Ryder Cup 2020: European Team Preview

European Team Ryder Cup 2020 Preview

Yes, Ryder Cup 2020 is taking place in September 2021, as the event was postponed for one year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is the European Team preview for the Ryder Cup 2020.

The event, which last took place three years ago and will be held in odd years moving forward, will be held at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin.

The Europeans will be the “visiting team,” as the tournament alternates sites between the U.S. and Europe. Team Europe hoisted the trophy in Paris in 2018 and are the defending champions.

The nine automatic qualifiers for the European team were set after last week’s BMW PGA Championship, as Matt Fitzpatrick, Bernd Wiesberger, and Lee Westwood were the final three to join Jon Rahm, Paul Casey, Rory McIlroy, Viktor Hovland, Tommy Fleetwood, and Tyrell Hatton as those who had already secured their spot.

Following that tournament, team captain Padraig Harrington was able to select three golfers among the group that did not qualify. Harrington took two veterans of the Ryder Cup wars with those picks—Sergio Garcia and Ian Poulter—along with Shane Lowry, who is making his first appearance.

Here’s a detailed look at the European team that will square off against the American dozen starting this Friday Ryder Cup 2020.

Jon Rahm

Rahm is the top golfer in the Official World Golf Rankings, the defending U.S. Open champion, and nearly won the FedEx Cup after finishing the regular season atop the points standings and finishing second to Patrick Cantlay at the Tour Championship. Rahm is also leading the Race to Dubai standings on the European Tour. He’s had quite the year, and a second-straight win in the Ryder Cup would be the icing on the cake for his 2021.

Rahm’s year could’ve been even better, as he was leading the Memorial by a whopping six strokes going into the final round when he had to withdraw due to a positive COVID-19 test. Ironically, Cantlay ended up winning that event too. But Rahm rebounded from that disappointment by winning the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in his next start. The win capped an impressive run in the majors for Rahm, who finished at least tied for eighth in the four big tournaments of the year.

Rahm was thrown into the spotlight at the 2018 Ryder Cup when he faced (and defeated) Tiger Woods in a head-to-head matchup on Sunday. He didn’t far as well in team play earlier in the tournament, losing in each on the Friday and Saturday in Paris.

Having won 13 tournaments across the PGA and European Tours since his Ryder Cup debut, expect Rahm to lead the European team on the course, and it would be great theater to see him matched up against Cantlay on Sunday in a recreation of their duel during the final two rounds of the Tour Championship.

Paul Casey

The 44-year-old is a Ryder Cup veteran who is undefeated in this competition, winning three in a row in 2004, ’06, and ’08 and then not appearing for a decade before winning again in ’18. Casey also has the distinction of being the last person to sink a hole-in-one in Ryder Cup play, which he did in 2006.

Casey has had a strong season, winning the Dubai Desert Classic on the European Tour in January, and he’s been in the minds of stateside golf fans too with solid finishes at the three summer majors—tied for fourth at the U.S. Open, seventh at the PGA, and 15th in The Open Championship.

He played well with Tyrrell Hatton when partnered with him in 2018, as they lost just by one stroke to Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas in a fourball match but then defeated Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler the next day in another fourball.

Casey is the third-oldest player on the European team behind Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter.

Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy is just 32, but he has the longest current Ryder Cup streak, as this will be his sixth-straight tournament. His first event was in 2010, and he carries a personal 5-1 record in the Ryder Cup to Whistling Straits, having only lost in 2016, which is when the last time the tournament was held in the United States (at Hazeltine).

McIlroy’s 2020-21 season wasn’t as impressive as usual, but he’s set a high standard over the past decade—his World Golf Ranking of 13th is the lowest he’s had to enter Ryder Cup play. He hadn’t won on the PGA Tour in nearly two calendar years before taking home the Wells Fargo Championship in May.

Whistling Straits is a links-style course that can play into McIlroy’s advantages, and he’s had success in previous Ryder Cups by teaming with Ian Poulter and Sergio Garcia, both of whom made this year’s tournament as captain’s picks, so he could partner with either or both on Friday and Saturday. The Northern Irishman, however, hasn’t won a singles match in Ryder Cup play since 2014, which is also the last time he won a major.

