in the afternoon four-ball with Dustin Johnson, falling 3&1 to Thomas Pieters and Rory McIlroy. He helped complete the U.S. onslaught in the singles match, handily whipping Willett 5&4.
USA – Dustin Johnson (Ryder Record: 6-5-0; Qualified)
The world’s no. 1 has certainly earned his place on this year’s Ryder Cup squad and with three events under his belt, D.J. will be a leader as the Americans storm France looking to defend their 2016 title. Johnson didn’t have the greatest first Ryder Cup experience in 2010, going 1-3-0 and avoiding a big goose egg by beating Martin Kaymer 6&4 in singles. He’s picked it up since then at the 2012 and 2016 Ryder Cups, going 5-2-0. A captain’s pick in 2012, Johnson won both his four-ball matches with Matt Kuchar and was one of just three Americans to win on the pivotal Sunday that saw the Europeans claw back from a huge 10-6 deficit to win 14.5 to 13.5. He took a leave of absence in 2014 and reappeared in 2016 as the leading point-getter. He was only 1-2 going into the Sunday singles matches, but kept his record above .500 by nipping Chris Wood 1-up to help the Americans win in a walk.
USA – Patrick Reed (Ryder Record: 6-1-2; Qualified)
Reed, other than being a bull of a man, is seemingly built for big match play showdowns. The excitable American has been beaten just once in two Ryder Cups, a four-ball match with Jordan Spieth in 2016. Otherwise, the Reed/Spieth dynamic duo put together two wins and a halved match to keep the American ball rolling to a title last year. Reed picked up the Americans first win in singles, too, taking down Rory McIlroy in a spirited match, 1-up. Reed and Spieth were also hell on Europe as rookies in 2014, grabbing two of the total four American four-ball, foursome wins and halving their other match. Reed began his singles mastery as Europe won in 2014, taming Henrik Stenson 1-up to go 3-0-1 in his first ever Ryder Cup.
USA – Justin Thomas (Ryder Record: Rookie; Qualified)
Compared to burly and brash Patrick Reed, quiet surefire Ryder Cup member Justin Thomas looks like you could blow him over. The 2017 PGA Championship victor just failed to defend his title, finishing in a tie for sixth this year. Ranked third in the world, Thomas is having a heck of a season and placed very well at his third WGC Match Play tournament too in advance of the Ryder. He finished fourth, easily handling Open Championship winner Francesco Molinari and American up-and-comer Patton Kizzire and Luke List in the group stage. In the playoffs, he crushed young phenom Si-Woo Kim in the first round 6&5, then beat fellow Yank Kyle Stanley in the quarterfinals 2&1 before losing to veteran Bubba Watson 3&2 in the semi-finals. He ran out of gas in the third-place match, falling to Alex Noren 5&3. We think he’s ready for the big stage of the Ryder.
USA – Bubba Watson (Ryder Record: 3-8-0; Qualified)
Of all eight players who have won the golden ticket to France, Bubba has the most to prove and made it hard for us to include him. After being on three straight teams from 2010 to 2014, he only went to the 2016 Ryder as a vice-captain, watching from the sidelines as the U.S. broke a three-year European hold on the trophy. Of course, in each of Watson’s three entries, the U.S. lost and for the most part, so did Bubba. He has yet to win a singles or foursome match, and going 3-3 in four-ball. In his rookie year he was 1-3, losing his singles match badly to Miguel Angel Jimenez, 4&3. During the 2012 USA meltdown at Medinah, Bubba won his two four-ball matches and lost his foursome match, then fell 2&1 to Luke Donald in the first match of a bad singles day for America. In 2014, Watson had the distinction of being the only player on either team and the only American to not at least post a halved match, going 0-3. However, if his win at this year’s presitigious WGC Match Play championship is to be believed, he crushed Kevin Kisner 7&6, Watson is ready.
USA – Jordan Spieth (Ryder Record: 4-3-2; Qualified)
It hasn’t been a great season for Spieth, but neither has it been all that bad. He hasn’t won a tournament, however, he has collected some big cheques, notably for a solo third at the Masters and a tie for ninth at the Open Championship, both tournaments he has won before. At the PGA Championship, he finished T-12 maintaining his eighth position in the overall world rankings. As far as the Ryder Cup goes, he’s already in — as he should be — and will be looking to improve on his singles record, which currently stands at 0-2-0. As a freshman in 2014, he teamed with fellow greenhorn Patrick Reed to win Friday and Saturday morning four-ball and then halve the Saturday afternoon foursome match. Pitted against Graeme McDowell in the first singles match in a tourney won by Europe, Spieth fell 2&1. The Spieth/Reed pair were pretty good in the U.S. victory in 2016, going 2-1-1 in all four four-ball and foursome matches. But again, Spieth couldn’t handle Henrik Stenson in singles, going down 3&2. We like him and Reed as a pair again in France.
