Ryder Cup 2016: The US dare not lose to Europe at Hazeltine

By Iain CarterBBC golf correspondent
Ryder Cup: Captains Love and Clarke ready for Hazeltine
Ryder Cup 2016
Venue: Hazeltine National, Minnesota Dates: 30 September-2 October
Coverage: Live commentary on BBC Radio 5 live, highlights on BBC Two plus live text commentary on the BBC Sport website. Details

This is a Ryder Cup the United States dare not lose. Never before have they poured so much energy and thought into trying to wrestle back from Europe the famous transatlantic trophy.

Never have they craved victory quite as much as they do this week at Hazeltine, Minnesota. They are desperate to avoid a record fourth-successive defeat.

After eight losses in the last 10 matches, American golf has said 'enough is enough'.

American Phil Mickelson played in all of those contests and infamously signalled the need for change moments after their last defeat at Gleneagles two years ago.

It was Mickelson's extraordinary criticism of the last captain Tom Watson that set the ball rolling. In so doing, the five-time major champion became the primary force behind the bid to end Europe's winning sequence.

Paul Azinger with the Ryder Cup in 2008
Paul Azinger was the last US Ryder Cup captain to guide his team to victory in 2008. Phil Mickelson, after the 2014 tournament spoke of a need to revert to how Azinger made the team feel

Although he put his legendary skipper in the firing line at that astonishing post-match news conference, Mickelson was calling for a change of American attitude and outlook. The resultant "taskforce" re-appointed 2012 skipper Davis Love III and a more inclusive approach was adopted.

"I think we have a great opportunity," Mickelson said. "We have been given, for the first time in 20 years that I have been involved in the Ryder Cup, actual input, actual say, kind of ownership if you will, of the Ryder Cup."

It is clear that the US are approaching the Minnesota showdown with a confidence far greater than is commensurate with their recent record.

The last four Ryder Cup meetings scores
The last four meetings have provided two narrow victories for Europe and a comfortable win for either side

Love believes he is skippering "the best team, maybe, ever assembled" while former great and leading TV commentator Johnny Miller says Europe have "their worst team for many years".

Tiger Woods is the "tactician", Minnesotan fellow vice-captain Tom Lehman provides the local knowledge while Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker have contemporary team insight.

Ryan Moore's wildcard pick looks astute, not just for the way he fought his way into last Sunday's Tour Championship but for his consistency over the past month.

The 33-year-old was also a standout matchplay success in a glittering amateur career - he won the 2004 US Amateur and Public Links titles - and is one of only two rookies in the US team.

Ryan Moore
Ryan Moore has been selected as the final US wild card pick, after losing to Rory McIlroy in a play-off in the Tour Championship, the final tournament before the Ryder Cup

And for the US there is now a sentimental incentive, following the sad passing of the legendary Arnold Palmer. The Americans will want to deliver in the name of the great man in the way that Europe did at Medinah in the wake of Seve Ballesteros' death in 2012.

Love's dozen could become known as a latter day "Arnie's Army" if they live up to the expectations that abound Stateside at the moment.

Factor in home advantage for the US and one has to conclude this European team, which shows no fewer than six rookies, is more than up against it this week.

And yet there remain plenty of reasons why Darren Clarke should still feel quietly confident of becoming the fourth-successive European skipper to lift the trophy. The 48-year-old from Portrush in Northern Ireland is very well equipped to steer this new-look team to victory.

Clarke, who is a veteran of five Ryder Cups, losing only once, was also a vice-captain for the 2010 win at Celtic Manor and the 'Miracle at Medinah' two years later. He is as meticulous as he is astute and will foster the famous togetherness that is the hallmark of European Ryder Cup success.

Colin Montgomerie (2010), Jose Olazabal (2012) and Paul McGinley (2014)
Can Darren Clarke follow in the footsteps of his three predecessors? Colin Montgomerie (2010), Jose Olazabal (2012) and Paul McGinley (2014) have made it a hat-trick of wins for Europe

You only have to see the way the team and caddies so vociferously celebrated Rory McIlroy's Tour Championship and FedEx Cup victories last Sunday.

They were gathered before flying to the States and it was clear that they felt McIlroy had already put the continent at least one-up by thrillingly snatching American golf's most lucrative prize.

Having pocketed the US play-off spoils, the 27-year-old Ulsterman is primed to play the lead role for Europe. Expect him to renew his foursomes partnership with Spain's Sergio Garcia and help shepherd the debuts of England's Andy Sullivan or Belgian Thomas Pieters in the fourballs.

Clarke will, surely, want to reunite Justin Rose with Swede Henrik Stenson to lead off on Friday morning.

Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose
The dream partnership? Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose produced a terrific final day as they battled for Olympic gold in Rio

Two years ago, the partnership between the current Olympic and Open champions won three out of three together and provided the bedrock for Europe's 16 ½- 11½ triumph at Gleneagles.

In the last away match, Martin Kaymer's nerve held in the singles as he completed Europe's extraordinary fightback from 10-6 down to make sure the trophy was retained.

The German was in fine form on home soil last week, finishing 14 under par for the 54 holes played in the European Open.

Yes, there are concerns over Kaymer's chipping, but as a two-time major champion and former world number one, he has the experience to look after rookies in both first-day formats.

The same applies to England's Lee Westwood who should make the perfect partner for compatriot Danny Willett's debut. The Masters champion more than demonstrated his ability to deal with the biggest moments at Augusta in April and Willett will relish the Hazeltine challenge.

Most of the European team come into the Ryder Cup after a week off [Kaymer and Pieters played and collected 32 birdies between them in Germany last week] and although McIlroy went 76 holes in Atlanta, he emerged with his confidence sky-high.

The Americans, all bar Rickie Fowler, Zach Johnson and rookie Brooks Koepka, were on duty at East Lake. Those who made the PGA Tour season finale were tormented by the thick, penal rough, the like of which will not be found at Hazeletine.

Ryder Cup: Europe captain Clarke says he'd pick Johnson from USA team

The par-72 course, where England's Tony Jacklin won his US Open and Scotsman Richie Ramsay claimed the US Amateur, measures a monster 7,628 yards. It was doused by heavy rains last week but the forecast is set fair for practice days and the match itself.

And unlike East Lake last week, it is set up for birdies. That contrast may well play into the hands of Europe where conditions for low scoring have prevailed for the past month.

"This is a great example of the disconnect we have in the US," Mickelson pointed out last Sunday night. "Because the Tour doesn't own the Ryder Cup, let's say, or doesn't work in conjunction with the PGA of America.

"The European Tour would never have the setup so different the week before the Ryder Cup," Mickelson added.

"This is the worst rough I have seen in years. We are not going to have that rough next week.

"Why the Tour set it up so differently from what we are going to have next week is a lack of communication and working together."

Unlike two years ago, Mickelson has registered his criticism early and like last time there is validity to his point, although with $11.5m (£8.9m) at stake East Lake did provide an appropriately stern test.

It just wasn't helpful to the US cause this week, when they are heading into a match they feel they must win. For them the pressure is on and the free wheeling Europeans are entitled to think to themselves: "Bring it on."


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