Viktor Hovland

The 23-year-old is making his first Ryder Cup appearance and also made history by becoming the first Norwegian to make the team. Hovland already has two wins on the PGA Tour, also becoming the first native of Norway to win on that tour as well, and he’s been ranked inside the top 20 of the World Golf Rankings for about a year now.

Hovland added to his accolades by becoming—you guessed it—the first Norwegian to win on the European Tour when he lifted the trophy at the BMW International Open in June. He played well in the spotlight, making the cut at all the majors but the U.S. Open, where he had to withdraw due to an injury during the second round. He also finished fourth at the Tour Championship earlier this month, taking home a major payday by coming in the top-five in the FedEx Cup standings.

Despite this being his first Ryder Cup, he has had success in similar competitions, going undefeated as an amateur at the 2015 Jacques Leglise Trophy and then winning the U.S. Amateur Championship in 2018.

Tommy Fleetwood

Fleetwood will be making his second Ryder Cup appearance, having made history in 2018 by becoming the first European pair (with Francesco Molinari) to win all four of their matches on Friday and Saturday. He did, however, lose to Tony Finau in a singles match on Sunday.

The 30-year-old hasn’t won since a European Tour victory in November 2019, but he was consistent this season and has a runner-up finish to his credit earlier this month in Italy (on the course that will host the 2023 Ryder Cup, coincidentally).

Fleetwood has played with Paul Casey in other tournaments and has had success, and he’s also strong on links-style courses like at Whistling Straits, so look for Fleetwood to be a key contributing member of the European squad.

Tyrrell Hatton

Hatton played in his first Ryder Cup in 2018 and said that he loved it so much, he had a drop in his competitiveness in 2019 when he realized it wasn’t a Ryder Cup-qualifying year.

Hatton has six European Tour titles to his credit, including the BMW PGA Championship in 2020. He also scored his first win on the PGA Tour in that year’s Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in Orlando, Florida. However, he miss the cut at the BMW PGA a few weeks ago and is struggling a bit coming into Whistling Straits.

He had some success teaming with Paul Casey in Paris and lost to Patrick Reed in a singles competition, but that loss came after the Europeans also clinched the overall victory three years ago.

Matt Fitzpatrick

The 27-year-old Englishman is playing in his second Ryder Cup, having appeared in 2016 but failing to make the team three years ago. He didn’t play much five years ago and lost his two matches—a foursome with Henrik Stenson and then a singles defeat by Zach Johnson.

He has six wins on the European Tour, the last at the DP Tour Championship in December 2020. While not winning in 2021, he’s been in a fine form most of the year. He had a fifth at the Genesis Invitational, 11th at the WGC-Workday Championship, 10th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, and ninth at The Players Championship. He also made the cut at all four majors and was second at the Scottish Open.

Fitzpatrick struggled recently but did start to round into form at the BMW PGA Championship last week, finishing 20th there.

Bernd Wiesberger

The 35-year-old Austrian is a Ryder Cup rookie, and he had to earn his way onto the team. After setting himself behind at +3 after the opening nine holes at the BMW PGA Championship, Wiesberger played solid golf the rest of the way to finish 20th and make the squad, becoming the first Austrian-born golfer to do so in the process.

Wiesberger has eight European Tour titles, the latest coming in May at the Made in Himmerland, and he doesn’t appear in the United States all that often. He did make the cut at the Masters, but otherwise is a bit of an unknown to U.S. fans.

Harrington said, however, that it’s important that the European team have a qualification process that mostly revolves around the European Tour, so everyone from the continent has a chance to qualify.

While a Ryder Cup rookie, Wiesberger won two out of three matches at the 2016 EurAsia Cup and won a singles match in the 2018 version of the event.

Lee Westwood

Westwood, 48, is the veteran of the team in both age and Ryder Cup experience. This will be his 11th competition dating back to 1997. He was also on the losing end of the famed U.S. team comeback in 1999 led by the late Payne Stewart. Overall, Westwood is 7-3, having last played in the 2016 event. As far as personal matchups go, he’s 20-18-6. The 11th tournament also ties Sir Nick Faldo for the overall record and becomes the oldest player to be on Team Europe.

