by Ed Leahy
The European team, under the guidance of Ryder Cup legend Jose Maria Olazabal, are defending the trophy after winning the 2010 Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor in Wales.
Boasting the world number one player in Rory McIlroy, and three more of the top five, Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Justin Rose, the Europeans have a great chance of making it seven success out of the last ten attempts.
Going over onto US soil is never easy and so it proved in 2008 at Valhalla when the home side regained the trophy following the 2006 Ryder Cup in Ireland at the K Club. And with only one rookie on this year’s side, who is to say that the trophy won’t be winging its way back across the Atlantic on Monday afternoon.
Let’s take a look at the 12 players who will represent Europe at this year’s Ryder Cup.
Since making his Ryder Cup debut two years ago in Wales, McIlroy has won two majors and has rocketed up the world rankings to the number one spot.
Seen as the danger man by his USA counterparts, McIlroy is likely to play every session over the three days and not many will fancy taking on the 23-year-old in the Sunday singles.
He is likely to resume his partnership with Graeme McDowell and it should prove especially fruitful in the foursomes with McIlroys driving combined with McDowell’s irons and putting.
The Hollywood player is happy to take the spotlight, which should allow the rest of team Europe to go about their business without the pressure and that should prove a major asset to Olazabal’s charges.
Having missed out on a captain’s pick in the 2010 Ryder Cup, the elegant Englishman made no mistake qualifying for this tournament after a great start to 2012.
Rose’s game is very consistent and he has climbed into the top five of the world rankings following an excellent year, which saw him finish runner’s up in the Tour Championship on Sunday, just missing out on the $10million top prize in the FedEx Cup.
Rose plays most of his golf on the US PGA Tour and will feel right at home at Medinhah.
Paul Lawrie The renaissance man of European golf, the easy going Scotsman returns for his second Ryder Cup since playing in the infamous defeat to the USA at Brookline back in 1999.
The former Open champion, who snatched the victory in '99 after Jean van de Velde’s meltdown on the 18th hole, has been one of the most consistent players on the European Tour this year and is another who was virtually assured of his place on the team mid-way through the season.
There are concerns about how Lawrie will fare on American soil, the Scot didn’t bother travelling to this year’s US Open as he believed he would not be able to compete.
However, that didn’t stop Lawrie winning his one and only singles game, also on American soil, on a day when Europe only won three out of twelve matches
The 2010 Ryder Cup capped off the perfect year for the Portrush man, who had just landed his first major earlier that summer winning the US Open at Pebble Beach.
In the Sunday singles at Celtic Manor, McDowell found himself in the decisive match as he took on Hunter Mahan, with Europe needing a win in his match to secure the Ryder Cup.
A sublime downhill putt on the 16th hole more or less secured the victory for Europe and it was duly wrapped up on the 17th hole with McDowell securing the point needed. McDowell had a quiet 2011 but has returned to top form this year, especially in the big events, where he found himself in the final group on Sunday in two of this year’s majors.
GMac should be playing alongside McIlroy throughout Friday and Saturday and will be one of the senior players that will be expected to bring back a point on Sunday.
Francesco Molinari ?Back for his second consecutive Ryder Cup, the younger of the Molinari brothers should feel a lot less pressure in this year’s event. His brother Edoardo has been out injured for most of the 2012 season so it will be interesting to see who Olazabal pairs the Italian alongside.
Molinari is ranked 31st in the world, which is not great by Ryder Cup standards, and it is a sign that the Italian needs to turn his top ten finishes into victories.
There are fewer better iron players than Molinari who boasts a near perfect swing and his short putting has improved, which should make him the ideal partner for a big hitting team-mate.
Molinari qualified as a result of his European Tour earning’s, which shows that he has had a very consistent season. Maybe this Ryder Cup will see Molinari step up to the next level of world golf.
If this Ryder Cup was played twelve months ago, Donald would have been the main man on the European team as he was just about to win the money list in both the US PGA Tour and the Race to Dubai in Europe.
