Resurgent star Tiger Woods and the highest-ranked lineups in Ryder Cup history have built anticipation for thrills and excitement ahead of Friday’s dramatic opening matches between Europe and trophy-holders United States at Le Golf National.
The Americans seek their first triumph on European soil in 25 years in the biennial team showdown while Europe’s 12-man squad hopes to win for a ninth time in 12 attempts and reclaim the hardware they lost at Hazeltine in 2016.
“It’s all lined up to be something special,” European captain Thomas Bjorn said Wednesday. “These teams are the two best teams world ranking-wise that have been across from each other in this event. So it’s for those 24 players to go out and show that.”
“The golf course, the stands, the fans, all the buildup, being in this great city – that just adds on for it to be a really, really special occasion.”
The US roster has nine major winners and 11 of the world’s 17 top-ranked players, led by world number one Dustin Johnson and third-ranked Brooks Koepka, this year’s US Open and PGA Championship winner.
“There are definitely obstacles to overcome, but that group out there is feisty and confident,” US captain Jim Furyk said of his team. “They are trying to do the best they can to brace themselves and get ready for the battle.”
Europe boast four of the top eight, paced by England’s second-ranked Justin Rose and reigning British Open champion Francesco Molinari of Italy. In all, the teams combine to have 22 of the world’s top 28 ranked players.
“Are we underdogs? Probably on paper we are,” Bjorn said. “But we still believe that we can win.”
US golfers lead the all-time rivalry 26-13 with two drawn but Europe own a 10-8 with one drawn edge since the expansion from a British-Irish squad.
The top spectator attraction will be Woods, a 14-time major champion who snapped a five-year win drought Sunday at the US PGA Tour Championship, capping an amazing comeback season after spinal fusion surgery with his 80th career title.
“It’s a nice boost for everyone, and I think for Tiger in general,” Furyk said. “A guy with his status and that number of wins, he can flip the page and turn his attention to this week.
“He’s working hard and grinding and trying to help this team as much as he can.”
Woods has played on only one Cup winner in seven tries with an overall match record of 13-17 with three drawn. He is 4-1 with two drawn in Sunday singles but has eight losses in both foursomes (alternate shot) and four-ball (best-ball) pairs formats.
Woods says it will be critical to win the French layout’s tricky 18th hole.
“Those were the matches that swing,” Woods said. “Those little half-points to point swings are enormous over the course of the entire Cup. Usually who plays the last hole well determines the Cup.”
First tee tensions
With a 7,000-seat grandstand looming over a first tee crucible plus narrow fairways and dangerous water hazards, Le Golf National offers an impressive stage for the drama to unfold.
“You get punished if you hit it off-line,” Northern Ireland’s sixth-ranked Rory McIlroy said. “They have guys that just hit it so long. For the bulk of the European team, they would welcome a setup more of this style.”
Expectations are for players to attack with second shots to a putting surface that could surrender some impressive long putts.
“You’ll see less aggressiveness, more conservative tee-to-green, but once you get on the greens, they are a little bit flatter and you can really make putts here,” US five-time major winner Phil Mickelson said. “You can be aggressive from 20 to 40 feet. I think you’re going to see a lot of putts made and that will be most likely the difference.”
Tension will start from the first tee with huge, vocal crowds singing and chanting in one of golf’s toughest situations.
“Feeling that adrenaline, feeling that emotion, I think is what it’s all about and I think there’s no more intense session than the first morning on Friday,” Rose said. “Everything is a crescendo there.”