He has struggled in 2021, however, after a very impressive run in big events in early 2020. He won the Abu Dhabi Championship in January 2020 before coming in second at both the Arnold Palmer Invitational and The Players Championship in back-to-back weeks. Also, he won the Race to Dubai a year ago, and performance in big events in 2020 was part of this year’s qualification process.

He did lose all three of his matches in his 2016 appearance, and he served as a vice-captain in 2018 instead of competing. But he will definitely have the motivation to perform well in this year’s edition, which will likely be his final appearance as a competitor.

Sergio Garcia

This will be the 41-year-old Spaniard’s 10th Ryder Cup, and it was somewhat of an unexpected selection. Harrington obviously values Garcia’s experience, and he did have a bit of an underrated season. Garcia claimed his 11th PGA Tour win at the Sanderson Farms Championship earlier this year and recorded seven top-10s overall. Playing into Garcia’s favor was a strong run at the end of the season that saw him sneak into the top-30 to qualify for the Tour Championship, where he finished an impressive 10th. He also was in the top 20 at the U.S. Open and came in 10th at The Open Championship.

Garcia has been a Ryder Cup staple, only missing one team in the last 22 years, which was in 2010 when he served as vice-captain to Colin Montgomerie. He’s also the all-time leading scorer for team Europe with 25.5 points in his nine appearances. In 2004, he became just the sixth player to win 4.5 points out of five and then was unbeaten in four matches across the first two days of the tournament in 2006. More recently, he took three out of a possible four points during his matches in 2018, which allowed him to pass Sir Nick Faldo for the all-time points lead.

Shane Lowry

Lowry is 34, a two-time winner on the PGA Tour, and a five-time champ on the European Tour, and he’s making his first appearance in the Ryder Cup as a captain’s pick. Since the last Ryder Cup, Lowry became a major winner, claiming the 2019 Open Championship, which was not a part of the qualification process for this team. He also finished fourth at this year’s PGA Championship. In the past, he won the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in 2015.

On the European Tour, he won the 3 Irish Open as an amateur in 2009 and last claimed victory at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship in 2019.

While he didn’t win in 2020-21, he was amazingly consistent. He missed just one cut all season, produced four top-10 finishes, and was 12th at this year’s Open, which was the first one held since his 2019 victory.

The Irishman should have success at Whistling Straits due to its links-style nature, and he could pair up with Northern Irishman and fellow links-lover Rory McIlroy on Friday or Saturday.

Ian Poulter

Poulter is 45 and was another captain’s pick based on both performances and past Ryder Cup experience. This will be his seventh competition, having been on the winning side in each of the last four. Personally, Poulter has also lost just six of the 22 rounds that he’s participated in throughout the course of those six events. He’s also undefeated in singles play on Sunday, and he brings a certain swagger with him. In 2010, he guaranteed that he would deliver a point against Matt Kuchar, and he did.

In 2012, he won all four of his matches, including scoring five-straight birdies for a comeback win in a fourball with Rory McIlroy. He also won in 2018 while partnering with McIlroy and defeated Dustin Johnson in a singles match that year.

It’s been over three years since Poulter won a tournament (2018 Houston Open), but he did play very consistently this year, racking up four top-10s before faltering a bit down the stretch, failing to make the cut at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. But he has the best numbers on either team when it comes to strokes gained from putting, so expect his clutch nature to be an asset for the Europeans at Whistling Straits.

Can the European Team Win the Ryder Cup 2020?

The Europeans have won four of the last five tournaments and seven of nine, and they also have the experience edge in 2021. The event, however, is on the United States’ home turf, and perhaps the six rookies on that team will help turn their luck around.

The oddsmakers are favoring the hosts, as Jazzsports has the European team as a +225 underdog in the Ryder Cup 2020 —with the U.S. team rolling out as fairly heavy favorites at -215. Given team Europe’s recent history in this event, that may be an underdog bet worth taking before the tournament begins this Friday at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin.

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