With just six weeks until the start of the 40th Ryder Cup at Gleneagles we take a look at the likely participants and cast an eye over their form, with particular reference to their efforts at last week’s USPGA Championship at Valhalla.
Rory McIlroy: What a month it has been for McIlroy, back-to-back major victories with a World Golf Championships victory at Firestone tucked away in the middle just for good measure. He demonstrated at Valhalla that he is capable of winning majors the hard way, coming from three back to tough it out down the stretch. Mentally and physically he appears in supreme condition and US skipper Tom Watson has admitted he is the man both captains would love to have in their ranks.
Henrik Stenson: The Swede appeared a little jaded in the early part of this season following his remarkable exploits towards the end of last, but now looks to be coming to boil nicely for European golf fans. Stenson more than played his part in a thrilling Sunday shootout at Valhalla and was unlucky not to break his major duck after a superb closing 66.
Victor Dubuisson: The Frenchman again underlined his love of the big stage as he posted a second consecutive top-10 major finish in Kentucky courtesy of a flawless back nine on Sunday. The fearless 24-year-old has both flair and length in his locker and is already proven match-play performer – looks an ideal fit for Ryder Cup competition.
Sergio Garcia: In-form Garcia started the week at Valhalla fancied by many to finally end his wait for a major title. But while McIlroy - the man who denied him at Hoylake and Firestone - was again at his best, the Spaniard never truly fired with three rounds in the 70s as he finished in a tie for 36th. Irrespective of that, Garcia looks certain to be a key player for Europe at Gleneagles - cutting a relaxed figure both on and off the course, his game looks to be in a great place.
Justin Rose: Just as at Hoylake, Rose was always too far behind after the first couple of rounds to ever be a serious contender at Valhalla. But it speaks of the competitor that the Englishman has become that he again finished strongly (67-67) to end up just one stroke outside the top 15. Rose is a genuine world-class performer nowadays and a supremely consistent one at that. A huge asset for Europe.
Martin Kaymer: While McIlroy has gone from strength-to-strength after his Open victory, Kaymer appears to be very much in the midst of a major hangover following his triumph earlier in the summer. The precision that was the hallmark of his win at Pinehurst appears to have deserted him at present as he failed to make the cut at Valhalla. But the German proved at Medinah (when also arriving in poor form) he is tough character with the temperament to make a telling contribution.
Thomas Bjorn: The experienced Dane endured a week to forget in Kentucky with two rounds of 75 (featuring just a solitary birdie each) seeing him miss the cut with something to spare. But that performance is unlikely to faze Bjorn who still looks primed to qualify for the European team for the first time in 12 years years – and at a venue where he is a past winner (2011 Johnnie Walker Championship).
Jamie Donaldson: A good week for Donaldson at Valhalla as he finished tied for 24th, but it had threatened to be a great one that would have confirmed his Ryder Cup debut. Within striking distance of the leaders with a round to go, he lost ground on the field after a closing 71 and will have been disappointed not to have notched a second major top-10 finish. However, his place for Gleneagles looks more or less guaranteed and remains in good nick.
Graeme McDowell: Was always behind the eight-ball after an opening 73 and, while he did make the cut, simply never featured in the upper echelons of the leaderboard at Valhalla. Despite tailoring his schedule to peak for this part of the season, GMac has been unable to find the really big performance he needs to cement his spot on the team. Given his record, though, McDowell remains a racing certainty to feature at Gleneagles whether he qualifies or requires a pick.
Luke Donald: Another major and yet another disappointing result for Donald. After a promising start, the Englishman never really recovered after dropping four shots in his last five holes in round one and spent the rest of the week on the fringes. While his major record remains such a frustration, his past form (and talismanic partnership with Garcia) means he looks likely to get the nod from Paul McGinely.
Ian Poulter: If Donald seems a likely candidate for a wildcard pick then Poulter must be a shoo-in. Mr Ryder Cup, as he likes to style himself, did not enjoy the best of times at Valhalla, falling away dramatically after an opening 68 and then becoming embroiled in a rather undignified Twitter spat which threatened to render the actual golf something of a sideshow. While his form this year has been unconvincing, his Ryder Cup record most certainly is not and will make the team regardless of how badly he plays in the weeks ahead.
Lee Westwood: Westwood shared the lead after the first round at Valhalla following a 65 that featured nine birdies, but his week would get no better than that. A solid 15th-placed finish certainly represents a respectable showing, but the Englishman now looks likely to require a captain’s pick to feature in Scotland. Eight previous appearances mean he would be a hard man to ignore but, with the likes of Stephen Gallacher, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Francesco Molinari also in the running, there’s no lack of competition.
