It’s Eur ope’s cup t o lose

Look­ing at the Ry­der Cup t eams, the play­ers’ records and home­ground ad­van­tage, Europe should re­tain the cup, writes RAY WHITE

Weekend Witness - - Sport - FROM THE SPO T with Ll oyd Burnar d When you just know ‘it had t o be Lam­pard’

WHEN the Amer­i­can capt ain T om Wat­son sat do wn to choose his thr ee picks to com­plete the 2014 USA Ry­der Cup team, it w as ac­knowl­edged there was no one who stood out as “the pick” that de­manded se­lec­tion.

He even­tu­ally chose K egan Bradley, Hunter Ma­han and Webb Simp­son to ac­com­pany those w ho had alr eady made the t eam by virtue of their p ast year’s perf or­mances.

None of W at­son’s selections, made after ex­ten­sive con­sul­ta­tion with his as­sis­tant capt ains, sp arked an y op­po­si­tion at the time. H ad he been allo wed to wait un­til the end of the Fedex Cup, he would un­doubt­edly have cho­sen Billy Hor­shel, who not only won that trophy, but is also the kind ofofrce­ful character who is in­valu­able in a team en­vi­ron­ment. He prob­a­bly would have also picked Chris Kirk who is another in red­hot f orm.

One of the cru­cial ac­torsf in ev­ery Ry­der Cup is how the cap­tain’s picks fair in the mat ch it self. In this r egard and in con­trast to Wat­son’s choices, Euro­pean cap­tain Paul McGin­ley was spoilt for choice when it came to his de­ci­sions. He would have wasted no time think­ing about Ian Poul­ter, hero of the past two Ry­der Cups, a fier ce match play com­peti­tor who has r es­erved his be st golf for the se bi­en­nial chal­leng es bet ween the USA and Eur ope.

More im­por­tantly, Poul­ter is the one Euro­pean all Americans fear to play. He has w on 11 of his las t 12 R yder C up matches, which is easil y the be st in­di­vid­ual streak in the mod­ern er a of the com­pe­ti­tion. The brash c on­fi­dence of the eye­pop­ping al­ter ego that emerges for the R yder C up has in­fu­riat ed the Yan­kees who have de­scribed Poul­ter as a mar ked man f or this y ear’s aff air.

Yet none of them ar e k een t o pla y him, what­ever they may say in pub­lic. Poul­ter’s form has not been g ood this year and it re­mains to be seen if he can de­liver another win­ning record for Europe.

The other cap­tain’s picks for Europe are Stephen Gal­lagher and Lee West­wood. G al­lagher has long been ac­knowl­edged as one of the best ball strik­ers in world golf, but his putting veers from sound t o shock­ing .

Given that Ry­der Cups are won and lost on the caul­drons of the greens, this is where Gal­lagher will come un­der in­tense pr es­sure.

Like Poul­ter, West­wood has an ex­cel­lent Ry­der Cup record, but his form this year has been r el­a­tively or­di­nary most of the time and w eak of lat e. He was cho­sen ahead of Luke Don­ald, who has a bet ter R yder C up r ecord, but is thought to be le ss suited to the Gle­nea­gles course where the long fin­ish­ing par fives may be cru­cial to the fi­nal out­come.

Out­side of the capt ain’s pick s, the Americans ha ve mor e pr oblems than their hosts. Jor­dan Speith, who started the year so w ell, has jus t about f allen off the bus in re­cent months. At times, he ap­pears to have los t his s wing and com­po­sure. He is the y oungest player on both sides and it will be in­ter­est­ing to see how many games he is given by Wat­son.

Another Amer­i­can r ookie is Pa­trick Reed, who sur­prised the golf­ing world by declar­ing ear­lier this year that he was one of the top five play­ers in the world. This was a silly com­ment that put him and League C up, it is the P remier League ti­tle that has al­ways eluded him. At 34 and with Li verpool seem­ingly a move be­hind City and Chelsea, that is un­likely t o chang e.

Ger­rard, lik e Gig gs at U nited, has spent his en­tire se­nior ca­reer at Liver­pool. The ca­reers of both of those men will for­ever be etched into the hearts of the re­spec­tive sup­port­ers at An­field and Old Traf­ford.

Lam­pard’s case is a lit tle more cu­ri­ous.

While his leg­endary sta­tus at Chelsea will never be ques­tioned, his ca­reer be­gan out side of the w alls of St am­ford un­der pres­sure and un­sur­pris­ingl y, his form fell away. He does not look in the best of shape and may have to be nursed by Wat­son.

By his own stan­dards, Phil Mick­el­son has had an in­dif­fer­ent year. De­spite all he has achieved in golf, he has a los­ing Ry­der Cup r ecord. Las t time, he ble w a lead in a vi­tal game against Justin Rose that even­tu­ally cost his team the match. Some think that, fr eed from the pr es­ence in the team of Tiger Woods whom he dis­likes, he will perf orm bet­ter but this ma y be a lit tle op­ti­mis tic f or an elder s tates­man not in gr eat f orm.

