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Ryder Cup 2021:Harrington’s Experienced Europeans looking to prove age is just a number against youthful USA side

By Ronan MacNamara

Every Ryder Cup is special but the belated 2021 edition at Whistling Straits will carry even more importance for Irish golf fans.

The European Captain as we all know is Pádraig Harrington while Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry will don the blue and gold as the continent look to retain the cup they won in emphatic fashion in Paris three years ago.

Lowry and McIlroy will be joined by world number one Jon Rahm, Tommy Fleetwood, Lee Westwood, Paul Casey, Tyrrell Hatton, Matt Fitzpatrick, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter and rookies Victor Hovland and Bernd Wiesberger.

The 43rd edition of the Ryder Cup will take place from September 24th to 26th.

The race to make the European Team was much maligned with the volatility of the permutations at the BMW PGA at Wentworth with double points on offer for players looking to make the team via the European Points list and the World Points list. Add to that the impact McIlroy’s absence had on the permutations with Wiesberger able to overtake him on the European Points list which meant the Northern Irishman qualified on the World Points list which would have left one of Lowry and Westwood needing a captains pick from Harrington.

The race went to the wire with Austria’s Wiesberger qualifying automatically which left no room for Justin Rose or Alex Noren in Harrington’s 12-man team for Wisconsin.

The USA team is the strongest team ever assembled. This is a team absolutely stacked with young talent and form and it says a lot about the strength in depth in American golf that Billy Horschel can win a World Golf Championship and the European Tour’s flagship event and still not get a look in for Stricker’s side.

World rankings wise this is the strongest US side in Ryder Cup history with all twelve players inside the top-21 in the Official World Golf Rankings at the time of writing.

While ‘Captain America’ Patrick Reed will be absent, the home side contains major champions Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, Collin Morikawa and Jordan Spieth.

On paper the hosts are overwhelming favourites but while Steve Stricker will have many prima donnas and egos to manage throughout the week, Europe will once again be travelling buoyed by their team spirit in what might be the most experienced European side ever assembled as they go up against the youthful Americans.

While Rose has missed out, Ryder Cup veterans Garcia, Poulter, Casey, McIlroy and Westwood will lead by example for rookies Lowry, Hovland and Wiesberger, while US Open champion Rahm is joined by Fleetwood, Fitzpatrick and Hatton who aren’t in the best of form, but anything can happen in match play.

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Rory McIlroy by Golffile

Rory McIlroy will make his sixth Ryder Cup appearance for Europe having been an ever-present since his debut at Celtic Manor in 2010 when the biennial event had to be played out to a Monday finish.

McIlroy was one half of that famous Saturday night fourball match at Medinah in 2012 when Ian Poulter came into a world of his own as the pair birdied the final five holes to ensure Europe only went into the iconic Sunday singles 10-6 down in what was dubbed a 10-6 tie.

The four-time major champion has a mixed record in the Ryder Cup winning 11 matches halving four and losing nine including one of the greatest singles matches of all time in 2016 when he went toe to toe with Patrick Reed but came out on the wrong side of a titanic tussle.

McIlroy did forge a successful partnership with Belgian Thomas Pieters, winning three matches at Hazeltine before winning matches in 2018 alongside Poulter and Garcia.

The Holywood native has proven to be a stalwart for Europe, playing every session in each of the last four Ryder Cups.

Winning the Ryder Cup would cap off a strange season for McIlroy that ensured his major championship drought continues for another year. McIlroy did end his victory drought at the Wells Fargo Championship having changed coaches from Michael Bannon to Pete Cowen.

Irish golf fans were made to sweat last Sunday evening when Lowry dropped out of the automatic qualification places, leaving his Ryder Cup fate out of his hands.

Thankfully, Harrington came through and selected the Clara native for his Ryder Cup debut.

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Shane Lowry by Golffile

A rookie on paper, Lowry is by no means a rookie on the big stage having won the Irish Open as an amateur in 2009, won the WGC Bridgestone Invitational in 2015 and of course the 2019 Open Championship at Royal Portrush.

"It’s amazing. For me it has been a career long goal to get to the Ryder Cup. Just thinking back to it, I remember sitting in the media centre in 2019 when the points started that this was my number one goal, and it has been for the last two years,” said Lowry.

The man for the big occasion has not missed a cut since the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March and has reeled off four top-10s since then, including at the Players, the PGA (T4) and a share of 12th at the Open Championship at Royal St Georges in what was a spirited defence of the Claret Jug.

The Offaly man is a premium ball striker and will be right at home in the windy Wisconsin having finished 19th in strokes gained tee to green on the PGA Tour last season as well as boasting a stellar links record.

His tied 4th finish at Kiawah Island is a great form guide given the similarities between the two courses.

World number one Rahm will make just his second Ryder Cup appearance after famously beating Tiger Woods in Paris in a sensational Sunday singles match.

Having lost his first two matches on debut in 2018 he came up trumps to beat the 15-time major champion 3&2.

Since, the Spaniard has gone from strength to strength, winning the 2019 Race to Dubai, ascending to the top of the world rankings and winning his maiden major at the US Open at Torrey Pines.