Bubba Watson: From the moment he refused to take part in the Long Drive competition, it appeared that grumpy Bubba had turned up at Valhalla… and a grumpy Bubba rarely plays well. Having only survived the halfway cut by two, Watson was never a consideration and finished well down in joint 65th. A two-time Masters champion, there is no doubting Watson’s quality now, but US skipper Tom Watson could do with him finding some form in the weeks ahead and turning up to Gleneagles with a smile on his face.
Rickie Fowler: Since joining forces with Butch Harmon, Fowler is fulfilling the rich potential he always so obviously had. Twice took the lead in the final round at Valhalla, but the 25-year-old had to settle for a share of third as he became the first player in the Masters era to finish in the top-5 at every major and not win one. Admitted his latest near miss was the most painful to date, but the California native seems unlikely to have to wait too much longer. A tough competitor who is improving all the time, he should be a Ryder Cup fixture for years to come.
Jim Furyk: The veteran has been a model of consistency this season and added another major top-five to his CV at Valhalla where only a poor third round of 72 denied him the chance to contend on Sunday. While closing out victory has become a bit of an issue in recent times, he is just the kind of consistent, experienced campaigner that Watson will rely on in Scotland.
Jimmy Walker: His three wins earlier in the season always made his inclusion an inevitability, but Walker cemented his place in style with a top-10 at Valhalla. Finished like a train with a closing 65 and his length and prowess on the greens should make him a valuable asset whatever the format. At 35, he’s a rookie with plenty of experience and looks like a solid addition for the Americans.
Phil Mickelson: While only a consolation after narrowly missing out on a sixth major title, Mickelson’s runner-up finish behind McIlroy did at least ensure he maintained his proud record of having qualified for each of the last ten Ryder Cups. Having been at odds with his game for long spells this season, Lefty followed on from a strong finish at Firestone to put in a fine week’s work at Valhalla (69-67-67-66) and should now head to Scotland in good heart.
Matt Kuchar: Kuchar provided yet another selection worry for Watson as he withdrew at Valhalla just before his opening round tee-time, citing a bad back. News of the 36-year-old’s injury will be a major headache for the US skipper who also saw Jason Dufner forced to retire in Kentucky with ongoing back issues. With a question mark still hanging over the participation of Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson already unavailable, Watson will be hoping Kuchar is back in action sooner rather than later.
Jordan Spieth: Fearless Texan Spieth showed his is a player for the big occasion earlier this year with a runner-up finish on his Masters debut and will be hoping to make a similar impact on his Ryder Cup bow. Blessed with an assured short game, captain Watson has already hinted that Spieth would form a great combination with Furyk. Currently ranked the 12th best player in the world, however he missed the cut in Valhalla.
Patrick Reed: Ranked one place behind fellow Texan Spieth and also set for his first taste of Ryder Cup action is Reed. A two-time winner of Tour this season and self-proclaimed ‘top five player’, Reed’s form has dipped drastically since becoming the youngest player in history to win a WGC event at Doral. Six missed cuts in his last 12 events provide cause for concern.
Zach Johnson: ZJ booked his place at a fourth Ryder Cup by the skin of his teeth after a disappointing final round at Valhalla. A closing 77 saw him edge the injured Jason Dufner out as the final outright qualifier. A second-place finish at the John Deere Classic last month represents decent recent form and he boasts an encouraging 6-4-1 record at Ryder Cups.
Tiger Woods: Watson claimed he’d be “foolish” not to consider Woods for this year’s spectacle but huge concerns continue to linger over the 38-year-old’s form and fitness. Has competed in just seven events in 2014, withdrawing from two and missing the cut at the recent PGA Championship. Will need to find form quickly to convince Watson he’s worth the risk.
Keegan Bradley: Watson’s most likely wildcard is World No 23 Bradley, who missed the cut at Valhalla. He seemed primed for a serious challenge in Kentucky after a top-five finish at Firestone the previous week, however rounds of 74 and 72 saw him exit the latest major at the earliest possible stage. Enjoyed a taste of Ryder Cup experience two years ago when forming a lethal partnership with Mickelson and may well join Lefty again at Gleneagles.
Webb Simpson: Johnson’s suspension, concerns over the form of Woods and fitness of Dufner have conspired to propel Simpson back into contention. Made the cut at Valhalla but finished well off the pace on five-under and will need to fight off the likes of Hunter Mahan, Brandt Snedeker and Ryan Moore if he is to make the touring party.