Rory McIlroy is poised for another great Ryder Cup.(Getty Images)
With the Ryder Cup now just days away, the two teams are firmly in the midst of their final preparations as they get ready to take on Marco Simone Golf & Country Club.
There will be some new stars teeing it up in Rome – like Ludvig Aberg, who has yet to even play in a major championship – along with team-competition veterans like Rory McIlroy, whose teary final-day interview at Whistling Straits about how much the Ryder Cup meant to him will be a lasting memory from 2021.
Between first-timers and long-standing stars, a 30-year winless drought by Americans on foreign soil, and plenty of intrigue and build up, this is set to be an all-time Ryder Cup competition.
But who do we think is up for a winning week?
Two golfers on the American side did not suffer a loss at Whistling Straits, while Jon Rahm earned 3.5 points for the Europeans in a losing effort. Some have something to prove, while others are looking to make a rookie splash.
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To get you ready, here are five players to watch.
How could we not start with Viktor Hovland? The Norwegian won the final two events of the 2022-23 PGA TOUR season including the FedExCup. Hovland’s body of work over the last 12 months was impressive, to say the least, and he did it with a bit of everything. He was ranked in the top-10 in strokes gained: tee to green, off the tee, and approach the green. Most impressively was his ball-striking improvement – going from 60th in strokes gained: tee to green last year to fifth in the same statistic this season. There’s nowhere to go but up for Hovland at the Ryder Cup, too. He made his debut at Whistling Straits playing in all five matches but notched one point (he had no wins but two ties).
Speaking of nowhere-to-go-but-up, Matt Fitzpatrick struggled to an 0-5-0 record at Whistling Straits. However, he’s now a major champion and has ascended into the top 10 in the world ranking. Fitzpatrick, who won the RBC Heritage on the PGA TOUR earlier this season, has also improved by leaps and bounds with his short game. When he made his Ryder Cup debut, he was 97th on Tour in strokes gained: around the green. This season Fitzpatrick zipped all the way up to 31st in the same stat.
On the American side, let’s start at the top with world No.1 Scottie Scheffler. Scheffler, who won twice on the PGA Tour this season but was seemingly in the mix every week (yes, actually: he had just three finishes outside the top-12 all season long in 25 events) also had an all-time ball striking season. He topped the TOUR in strokes gained: total, tee to green, off the tee, and approach the green, while he was fifth in strokes gained: around the green. The jarring part of his game was his putting – he was 151st in strokes gained: putting for the season. Paired with a partner with putting prowess could be just the formula Scheffler needs to figure out his flatstick. But, of course, there is no denying he is world No.1 for a reason.
The most experienced team member – on either side – McIlroy will be teeing it up in his seventh Ryder Cup when the teams get going in Rome. The two-time PGA Championship winner currently sits with a 12-12-4 record and won twice on the PGA TOUR this season. While McIlroy had as complete a season as any stats-wise (he was second in strokes gained: total) one thing to keep an eye on at the Ryder Cup would be his driving. McIlroy sat 155th in driving accuracy on TOUR this season, and with Marco Simone’s thick and penal rough, it will be tough to contribute if you’re not finding fairways. That said, McIlroy was the longest driver on the PGA TOUR, too. And, despite his sometimes-wayward tee balls, he was still eighth in strokes gained: approach the green this season. Between his veteran presence and keenness for a good week after Whistling Straits, McIlroy has a chance to be a real lynchpin for European success.
Morikawa went 3-0-1 in his Ryder Cup debut in 2021 and the undefeated past Wanamaker Trophy winner is looking to continue his fine Ryder Cup play this time around in Rome. With the aforementioned penal rough being a prominent feature at Marco Simone, Morikawa’s strength will need to be amplified – he was second on the PGA TOUR this season in driving accuracy. His ball-striking remains as elite as any on TOUR, too. With his tee-to-green game so dialled, that makes him a valuable asset to whomever he gets partnered with.
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