Every two years it's the same old thing. Even the briefest of glances at
the probable and possible members of the American and European Ryder Cup
sides reveals only one credible result in the biennial contest between
these two longtime protagonists. From top to bottom, the U.S. side is
just better. Miles better.
On U.S. Open-style home soil at Oakland
Hills, where the fairways are narrower, the greens faster and the
collars thicker than many of the less-experienced European players are
accustomed to across the water, Uncle Sam's nephews will surely romp to
a comfortable victory.
This year, especially, the gap between the two sides starts right at the
top and only gets wider. The lower you pore down any combination of
prospective lineups, the more pronounced is America's on-paper
supremacy. At 10 through 12, man-to-man combat becomes man-to-boy
Let's say the best three players on the home side are Tiger Woods, Phil
Mickelson and Davis Love III, all proven winners. The best three players
the visitors can muster are Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke and Sergio
Garcia. That's a formidable trio, but most judges would give more than a
slight edge to the Americans.
Next up for the Stars and Stripes are, say, a U.S. Open champion in Jim
Furyk, a PGA champion in David Toms and a rising star in Chad Campbell.
What do the Euros have? Miguel Angel Jimenez, Paul Casey and
Lee Westwood, of whom none has won a major championship.
It gets worse from an old world point of view. Battle-hardened
Americans -- Kenny Perry, Chris DiMarco, Chris Riley, Fred Funk, Stewart Cink, Jay Haas -- against
callow Europeans -- Ian Poulter, Thomas Levet, David Howell, Colin Montgomerie, Luke Donald, Paul McGinley. Hands up if you know where a few of these men hail from, never mind
what they have achieved.
Since the gradual fading of Europe's so-called "big-five" -- Seve
Ballesteros, Ian Woosnam, Sandy Lyle, Nick Faldo and Bernhard Langer -- the
very best players on either side have been exclusively American. Add the
recent precipitous decline of European stalwart Jose Maria Olazabal, and the picture has gone from blazing Technicolor
to a somewhat faded sepia.
Then again, students of recent Ryder Cup history will point out that
this reasoning has not counted for much in the last four Ryder Cups, of
which Europe has won three and, by the narrowest of margins, lost only
This time the visitors aren't even going to have their strongest side.
For two reasons: One, the nonplaying captain, Langer, is still clearly
one of the best 12 Europeans. And two, insular constraints applied by
the European tour will cause the new European qualifying system (five
players from the Ryder Cup world points list, five from the Ryder Cup
European points list and two captain's picks) to fail in its aim of
identifying the most capable side. Because only tour members are
eligible for either Ryder Cup qualification or selection, the likes of
Jesper Parnevik -- a U.S.-based European not ranked among the world's
top-50 players and so unable to compete in elite-field World Golf
Championships -- is, in effect, ineligible through the inability or
reluctance to make trans-Atlantic trips to play the 11 European tour
events required to retain that membership. Thus, the eternal question
continues: Is this a European side or a European tour side?
Qualification issues aside, the numbers don't lie. More than once this
year the World Golf Ranking has revealed an absence of Europeans from
the top 10. And it has been more than five years since a European
golfer -- Paul Lawrie at Carnoustie in 1999 -- won a major championship.
Europe's golden era has been followed by something more akin to a bronze
The '04 version, therefore, is destined to be recalled as a European
Ryder Cup side in transition. The old heads are gone or nearly gone; an
admittedly highly promising batch of young studs is not yet fully
matured. So it is that this is a
European side destined to struggle. Though a format that does not ask
every player to appear in every series of foursomes and four-balls will
as usual help Europe "hide" any weak links from the no-doubt voracious
Yanks found both inside and outside the ropes, the relative inexperience
of Europe's lineup will be exposed come Sunday's singles.
America by six.
John Huggan is Golf Digest's European correspondent.