Moving day finds both teams in a good place


YESTERDAY WAS moving day of a different kind for golf’s elite, as the 17 players involved in the US Tour’s FedEx Cup showdown – 12 from Team USA and five from team Europe – made the journey from Atlanta to Chicago for the Ryder Cup.

The other members of Jose Maria Olazabal’s team not involved in the moneyfest travelled from Heathrow and Orlando for the gathering of forces ahead of the biennial shindig.

If, on the face of it, the FedEx Cup series served to demonstrate just how well the American side are playing as a collective, the flip side of the coin would indicate that the Europeans – Justin Rose and Luke Donald reaffirming their well-being, and Rory McIlroy (his streak couldn’t possibly have gone on forever) remaining gung-ho despite missing out on the $10 million jackpot bonus – aren’t too shabby either.

All of which, as Rose observed, sets it up rather nicely for the three days of man-to-man combat which gets under way at Medinah on Friday. “I think it’s been a real good ebb and flow between the American team and European team. Obviously, (Brandt) Snedeker winning (the FedEx Cup), the needle might be swinging in favour of the Americans. But I think it’s set up for a great week in Chicago.  I looked at the long-range weather forecast. It looks like it’s going to be perfect. Two great teams, I think, all in the top 35, 40 in the world, something like that.  So it’s probably as strong as it’s ever been between two teams.  It’s going to be the team on the week.”

He’s right. All 12 of the USA team are ranked inside the top-23 on the world ranking (Jim Furyk in 23rd is the tailender) and all 12 of the European team are inside the top 35 (Nicolas Colsaerts backing up). And, of course, McIlroy remains atop everyone in the world number one spot.

Although the Northern Irishman pointed to being out-of-sorts with his driver as the primary reason for his troubles in the FedEx Cup final shoot-out in Atlanta, McIlroy agreed with Rose’s sentiments that the scene has been set for a showdown of the ages in Medinah.

“You look at how the Ryder Cup players (from both teams) have played over the past few weeks, they’ve been at the top of the leaderboards, they’ve been winning, they’ve been contending. It’s great,” admitted McIlrory, albeit adding a little warning: “I just hope that we’re all still as fresh (for Medinah).

“It’s been a long run . . . (and) the Ryder Cup is a long week. Not just with the golf and how much golf you have to play, but all the commitments you have outside of that. So, it’s a draining week and you’ve got to really conserve your energy,” remarked McIlroy, who hit Chicago with the intention to merely “chill out” and stay away from hitting any golf balls.

McIlroy, who will be playing in his second Ryder Cup, having put his remarks about referring to it as a mere “exhibition” to bed by embracing the whole experience at Celtic Manor in 2010, is also looking forward to getting to know Europe’s captain a little better in the coming days. “I haven’t really spent that much time with him, if I’m honest. He was, you might find this hard to believe, but he was probably a little before I started to watch golf. I know he won the Masters in ’99, so I remember that.

“But then really after that, he obviously had some health . . . obviously (he’s) known for his iron play and his short game was phenomenal. And his Ryder Cup record with Seve, (Ballesteros), seeing those two, the chemistry they had and the points, was good to see.”

Back in Olazabal’s own prime playing days, most of the European players were rather infrequent visitors to play regular events on the US Tour. Not any more. Indeed, a growing number of European team members are based in the US – Donald, Rose, Poulter, McDowell all firmly ensconced in the American way of life – and Westwood (and possibly McIlroy) set to join the growing band of brothers based there.

“I would say the US has less of a home advantage than they did 10 years ago,” claimed Rose, “just because of the fact that we do choose to live and play most of our golf here.  But the Ryder Cup atmosphere is second to none. The US does have a lot of rowdy golf tournaments where the crowd can get on the limit, which is great fun to play in front of. I think the more we get used to playing over here, the less of an adjustment it is to play Ryder Cup over here.”

Rose also made the point that Snedeker – a wild-card pick by Love and set to make his debut in the event – won’t be fazed in any way.

“He’s mentally tough, Brandt. To do what he did (winning the Tour Championship with the FedEx Cup on the line), I think next week’s going to feel pretty easy for him.”

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