USA – Rickie Fowler (Ryder Record: 2-4-5; Qualified)
We begrudgingly include three-time Ryder participant Fowler as a member of our Team USA, if only for the fact he has posted some decent results this PGA Tour season. He was a solo second at the Masters, nearly winning his first Green Jacket, and was T8 in a tough Memorial Tournament field. Fowler has skirted around the edges of golf superstardom and maybe, just maybe, he can immortalize his game with a big showing at this year’s Ryder Cup. He debuted as a Captain’s Pick in 2010, just in time for the first of three Europe titles. It was an auspicious first experience, as he went 0-1-2 for a point. He didn’t make the squad in 2012 — which wasn’t a bad thing considering the U.S. team’s colossal collapse — and reappeared as a top pick in 2014. He and Jimmie Walker had relative success in all four four-ball/foursome matches, winning one and halving three. But Fowler was unceremoniously taken apart by Rory McIlroy in singles, 5&4. Fowler was again a Captain’s Pick in 2016 and went 1-1 in both foursome matches with Phil Mickelson. He did break his singles winless hex, clipping Justin Rose 1-up.
USA – Webb Simpson (Ryder Record: 2-3-1; Qualified)
Simpson is the last of eight who have already qualified for the Ryder Cup and he too gave us pause when considering our Team USA roster. The 20th ranked player in the world, who wasn’t part of the successful 2016 squad, heads into his third Ryder and will want to beef up his singles mark (0-1-1) and foursomes record (0-1-0). We believe a pairing with Bubba Watson this year, especially in four-ball, would do the trick. In 2012, his rookie outing, he and Bubba owned their European counterparts in four-ball, winning 5&4 in both matches. But, Ian Poulter made his singles debut a rough one, beating Simpson 2-up. Simpson got only one chance in four-ball in 2014, and the tables were turned on he and Watson, as they got whipped 5&4 by Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson. He did, however, salvage a half in re-match with Ian Poulter in singles play. We’ll just have to wait and see what Furyk does with him this year.
USA – Zach Johnson (Ryder Record: 8-7-2)
Here’s where we put our money where our mouth is and flesh out the rest of Team USA for Jim Furyk. As we said earlier, experience should come into play and that other Johnson has it in spades. He’s been to five events and has been superb in singles matches, going 3-1-1. As seen in a few of the last Ryder Cups, pivotal singles matches have been make or break for both the US and Europe. Sure, the 42-year-old has had a middling year and is ranked just 47th internationally, however, he’s missed just one cut and brings cache to a young-ish Team USA. After a 1-2-1 first Ryder in 2006 (won handily by Europe), Johnson turned it around as a Captain’s pick in 2010, going 2-1-0, including a singles victory over Padraig Harrington, 3&2. Despite his team’s epic meltdown in 2012, Johnson was 3-1-0 and one of only three Americans to win in singles. In 2014, his 0-2-1 record was forgettable, but he rebounded in 2016 to forge another winning record (2-1-0) to help the Americans break a three-year European hold on the trophy.
USA – Kevin Kisner (Ryder Record: Rookie)
Kisner isn’t young by any stretch at 34, but, new blood is required and he is having a pretty good year on the tour. He finished tied for second at the Open Championship and was great in just his third entry at the WGC Match Play championships earlier this year. We think he should be on the U.S. team for finishing second there, especially after being seeded 32nd of 64. First, he crushed Dustin Johnson 4&3 in the Group stage and finished first in his four-man bracket with a 2-0-1 record. In the round of 16, he nipped Matt Kuchar 1-up and then absolutely destroyed Ian Poulter in the quarter-finals, 8&6. He needed an extra hole to dispose of Alex Noren in the semi-finals, but ran into a hot Bubba Watson in the final, going down 7&6. In addition to outstanding play at the WGC, Kisner went undefeated at the 2017 President’s Cup, winning two and halving two matches.
USA – Phil Mickelson (Ryder Record: 18-20-7)
Some of the players in this year’s Ryder Cup were still infants the first time the Mick teed it up with Team USA at Oak Hill in 1995. And at 25, he was the kid in a group that didn’t have another player under the age of 31. Mickelson was a revelation in his first Ryder, going 3-0-0. We need not go into too much detail on his Ryder Cup exploits, except to mention he has been to 11 of them and scooped up 21.5 points in 45 matches, never failing to make the team — and he shouldn’t this year. Mickelson has played a key part in two of the most dramatic Ryder Cups, the USA’s come-from-behind victory in 1999 and then their complete collapse in 2012. In ’99, Phil was 1-2 in four-ball/foursome matches and then was tasked with beating unknown rookie Jarmo Sandelin. He did so, 5&3 as Team USA won eight matches en route to erasing a 10-6 deficit. In 2012, Mickelson and Keegan Bradley went 3-0 in four-ball/foursomes to push the Americans to a 10-6 lead heading into singles play. However, he was nipped 1-up by Justin Rose as Europe stormed back to win 14.5 to 13.5. He should be a no-brainer.
USA – Tiger Woods (Ryder Record: 13-17-3)
No golfer on this list deserves a crack at another Ryder Cup than Tiger, in our humble opinion. Furyk ought to end all the speculation, soon, and make him a player rather than a vice-captain. Woods has seemingly come back from the dead, from being ranked 656th in the world at the end of 2017, to 26th as of this writing. He has ample experience, that is a given, but the way he has played recently makes him a fearful competitor. If anything, he is one of Team USA’s greatest singles match players, winning four, losing one and halving two. Thus, Furyk can keep him warm by not over-tasking him in four-ball or foursomes. Woods may have added motivation, too, in that his last Ryder was his worst by far, with a 0-3-1 showing during the 2012 meltdown. His solo second at the PGA Championship, preceded by an admirable T6 at the Open Championship, proves to us Tiger is trending upward. We hope to see him play in France and not just give advice.