Blog 67, 10/3/10 - Ryder Cup Singles Picks

Europe started day three (two? four? - it's hard to tell with all these rain delays) of the Ryder Cup two points behind the US but up in all six third-session matches. They ended it three in front having converted five of those leads into full points and salvaging a half from the other with a final-hole birdie from Francesco Molinari. If the US is to pull off a 1999-like comeback, Corey Pavin has to deliver the speech of his life to revive and inspire his crest-fallen troops.
With such a strong team, and home advantage, it's tough to see Europe being caught in Monday's 12 singles matches, but after what happened at the Country Club 11 years ago, you can bet Colin Montgomerie is insisting his players not get complacent. Monty played Payne Stewart in the final singles match in '99 hoping the result of his match wouldn't matter, but instead he watched helplessly as the Americans won the first seven matches then regain the cup when Justin Leonard holed a monster putt against Jose-Maria Olazabal in the match ahead of him. 
Monday is going to be full of electrifying drama; pulsating highs and anxious lows for both teams. Here's how I see it going.

Match 1
Steve Stricker V Lee Westwood
Both captains, in search of that all-important first point, have sent their top guns out first. Westwood has probably been the best player on either side thus far and teamed up with Martin Kaymer to take down Stricker and Tiger Woods 6&5 in the third-session foursomes. The doughty American will be a formidable opponent, however, and Westwood doesn't own the greatest singles record. But on the day he goes to No. 2 in the world, he should have the game and the guts to take Europe a point closer to victory.
Singles Records: Stricker 0-1-0, Westwood 2-4-0
Europe wins 2&1

Match 2
Stewart Cink V Rory McIlroy
Cink has been solid all week, one of only two Americans with a zero in the 'L' column (Matt Kuchar, Cink's partner in all three sessions, the other). His might not be the most graceful of swings, but the 37-year-old is never a player anyone likes to be drawn against because, if he does goes down, it certainly won't be without a tremendous fight. Like Westwood's, his record is not quite what you'd expect of so dogged a performer, but the European boy wonder certainly has a match on his hands. It's a shame McIlroy doesn't get to play Woods, after the little dig he had at the world number one a month ago, or indeed Rickie Fowler or Dustin Johnson whom he played against at the 2007 Walker Cup at Royal County Down, but Cink v McIlroy is an intriguing tussle nonetheless.
Singles Records: Cink 1-3-0, McIlroy debut
Verdict: USA wins 1hole

Match 3
Jim Furyk V Luke Donald
This is one of the few matches with a little extra spice as it was Furyk and Donald that battled it out down the stretch in Atlanta last week for the Tour Championship trophy and FedEx Cup (Furyk won both). Though he's never done especially well at the Accenture Matchplay event, Furyk does have an excellent Ryder Cup singles record while the Englishman has a win and a loss from his two singles ('04, '06). Two unflappable characters will serve up a compelling match in which Donald will squeeze out one more birdie than his opponent.
Singles Records: Furyk 4-1-1, Donald 1-1-0
Verdict: Europe wins 1up

Match 4
Dustin Johnson V Martin Kaymer
Another match with added interest as Kaymer benefitted from Johnson's gaffe in the 'bunker' at the 72nd hole of the PGA Championship. The long-hitting American has not enjoyed the finest Ryder Cup debut, losing all three of the matches in which he has played, and it's tough to see it improving as his game is not ideally suited to Celtic Manor with its lateral water hazards and thick rough. The German meanwhile hasn't lost a match yet and, one suspects, will finish his first Ryder Cup unbeaten. 
Singles Records: Both making debut
Verdict: Europe wins 4&3

Match 5
Matt Kuchar V Ian Poulter
No one will be as hyped up for his match as Poulter who, like so many Europeans before him, seems to live for the Ryder Cup. He is building an impressive record in the event and has two wins already this week. He also won the Accenture Matchplay in Arizona in February. Kuchar has had a marvelous season that saw him creep into the world's top-ten five weeks ago and, with Cink's help, he has not yet lost a match this week. But that sequence might come to end on Monday when the crowd urges Poulter on to a narrow victory.
Singles Records: Kuchar debut, Poulter 2-0-0
Verdict: Europe wins 1hole

