U.S. Captain Corey Pavin and his defending champion United States Ryder Cup golf team have their work cut out for them when they meet the favored European squad starting Friday at Celtic Manor in Wales. But, although Pavin and European Captain Colin Montgomerie might have differing opinions about who will win, both agree it will be a close competition.
Although the U.S. squad boasts four of the top five golfers in the world rankings, when the 38th edition of the three-day biennial Ryder Cup gets underway on Friday, the Europeans are favored to win.
Europe's team is considered stronger, with reigning U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland, reigning PGA champ Martin Kaymer of Germany, and a 12-man side that has produced 17 victories this year - including five on the U.S. PGA Tour.
Although the United States is the defending champion, the Americans have not been able to win the Ryder Cup on foreign soil since 1993. Even with with five players making their Ryder Cup debuts on the U.S. team, Captain Corey Pavin does not think it will matter.
"You know, there is a lot of new blood [new players] on our team," said Pavin. "And you know, I think we have a lot of aggressive, positive players, and they are just going to go out and play. And I don't think they look at the history books in that regard."
The Ryder Cup began in 1927, with a team of American professionals taking on players from the British PGA. But a long spell of U.S. dominance after World War II led to a decision in 1979 to include players from continental Europe. Since then, the event has become more widely followed and more competitive.
The Ryder Cup is composed of 28 18-hole matches - eight foresomes, eight fourballs and 12 singles - all in a match-play format. Players earn one point for a win and get a half a point for a draw. In foursome play, each side has two players who alternate shots with the same ball. Fourball matches also have two teams of two golfers, but each man plays his own ball with the best one winning the hole. The singles matches are standard match-play competition between two golfers.
Each team consists of 12 players, with the top eight in the Ryder Cup standings getting automatic berths on the U.S. team. Pavin selected four additional golfers as captain's picks.
After a tumultuous, scandal-rocked year and the deterioration of his play, world number-one Tiger Woods failed to qualify for an automatic berth for the first time in his career. But Woods says he was happy to be named as a captain's pick.
"Well, all that really matters is my team," said Woods. "That's who I'm here with and after that, I can't control that. That's not what it is all about. It's about us coming together as a team and being a team. We are here to get the job done as a team."
But it appears that Woods' competitiveness as an individual might be tested. After he finished 79th out of 80 players at a tournament in early August, Europe player Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland said he would love to face Woods in the Ryder Cup, unless Woods' game improved.
At a press conference earlier this week, Woods responded, "Me too," meaning that he would be happy to face McIlroy. But now, he says, it does not matter who he plays.
"I think just anybody, really," he said. "I mean, when you get put out there in the singles, [the aim] is to get a point for your team. That's your responsibility as a player - [it] is to try to get that one point. And I'm looking forward to it."
Europe's team is also a mixture of experience and fresh faces, with six Ryder Cup rookies on the squad. Nine qualified for the team on points and Captain Colin Montgomerie made three selections. He says everyone has been playing well in the practice rounds.
"I was surprised with how relaxed the rookies were and how they felt so much part of the team," said Colin Montgomerie. "[I'm] delighted with the way the three picks are playing. It's always a little bit difficult as a pick, so there is a different feeling with that. And I'm glad to see them feeling so much a part of the team as well."
Corey Pavin and Colin Montgomerie agree that the event will be closely contested, and that the championship might be decided by just one putt in a final singles match on Sunday.