U.S. will try to win in Europe this time

Austin American-Statesman Sunday - - SPORT SUNDAY - By Doug Ferguson

An­other trip across the At­lantic turned into an­other fail­ure for the Amer­i­cans in the Ryder Cup. At least on pa­per.

What emerged that Sun­day night af­ter their 16½-11½ loss to Europe four years ago in Scot­land was enough frus­tra­tion, mainly from Phil Mick­el­son, to over­haul a bro­ken sys­tem. It brought Mick­el­son and Tiger Woods closer to­gether in the search for a win­ning for­mula. It led to play­ers hav­ing more in­put in pick­ing their cap­tain and form­ing their team. The hope was that it would cre­ate more con­ti­nu­ity.

And for one Ryder Cup, it seemed to work.

Every player con­trib­uted at least one point for the first time since 1975 in a 17-11 vic­tory at Hazel­tine in Min­nesota in 2016, the widest mar­gin for the Amer­i­cans in 35 years. Now comes the real test. The 42nd Ryder Cup matches will be Fri­day through Sun­day at Le Golf Na­tional out­side Paris, and U.S. cap­tain Jim Furyk is well aware that Europe has not lost at home since 1993, the year Jor­dan Spi­eth, Justin Thomas and Bryson DeCham­beau were born.

“We started chang­ing the cul­ture in 2014, and I think 2016 was a huge step,” Furyk said. “But in or­der to take the next step ... we wanted to have a win­ning record in 10 Ryder Cups over 20 years. The math is pretty sim­ple. You have to win on the road. Even­tu­ally, we’re go­ing to have to do that. We have our first op­por­tu­nity this year.”

That op­por­tu­nity in­volves Woods.

Furyk se­lected him as a vice cap­tain in late Fe­bru­ary, when Woods was just re­turn­ing af­ter a fourth back surgery and had yet to break 70 in the six rounds and two PGA Tour events he had played. Since then, Woods has con­tended on the back nine at two ma­jors, had six top 10s and fin­ished 11th in the Ryder Cup stand­ings, mak­ing him an easy choice as a cap­tain’s pick for his first Ryder Cup since 2012.

He hasn’t won a tour­na­ment in five years. His only win­ning Ryder Cup team as a player was in 1999. But he hasn’t lost his pres­ence.

“He brings so much great­ness to the game of golf, and he is the one per­son that prob­a­bly sticks his nose a lit­tle out­side the golf­ing en­vi­ron­ment and reaches a lot of peo­ple,” Euro­pean cap­tain Thomas Bjorn said. “It will be ex­cit­ing in France to see him there.”

Woods and Mick­el­son, a cap­tain’s pick for the first time in his record 12th ap­pear­ance in the Ryder Cup, rep­re­sent the old guard on a U.S. team that is built around fresh faces who al­ready have achieved plenty on golf ’s big­gest stages.

Nine of the 12 play­ers on the Amer­i­can team are ma­jor cham­pi­ons, and they have com­bined to win 10 of the past 16 ma­jors since the most re­cent Ryder Cup in Europe.

It’s a strong team, no doubt.

“I’ve been part of Ryder Cups since 1997, and I’ve not gone into a Ryder Cup where the United States don’t have a great team,” Bjorn said. “So it doesn’t come as a sur­prise to me or to the team that’s go­ing to play for the Euro­pean side, but the Amer­i­can team is go­ing to be great.”

Then again, the Amer­i­cans have taken strong teams to Europe over the past two decades and not re­turned home with the gold tro­phy.

They had two pre­vi­ous chances to end this Euro­pean streak.

Furyk lost the de­ci­sive match to Paul McGin­ley, and Mick­el­son lost to Phillip Price (No. 119 in the world) at the Bel­fry in 2002. And in 2010 at rain-plagued Celtic Manor, the Amer­i­cans lost five of six matches — the other was halved — to fall too far be­hind to catch up in sin­gles.

Both times, the Ryder Cup was on cour­ses where the Euro­pean Tour had played tour­na­ments. They know those cour­ses well, and Le Golf Na­tional is no ex­cep­tion. It is con­sid­ered one of the best cour­ses on tour and has staged the French Open 26 times.

Alex Noren and Tommy Fleet­wood won the past two French Opens, and both will make their Ryder Cup de­but.

The daunt­ing as­pect for Bjorn is a team filled with five rook­ies, though that list in­cludes Fleet­wood and Jon Rahm, both among the top 12 play­ers in the world. Two years ago, Europe had six Ryder Cup rook­ies, and none made it back onto this team.

Europe has four-time ma­jor cham­pion Rory McIl­roy and Justin Rose, who be­came No. 1 in the world two weeks be­fore the Ryder Cup. Francesco Moli­nari surged past five Amer­i­cans when he won the Bri­tish Open at Carnoustie. Ian Poul­ter is back for the first time since 2014, and though he wasn’t much of a fac­tor in Scot­land, Amer­i­cans won’t for­get how he went 4-0 and sin­gle-hand­edly turned Euro­pean for­tunes in the “Mir­a­cle at Me­d­i­nah.”

The wild card is Ser­gio Gar­cia, who had such a poor year that the for­mer Mas­ters cham­pion didn’t even fin­ish among the top 125 on the PGA Tour this year. Bjorn picked him any­way, mainly be­cause of the pas­sion he brings and his ex­pe­ri­ence in win­ning points.

“He’s the heart­beat of the team,” Bjorn said. “It’s like a foot­ball team go­ing with­out their cap­tain. Not only is he a fan­tas­tic golfer and does what he does in Ryder Cups — and we’ve seen it time af­ter time — but what he also brings is that he makes ev­ery­one around him bet­ter.”

Mick­el­son has been part of the Ryder Cup for so long that he made his de­but at Oak Hill in 1995 in a fourball ses­sion that in­cluded Seve Balles­teros, Nick Faldo and Bern­hard Langer. At age 48, this prob­a­bly will be his last chance to win a Ryder Cup in Europe.

It was Mick­el­son’s la­tent crit­i­cism of U.S. cap­tain Tom Wat­son and the PGA of Amer­ica that led to change. He wanted ex­pe­ri­ence in the lead­er­ship, and the U.S. has that now. Davis Love III, the win­ning cap­tain in 2016, is a vice cap­tain. So is Steve Stricker, the cap­tain of the Pres­i­dents Cup team last year. Woods and Furyk were vice cap­tains last year. Six play­ers are back from the 2016 team. Seven play­ers are back from the Pres­i­dents Cup team.

“We have a dif­fer­ent mo­men­tum, di­rec­tion,” Mick­el­son said. “Now we’ve got a nice road map to suc­cess. We’re go­ing to have a great decade-plus run.”

That re­quires win­ning away from home — start­ing in France.

RICH SCHULTZ / GETTY IMAGES

Phil Mick­el­son and Tiger Woods are Cap­tain’s Picks along with Bryson DeCham­beau on this year’s Ryder Cup team. The 42nd Ryder Cup matches will be Fri­day through next Sun­day out­side Paris.

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