Ollie’s top 12(well, maybe)

This isn’t going to be easy. As everyone keeps saying – for good reason, as it is actually true – the European Tour has entered an era of unprecedented strength in depth. Never before has there been so many good-to-great players plying their respective trade on this side of the Atlantic. So accurately predicting the make-up of the 12-strong European side that will defend the Ryder Cup next September at Medinah is an all-but impossible task.

Take a look at this squad, by way of example: Ian Poulter, Graeme McDowell, Justin Rose, Anders Hansen, Martin Laird, Alvaro Quiros, Peter Hanson, Edoardo Molinari, Simon Dyson, Fredrik Jacobson, Ross Fisher and Padraig Harrington. Not a bad team, I’m sure you’ll agree. But none of those men will, I believe, be on the plane to Chicago a year from now.

In alphabetical order, this is the side non-playing captain Jose Maria Olazabal will lead into the biennial battle with Davis Love’s Americans… I think… maybe… perhaps. Ach, who knows?


Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Understandably because of personal problems away from the course, the powerful Englishman hasn’t been at his best this past summer. No matter. This is a player with something to prove after his highly controversial omission from the last Ryder Cup. It is hard to imagine him making the same mistake again; Casey will play enough to get himself one of the ten automatic spots available. Besides, there aren’t five European players better than Casey, never mind 12.


The newly-formed selection committee of one struggled a bit with this selection. Yes, the Open champion is a man who brings much to any European team, both on and off the course. Yes, he is a man rejuvenated and revitalized by that long overdue major championship victory. But the worry here is his week-to-week consistency, especially on the greens. Will he do enough to qualify? Maybe he doesn’t have to; if Clarke gets close, he’d be a hard man to leave out.


First in just about everything at the moment – world rankings, money lists, multiple statistical categories – Donald is the first name on the team-sheet too. He deserves nothing less. Quite apart from the fact that he is the current World Match Play champion, he was the best player on either side at the last Ryder Cup. No one on the planet currently owns a better short game – always a huge asset in head-to-head play – and he walks into this side.


Just about every Ryder Cup side contains one unexpected name. Gallacher is that man this time round. For ages now, the 36-year old Scot has been one of the top-ten ball-strikers on the European Tour – make that top-five – but has been held back by relatively poor putting. He shows encouraging signs of solving that perennial problem, however. If that continues, it is hard to imagine him not qualifying for a Ryder debut.


I think we’re all agreed that, while a few are as good as Garcia tee-to-green, no one is better. Even with his well-publicised putting woes, the volatile Spaniard compiled a commendable record in the four major championships this year. In other words, he was there or thereabouts in the events that test every aspect of a player’s game. That’s enough for me, especially when you throw in his obvious passion for the Ryder Cup, an event he first played in as a 19-year-old.


The big Swede is the sort of guy every team needs. Possessed of the sort of equitable temperament that makes him a possible partner for anyone else in the side, Karlsson brings a lot to the party. Enormously long off the tee, he makes lots of birdies – perfect for four-ball play. Now based in the States, he will more than likely qualify off the world-ranking points list, although a couple of high finishes in the right events could see him make it on the European money-list.


This has been a quiet season for the, well, quiet German. But look where he is, still comfortably ranked in the world’s top-ten players, a sure indication of his undoubted quality. He does need to get over his fixation with Augusta National and the Masters, an event where he has yet to make the cut in four attempts. But that is a minor detail and hardly relevant in the Ryder Cup, where Kaymer’s inscrutable temperament will come in more than handy. He’ll have learned a lot from last time at Celtic Manor – where he struggled at times – too.


If ever a man was born to play match play golf, it is Manassero. The young Italian has the perfect game, one built around brilliant wedge play. Nothing annoys an opponent more than watching the other guy get up-and-down from inside 100 yards with monotonous regularity. Think of him as Europe’s version of Jim Furyk, the ultimate hard-nosed competitor. The only question mark is Manassero’s relative lack of length at the highest level. But pairing him with, say, Karlsson in foursomes takes care of that.


Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The owner of what many sound judges reckon is the purest swing in the game, Molinari is another who could partner almost anyone else in this side, either in foursomes of four-balls. He won’t have his brother to pair up with this time, but the chunky Italian is well able to handle himself. Some people say he isn’t the greatest putter – and he isn’t – but you don’t accumulate a record like his by being a bad putter. Remember that vital four-footer he holed on the 18th at Celtic Manor back in 2010?


Every team needs a star, one the rest can look to when the pressure is on and the gloves are off. McIlroy, already a major champion, is clearly that man. He is one of the guys Olazabal will rely on to produce at least four points out of a possible five at Medinah, which is the sort of US Open-type course the young Ulsterman showed a particular liking for earlier this year. Plus, it would be nice to see McIlroy, in his second Ryder Cup, paired with compatriot and mentor, Clarke, in what will probably be his last as a player.


The young Swede with the great swing – one of the most admired on tour – and the relentless work ethic has taken longer than most thought he would to emerge as one of Europe’s top players. But Noren is nearly there now, as his remarkable seven-shot victory at the Scandinavian Masters showed only too clearly. Noren also has a ready-made partner in his close pal and regular practice-day buddy, Martin Kaymer. They will make a potent pairing in what the Americans insist on calling “alternate-shot”.


Amidst all the razzle-dazzle that will surely be provided by the likes of McIlroy, Noren and Casey, every team needs a solid spine. The ever-consistent and dependable Westwood will be that backbone in what will be his eighth Ryder Cup appearance. Look for him to be paired again with Donald after the extraordinary way they performed at Celtic Manor, where they thrashed America’s No.1 team of Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker by 6&5.