Hal Sutton had better do his homework before he gets to Oakland Hills for the 35th Ryder Cup, because his 12-man team is facing one of the best European teams in a long while. It has solid leadership provided by seven seasoned veterans who are complemented well by five rookies.
Not many will argue with European captain Bernhard Langer’s wild-card choices of Colin Montgomerie and Luke Donald. They were the favorites for those positions long before the dust finally settled at the BMW International Open.
Montgomerie, Europe’s leader for the past three matches, won 41⁄2 points in a winning cause at The Belfry in 2002, and has 16 victories, eight losses and four halves in his six Ryder Cups.
He has not lost a singles match, with four victories and two halves.
“I’d have 12 Monties on my team,” European team member Padraig Harrington said. “He plays above himself in the Ryder Cup. He loves match play. He loves to be in control.”
Donald has performed well on both sides of the Atlantic. He lost a playoff in the Buick Invitational early in the year and won the Scandinavian Masters. He plays the PGA Tour full time, and will be comfortable facing the top Americans Sept. 17-19 at Oakland Hills.
Throw in his Walker Cup experience, where he won seven of a possible eight points, and it’s easy to see he is the sort of guy you want on your team.
“I don’t think you can ignore Luke Donald,” Paul Lawrie said. “He’s played well in America this year. He’s one of the most consistent players in the world. He hits a lot of fairways and greens and can play with anyone. He’s the sort of player Monty used to be.”
Langer picked Montgomerie and Donald with Oakland Hills in mind.
“When I look at the golf course we’re facing at Oakland Hills, I had to look at the guys who would serve the team best from a playing point,” Langer said. “I just think (Montgomerie and Donald) will be able to perform better.”
Harrington, Darren Clarke, Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Montgomerie and McGinley are well-known entities. All are seasoned Ryder Cup veterans who have performed well in the past.
As for the rookies, Thomas Levet and Ian Poulter will provide a bit of spark in the team room with their engaging personalities. Neither will back down from anyone. Poulter is as hard as nails and, like Levet, revels in the limelight.
Casey, like Donald, can perform on the game’s biggest stages. Howell is a reliable performer who is friendly with Clarke, McGinley and Westwood, and will no doubt pair up with one of them before the singles.
Howell might appear the weak link, but don’t underestimate him. He gained the decisive point in the 1995 Walker Cup at Royal Porthcawl, while he won three points out of four in last year’s Seve Trophy. In other words, he is no stranger to match play.
The only downside from Europe’s point of view is Fredrik Jacobson’s omission. The Swede is the fourth-best European player in the Official World Golf Ranking and missed qualifying by one spot on both the world points list and the European points table. Clearly, he deserves to be on the team.
The only reason Jacobson isn’t on the team automatically from the world points list is because his wife, Erika, gave birth to their first child this year and he took five weeks off. Jacobson was third on the world points list before the birth but sixth by the time he returned.
Sutton’s U.S. team will enter the match stronger on paper, as always, but past European teams have not backed down. This one won’t, either. They will be champing at the bit to mix it up with America’s best.