The end of the PGA Championship is always D-Day for the American hopefuls during a Ryder Cup year as the automatic qualification spots are officially decided. Captain Jim Furyk now has a clearer idea of what his team will look like come tee off at Le Golf National in late September, now that the majority of his troops have been named.
The same goes for European captain Thomas Bjorn even though, officially, there is still a chance for any European player not currently in the top eight to force their way in, as European automatic qualifying only ends on the 2nd of September. Realistically, the team won’t change much from what it looks like now over the next two weeks barring a barnstorming finish from someone on the fringes of selection.
With that in mind, and the top eight for both teams looking pretty much confirmed, who then has the advantage and how do the teams compare when lined up next to each other?
Jim Furyk has a wealth of talent at his disposal as five of the eight to have qualified are in the top ten of the official world rankings. The top eight to have qualified automatically are Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Webb Simpson. In fact, Kopeka, Johnson, and Thomas are ranked as the top three players in the world and it’s hard seeing either of those three losing a match at this year’s Ryder Cup.
Masters champion Patrick Reed is there and there’s no doubt that Jim Furyk will pair him and Spieth up again after the devastating effect they had in 2016 at Hazeltine where they won all their games. Bubba Watson’s matchplay pedigree is up there with the very best after the Floridian won the WGC Match Play event in Texas in March and, given his length and ability to carve out a birdie from a seemingly hopeless situation, he will be a man to fear in Paris.
Fowler and Simpson make up the last two automatic qualifications and Europe will see a potential chink in the armour there. There’s no doubting the stellar season these two have had in stroke play but in a match play environment, they have been found wanting in the past.
This European team can more than hold their own when it comes to the official world rankings as four of their eight are in the world's top ten. Currently, the European top eight is made up of Francesco Molinari, Justin Rose, Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Tommy Fleetwood, Alex Noren, Tyrrell Hatton and Ian Poulter. The makeup of this team means that the European side will be almost unrecognizable from 2016, which can only be a positive given how comprehensively they were beaten at Hazeltine National by America.
Rose, Rahm, Molinari, and McIlroy are all in the top ten and everyone but Rahm has represented Europe previously at various Ryder Cups. Molinari is the form player and, after having won the Open at Carnoustie, the Italian will be the somewhat of a talismanic figure for Europe after he put America's finest to the sword in an epic display of perfection from tee to green.
As far as Fleetwood, Noren, and Hatton go, they will all be making their Ryder Cup debuts in France and America will, without a doubt, be smelling blood. It will be a baptism of fire for the rookies and it remains to be seen whether they will be overcome by the occasion and opposition.
Ian Poulter brings up the rear at number eight and is the one man who could be nudged out of the automatic positions by Paul Casey or Thorbjorn Olesen, who are only two points behind and breathing down the Englishman's neck. The PGA is the most popular professional golf tour but, over the next two weeks, all eyes will be on the European Tour to see if the fringe players can make the team at the eleventh hour. Even if Poulter were to miss out it's hard to imagine Thomas Bjorn would leave him out given his Ryder Cup expertise.
Which team compares better?
On the basis of it, you have to say that the American team compares slightly better than the European's and, despite playing away from home, they should go in as favourites. Furky’s men have mission impossible ahead of them when you consider that it has been 25 years since Europe lost on home soil but the sheer talent in their top eight should see them over the line.
However, the Ryder Cup isn't eight v eight but instead 12 on 12. There are still four captain's picks to be made for either side and that could just about make Europe stronger as they have more strength in depth.
America have the likes of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson in need of captain's picks but, historically, they haven’t fared well against European opposition in match play. The last Ryder Cup match Woods played was against Francesco Molinari at Medinah in 2012 where the two played out an entertaining singles draw. The history of Woods and Molinari goes back to 2006 and makes for fascinating reading as they have come up against each other twice in two different Ryder Cups.
Europe have the likes of Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Paul Casey, Thomas Pieters and Rafa Cabrera-Bello to call on, who have all enjoyed good success historically in the Ryder Cup. For now, you are forced to admit that America have the stronger of the qualified players but, once the cavalry is called to Europe’s aid, that is bound to change quite dramatically and will certainly give the contest a more competitive look.