Arguably the most difficult task faced by either captain in the 2010 Ryder Cup has already been completed, several weeks before the first tee shot that commences play on Friday morning. Always an area for contention and speculation, the wildcard picks assigned to each captain can prove a pivotal part of any matchplay competition. After all, who can forget Darren Clarke’s career-defining performance in the 2006 Ryder Cup just weeks after losing his wife? Given extra spice this year by the possible omission of Tiger Woods, and European captain Colin Montgomerie being spoilt for choice with five potential picks in the top-22 of the World Golf Ranking, both Monty and United States captain Corey Pavin knew their choices would be of paramount importance in the bid to win the Cup. Let’s have a look at the selected wildcards and how they may help, or hinder, their team’s performance.
Strengths: You don’t become back-to-back Open and three-time Major Champion for nothing. Able to handle the most severe of pressure and renowned for having one of the best short games in the business, Harrington was always going to be a likely pick. His bulldog spirit can turn a match around or claw out a crucial halve.
Weaknesses: Position in team doubted by many following lacklustre form this past season – three missed cuts in the Majors and no victories pales in comparison to Justin Rose’ two wins in three weeks on the PGA Tour. The selection of Harrington over Rose means the Irishman has a lot to prove. Montgomerie will look to Harrington for leadership but, even despite a final round 64 in last week’s Vivendi Cup, is his game – and mental state – strong enough at the moment to not wilt in golf’s ultimate pressure cooker?
Strengths: As reliable as ever, Luke Donald’s sublimely accurate game is capable of ‘boring’ his opponent into submission. Effortlessly finding fairways, greens, and the bottom of the cup on a regular basis makes him a difficult player to beat. Spurred on by a win in Madrid, recent runner-up finish in the Deutsche Bank Championship in America, and backed by a stellar Ryder Cup record.
Weaknesses: The main talking point of Luke Donald’s game is always his lack of length. This could pose a problem on a golf course measuring 7,500 yards and against an American side dominated by long-hitters. A wet forecast for the week in Wales could really expose this disadvantage.
Strengths: A blistering finish in the Johnnie Walker Championship on the eve of Captain Monty’s announcement of picks not only handed the Italian his second European Tour win but also made him an obvious choice for selection. Will prove a formidable force alongside his brother, Francesco, as proven in the 2009 World Cup of Golf where they achieved victory.
Weaknesses: Although still early in his career, yet to full prove himself on the biggest of stages. No top 20s in any of the four Majors this year sharply contrasts with the omitted Paul Casey who tied for third in this year’s Open Championship. Lack of performance and experience in golf’s most coveted championships may come back to haunt him.
Strengths: Despite what has transpired this year, Woods is still the most intimidating player in the game. His records stand head and shoulders above that of anyone else: fourteen Major victories – more than all combined by players on both teams – and over eighty individual wins around the world. His mental toughness is the stuff of legend and will prove invaluable when playing in front of team Europe’s thirteenth and staunchest man: the crowd.
Weaknesses: The question that always looms over Woods and the Ryder Cup is ‘does he actually care?’ A meagre eleven points out of a possible twenty five will hardly fill captain Pavin with confidence and it has been evident in past Ryder Cups just how difficult it is to find an effective partner for Woods; he has lost the most amount of four-ball matches in Ryder Cup history. His form has, by all accounts, been poor this year and for the first time in his career faces the very real prospect of going winless for an entire season. He will be looking to turn his year around this week.
Strengths: Quiet and unassuming, Johnson possesses the traits of an assassin on the golf course. In the 2007 Masters he laid up on every par-5 in every round and still managed to fend off a challenging Woods to claim his first Major victory. Trustworthy with his wedges and ranking fifth on the PGA Tour in putting average, Johnson could be an unlikely hero.
Weaknesses: Only one victory in his previous Ryder Cup appearance in 2006 means he may lack the spark to challenge a strong European side. Neither a team-leading veteran nor a young rookie, it’s hard to determine Johnson’s role in the team. Although not out of his depth in this company, Johnson will have to perform especially well to validate his selection.
Strengths: Earned a reputation as a ‘party-pooper’ after defeating Tom Watson and ending his chance of a fairytale victory in the 2009 British Open. Don’t expect Cink to be intimidated by the home crowd and don’t expect his golf to let the American side down. Cink’s biggest strength is that when his game is on he has no weaknesses. A veteran of the Ryder Cup, Pavin will look to Cink to provide initiative for the entire team.
Weaknesses: How will Cink cope with the prohibition of Twitter imposed by both captains?! Never heard of before, could poor golf be classified as a social-networking-site-withdrawal-symptom? Cink will have to let his clubs do the talking this week, which given the fact he hasn’t won a single tournament all season, may prove ineffectual.