Even Jim Furyk, who has had a bril­liant year with­out any ti­tles, has a los­ing Ry­der Cup r ecord. He is the olde st in an Amer­i­can team that has half its play­ers over the age of 35. This may not be im­por­tant in an era where fit­ness lev­els Bridge and that is ho w it will end.

This is thr ough no will of his o wn. Lam­pard’s de­sire to sign a one­year ex­ten­sion at Chelsea this sea­son was well doc­u­mented — why would you want to leave a club where you are adored and you ar e r e­writ­ing the his tory book s (Lam­pard is Chelsea’s all time lead­ing goal sc orer) with e very g oal?

But he w as deemed sur­plus t o r equire­ments, thanked f or his c on­tri­bu­tion over the years and then sent on his merry way.

Lam­pard was Amer­ica­bound, where bright lights and crazed fans waited, but not bef ore C ity jumped on bo ard t o are much impr oved, but ag e of­ten be­gins to tell on a player’s abil­ity to hole vi­tal put ts.

The Americans have been weak­ened by the ab­senc e of Tiger Woods, Ja­son Dufner (both in­jured) and Dustin John­son. John­son has t aken him­self out of the game to sort out his per sonal lif e for rea­sons thought to be re­lated to co­caine use. When he an­nounced his leave of ab­sence, a strong ru­mour was cir­cu­lat­ing he was hav­ing an af­fair with the wife of another pla yer who was a c er­tainty for the Ry­der Cup team. If true, his pr es­ence in the t eam w ould ha ve been mor e than mildl y dis­rupti ve.

The only is­sue con­fronting McGin­ley is the le gal wran­gle bet ween Rory McIlroy and his f ormer manag ement company that also han­dle s the aff airs of Gr aeme M cDowell. M cIl­roy’s dis­ have their small t aste of F rank.

What hap­pened las t w eek­end w as noth­ing short of epic.

I found my­self wedged in be­tween a Chelsea fan and a City fan for the match, which was rare on it s own be­cause up un­til a sea­son or two ago, the Cit­i­zens didn’t have much pull with the South African f oot­ball pub­lic.

A c ou­ple of tr ophies seem t o ha ve changed that.

When Lam­pard was in­tro­duced with City down a man and a g oal, you just had a sense that the script had al­ready been writ­ten. The stage was set, and like he has done so man y time s o ver the years, Lamp ard oblig ed.

“It had t o be Lamp ard. It c ouldn’t be any­one else,” the dumb­struck Chelsea sup­porter to my left mus­tered. But the look on his face and the tone of his voice im­me­diat ely t old me that he wasn’t shocked. He had seen enough of pute with the c om­pany, of w hich McDow­ell is a p art o wner, c on­cerns among other is­sues, the al­le­ga­tion that McDow­ell w as r eceiv­ing bet ter spon­sor­ship deals and in volved a de­mand from McIlroy’s lawyers that the company dis­close McDow­ell’s earn­ings from it.

This has sour ed r ela­tions bet ween the t wo w ho ha ve done their be st t o keep a har­mo­nious front, but “for golf­ing r ea­sons onl y”, McDow­ell has said he does not want to play with McIlroy.

On bal­ance, McGin­ley has more ad­van­tages and op­tions than Wat­son. He is on home gr ound where the p as­sion of the spec­ta­tors is worth some points. He has more play­ers with win­ning Ry­der Cup r ecords on a c ourse that has been set up t o favour the Eur opeans.

This is Eur ope’s cup t o lose. Lam­pard over the years to know what he was all about. “It hadot be Lam­pard,” he said o ver and o ver un­til it be­came noth­ing more than a mum­ble as the fi­nal whis­tle ble w.

Lam­pard’s decision not to cel­e­brate, or even smile, after his goal was ad­mirable even if it was ex­pected. And the hon­esty with which he ap­proached his post­match pr esser was t op clas s.

Com­par­isons be­tween Lam­pard and Ger­rard ha ve been g oing on f or w ell over a decade now. I al­ways used to be on the Blue side of that deb ate.

But as I got older and Ger­rard’s in­flu­ence got stronger (I also con­vinced my­self that half of Lamp ard’s goals were penal­ties) I be­came mor e un­de­cided.

But a costly slip, a failed World Cup and a simpl y s tunning Chelsea car eer later, I think it’ s safe to say that — 1 3 years on — Su­per F rank has w on the war.

PHOTO: REUTERS

He ma y be full o f hims elf but ther e is no denying Ian P Gle­nea­gles in Sc ot­land. oul­ter’s su­perb Ry der Cup r ecord, which is cr ucial t o Eur ope’s am­bi­tions this w eek­end at

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