The former world number one has been quiet in 2012, possibly due to the fact that he was so anxious to land a major this year, however, the Englishman still remains ranked third in the world.
Donald has seen a timely return to form, as he finished third in last weekend’s Tour Championship, but the main strength that Donald brings to this year’s Ryder Cup is his local knowledge as he went to college in Chicago and has lived there for the past 15 years.
Another player who was top of his game in 2011 as he reached the pinnacle of world number one, playing some sensational golf in the process.
But like Luke Donald, Westwood was never widely accepted as the world’s best player due to his absence of a major title, despite coming so close on so many occasions. Westwood’s putting has been a problem in 2012, and his form in recent weeks has been far from his best.
However, Westwood is a Ryder Cup veteran and still drives the ball beautifully and hits some exceptional iron shot so he will prove very difficult to beat this week and if his putter heats up, expect a few points to come Westwood’s way.
The European Team didn’t seem right in 2010 as there was no Sergio Garcia and, to be fair, his form had slumped so much that he didn’t even warrant a place on the captain’s picks shortlist.
Colin Montgomerie did, however, play a masterstroke by getting Garcia involved at Celtic Manor and the Spaniard’s enthusiasm for the event was clearly evident throughout the weekend in Wales.
And Garcia’s form has returned since the last Ryder Cup with victories on both the European and American tours and his automatic qualification saved captain Olazabal from making a difficult decision this time around.
Garcia has still shown that his game is a bit fragile, with the putter and also on the mental side of the game, but the world number 19 thrives in the Ryder Cup environment and should have his A game with him this weekend.
The Swedish world number 25 returns for his second consecutive Ryder Cup and has had a very solid 2012 recording several top five finishes early in the season.
The 34-year-old announced himself on the world stage at this year’s Masters, where he held the lead going into the final day but had to settle for a third place finish, his best at a major event.
Hanson had already secured his place on this year’s European team before he recorded his first victory of the year at the KLM Open in the Netherlands in September.
Hanson played three matches at Celtic Manor and won one point, losing out to Phil Mickelson on Sunday in the singles. Hanson partnered Miguel Angel Jimenez in Wales so will be looking for a new partner at this year’s event.
The 27-year-old German landed his first major in 2010 and became world number one before he took a Harrington-esque decision to tinker with his swing.
As a result, Kaymer’s form in 2012 has dropped, as has his world ranking, which has now fallen to 32nd place. Kaymer qualified for the team thanks to his world ranking points and a strong finish to 2011 but has apparently being working very hard on his game as he looks to impress at his second Ryder Cup.
Kaymer has appeared at several European Tour events in recent weeks and it would appear that his game is returning to a level close to where he was two years ago.
The German was unbeaten in the fourballs and foursomes in Wales but was defeated 6&4 by Dustin Johnson in the singles.
Despite a strong finish to the 2012 season, the stylish Englishman had to rely on a captain’s pick to ensure his place in this year’s team. In reality, his place was never in doubt as he has taken the baton from Colin Montgomerie as Mr Ryder Cup, following his passionate displays and victories at Celtic Manor.
Poulter famously promised Monty that he would bring home a point in the singles in Wales and he duly did as he beat Matt Kuchar 5&4.
Poulter has won eight points out of 11 throughout his three previous appearances and will be certain to add to that tally at Medinah. An exceptional iron player and a fantastic putter, Poulter will be leading from the front as Europe look to bring the Ryder Cup home.
The big hitting Belgian is the only rookie on the European team and travels to Chicago thanks to a captain’s pick. Ranked 35th in the world, Colsaerts has put his bad boy image to bed and has proven to be a very competent player this year.
Victory at this year’s Volvo World Match Play Championship, which carries a similar format to the Ryder Cup, is the main reason why he was everybody’s tip for a captain’s pick, especially after beating Graeme McDowell in the final.
Colsaerts is actually the longest driver in the Ryder Cup, and that is some achievement when you consider the distance that Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson hit the ball.
Two exceptional rounds at this year’s Open saw Colsaerts finish in a tie for seventh, his best finish at a major.