Match 6
Jeff Overton V Ross Fisher
Overton has made an impressive, not to say colorful, debut for the US despite winning only one match (and losing the other two), and Fisher has likewise passed his rookie examination with flying colors winning two of three matches. You get the sense Overton has enjoyed having company, however, while Fisher won a foursome and fourball without much help from partner Padraig Harrington. Fisher has the necessary tools to prevail.
Singles Records: Both making debut
Verdict: Europe wins 4&3

Match 7
Bubba Watson V Miguel Angel Jimenez
Watson made a bright start to his Ryder Cup career, winning his opening fourball match with Overon against Donald and Padraig Harrington. Since then he has gone off the boil somewhat, and he will likely suffer further on Monday as too few of his prodigious drives avoid the thick, wet, slushy rough. Jimenez will play his steady but unspectacular golf and watch his opponent hand him holes. That said, the Spaniard has lost all three of his Ryder Cup singles and, who knows, Watson may have 'one of those rounds'. Tough call, but the Mechanic sneaks it. 
Singles Records: Watson debut, Jimenez 0-3-0
Verdict: Europe wins 2&1

Match 8
Tiger Woods V Francesco Molinari
Reporters at the Ryder Cup were astonished to hear Woods had been put so far down the order. How could Corey Pavin put the world number one in at number eight? The US Captain gave a rather cryptic and non-committal reply, saying something about how important the 8th slot is, but the truth of the matter is Woods is not playing well enough to justify putting him out early. If he was to go out early and lose, that would inspire the if they needed further inspiration. But, of course, Tiger hates to lose, and though he's still working out the kinks in his new swing, he may be the only player to find a way to win out of the Manor's rough. He has a good singles record, though he'll not want to be reminded that his only loss was to another Italian - Costantino Rocca at Valderrama in 1997. Hard to say whether Molinari the Younger, one of the world's finest ball-strikers, will be daunted going up against Woods or head to the 1st tee knowing he has little to lose and pull off a surprise victory. My gut says Woods win.
Singles Records: Woods 3-1-1, Molinari debut
Verdict: USA wins 1hole

Match 9
Rickie Fowler V Eduardo Molinari
Fowler was a controversial wild card pick, but this is the young Californian's moment to shine. He played pretty well with Furyk in the foursomes and Phil Mickelson in the Saturday/Sunday fourball when he holed a bunker shot for a three at the 562-yard 11th, but the best is probably still to come from a player who won three of four points at the '07 Walker Cup. In tandem with his brother, Molinari the Elder has won half a point this week and should take his tally to one and a half if he putts as well as he has for most of this season. One of the day's most entertaining matches will conclude with a half at the 18th.
Singles Records: Both making debut
Verdict: Match halved

Match 10
Phil Mickelson
V Peter Hanson
Hanson will be seen as Europe's whipping boy, but Mickelson will know better than to take the Swede lightly. Indeed, Hanson has played a whole lot better at Celtic Manor than Mickelson has, earning a point in session three's fourballs alongside Jimenez. Lefty will need to play an awful lot better than he has so far if he is to improve his indifferent singles record. I think he will.
Singles Records: Mickelson 3-4-1, Hanson debut
Verdict: USA wins 3&2

Match 11
Zach Johnson V Padraig Harrington
If Harrington is to win this match, he will need to rely on a) the crowd, and b) grim determination, because his game has not been in good shape for some time. He has justified his wild card pick by guiding Fisher to two wins, but Johnson is just the sort of player he didn't want to meet alone. While he is having trouble finding a rhythm for the day, Johnson will be cruising - making buckets of pars and the occasional birdie. Harrington has his work cut out. 
Singles Records: Johnson 0-1-0, Harrington 3-2-0
Verdict: USA wins 3&2

Match 12
Hunter Mahan V Graeme McDowell
If Woods going out eighth seems strange, the position of Hunter Mahan in the line-up seems stranger still. Yes, you need a quality player with some Ryder Cup experience bringing up the rear, but Mahan's many talents could go unused as the match may well be over before he even reaches the turn. The 28-year-old from Texas has played well in Wales (1-1-0), and is happy to spoil the home fans' party. But how committed to the win will he be if he sees his team sinking? McDowell is clearly in his element and beat Cink in the singles two years ago at Valhalla; so he's well-equipped to deal with a player of Mahan's caliber.
Singles Records: Mahan 0-0-1, McDowell 1-0-0
Verdict: Europe wins 1hole

Singles Result: USA 4½ - Europe 7½
Final Match Score: Europe wins 17-11
(Again, bear in mind, I might be very, very wrong.)

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