With 15 top ten finishes this season, Rahm is poised to spearhead Harrington’s charges.

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Lee Westwood by Golffile

Lee Westwood will make his eleventh Ryder Cup appearance in Whistling Straits having pipped Lowry to the final automatic Ryder Cup place.

Westy was in blistering form towards the end of 2020 and early in 2021, winning the 2020 Race to Dubai on the European Tour before posting back-to-back runner-up finishes on the PGA Tour at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Players Championship.

While he disappointed in his last appearance for Darren Clarke’s side in 2016 the 48-year-old has enjoyed an Indian Summer and is poised to shine again.

While Garcia and Poulter are deemed as the talismanic figures it will come unbeknownst to many that Europe have relied heavily on the Nottingham Forest fan over the years.

Since making his debut in 1997 Westwood played in 44 of 49 sessions until 2016 while playing in every single session in his first five appearances.

Perhaps his lack of playing time in Hazeltine was a factor in his underwhelming performance (particularly on the greens) where he only played in three of five sessions for the first time in his career.

Overall, he has won 20 halved 6 and lost 18 of his 44 matches and will equal Sir Nick Faldo’s record for most Ryder Cup appearances for Europe while also becoming the oldest person to play for Europe since Christy O’Connor Snr in 1973.

Ian Poulter will make his seventh Ryder Cup appearance and his first on US soil since Medinah in 2012.

Dubbed ‘The Postman’ because he always delivers, form almost goes out the window for Poulter and having lost just six of his 22 matches including being undefeated in singles matches, he proved too hard to ignore for Harrington.

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Ian Poulter by Golffile

The 45-year-old won all four of his matches at Medinah including that famous fourball match on Saturday evening, coming from two-down with six to play alongside Rory McIlroy.

Still without a victory since the 2018 Houston Open, Poults has been in solid form during the Ryder Cup run in posting two top-5s and a top-10 since missing the cut at the Wells Fargo Championship.

Europe will have to face a raucous American crowd and there is nobody better to keep them quiet than the bug-eyed chest pumping assassin, Mr Ryder Cup.

One man who can stake a claim for being dubbed Mr Ryder Cup is Sergio Garcia, who will make his tenth appearance for Europe having made his debut in Brooklyn in 1999.

The record points scorer in Ryder Cup history has won 22 of his 41 matches altogether notching 25.5 points in the competition.

The Spaniard has registered at least two points in eight of his nine appearances and has claimed four and a half points at Oakland Hills in 2004.

At the K Club in 2006 he was undefeated winning four points from his foursomes and fourball matches.

The 2017 Masters Champion put his hand up to Harrington with two top-10s to finish the season on the PGA Tour after winning the Sanderson Farms last October.

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Sergio Garcia, Paul Casey and Ian Poulter by Golffile

Paul Casey rounds off the Ryder Cup stalwarts ahead of his fifth appearance in the blue and gold.

Casey will make his first European away appearance since only registering a half point in Valhalla in 2008 so he has a point to prove after he ended a ten-year hiatus in 2018 where he formed a winning partnership with Tyrrell Hatton.

The Englishman has come close in the majors over the years but made it 15 European Tour wins at the Dubai Desert Classic in January and also has three PGA Tour wins.

Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton and Matt Fitzpatrick round off the English contingent for Europe.

Fleetwood who made up one half of Moliwood as he struck up a record-breaking partnership with Francesco Molinari in 2018, winning all four matches together on his debut.

The five-time European Tour winner has yet to win on US soil so he could face the majority of the jibes the US fans will throw at him. Without a win since the 2019 Nedbank Challenge, Fleetwood has slipped down the world rankings although a share of 2nd in Italy earlier this month was encouraging.

Hatton and Fitzpatrick will also make their second appearances for Europe with just one win between the pair of them.

Hatton won 3&2 alongside Casey and Harrington might pair them again, while Fitzpatrick is without a win from the two matches he played in 2016.

Victor Hovland will become the first Norwegian to play in the Ryder Cup and the 23-year-old has been nailed on for the last 10 months having been ranked inside the world’s top-20 since last December.

The two-time PGA Tour winner notched his maiden European Tour title at the BMW International Open in June before a T-12 finish at the Open.

Had Wiesberger not qualified automatically, perhaps Justin Rose would have been granted a captain’s pick. However, the Austrian’s inclusion is great for the European Tour. While the Tour continues to lose its top players and the pick of the grade below them to the PGA Tour, Wiesy has continued to ply his trade on the continent.

The perennial class act at your run of the mill European Tour events, he has never taken his game to the world stage with an appearance in the final group at the 2014 PGA Championship the highest rung on the ladder he has reached until now.

Despite choking in Switzerland a few weeks ago and a poor final round at Wentworth the 35-year-old will become the first Austrian to feature in the contest and nobody can argue with a man who qualified automatically.

That’s the 12-men who will represent Europe at Whistling Straits as well as vice-captains Graeme McDowell, Martin Kaymer, Luke Donald and Robert Karlsson and they can take inspiration from the sensational performance Catriona Matthew’s Europe put on to retain the Solheim Cup earlier this month.

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