The 2010 edition of the world's greatest biennial competition was incredibly close and probably one of the greatest sporting events I've had the pleasure to attend and a 14.5-13.5 victory for Europe was as close as it could get. Let's take a look at how the sides shape up going into Friday.
Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia, Paul Lawrie & Nicholas Colsaerts have replaced Padraig Harrington, Ross Fisher, Eduardo Molinari & Miguel Angel Jiminez.
The reappearance of Garcia cancels out the lost experience in the form of Ireland three time major winner Harrington whilst Justin Rose is certainly an upgrade on Eduardo Molinari who seemed to use all his energy in that magnificent pre Ryder Cup win at the Gleneagles.
Colsaerts brings with him a unique ability off the tee which suits the course set up perfectly and in that sense is an asset to the team in a way that jack of all trades Ross Fisher, despite his decent partnership with Harrington, wasn't able to bring. It is questionable whether Paul Lawrie is a better player than the larger than life Jiminez who always appeared to be a calming figure of perspective and it is great news for Europe that the cigar smoking gentlemen is a vice captain.
Now lets look at the 8 survivors from Celtic Manor.
Rory McIlroy has clearly soared into a world of his own since October 2010. With two majors to his name he is now the player with a target on his back and is unquestionably the world finest shotmaker.
Lee Westwood is a difficult one to measure. It is expected that the Ryder Cup will be won and lost on the greens with so much emphasis on putting and Westwood has never excelled in that area. Additionally, personal tension with McIlroy won't help things and there are questions over who is Europe's 'on course' captain - the uber experienced Westwood or the Ulsterman?
Luke Donald knows the course inside out and is a terrific foursomes player, a format in which Europe have a clear edge. His partnership with Sergio Garcia will be vital to European success, additionally Ian Poulter has a passion for the Ryder Cup matched by very few. As his chances of Major success grow slimmer, IJP has adopted the Ryder Cup as his moment in the sun and playing with great friend Justin Rose will mean a great deal to him.
Martin Kaymer is the European player who's form has dipped the most over the last two years. Had he not hung onto 10th place in the qualification race it was debatable whether he would have received a call from Jose Maria and the former PGA Champion has a lot to prove over the next three days, such is his fall from grace this is unlikely he will start on Friday morning.
Graeme McDowell is the ironman of the side and after coming off another fabulous year he is full of confidence. GMac knows he should have added a second major to his arsenal and it is the title that Webb Simpson won in June that will probably grate on him the most. I'd be shocked if he wasn't chosen as the anchor on Sunday's singles.
Franceso Molinari is a redoubtable foursomes player and many expect him to partner Lee Westwood in the opening game on Friday morning which tells you everything you need to know about Europe's Mr Dependable. The emotion of playing alongside his brother got to him last time out and you wonder if he may feel iberated in Eduardo's absence.
Peter Hanson's Spanish tag team partner is not playing this time around and there isn't an obvious spot for the Dane who was given a hiding by Phil Mickelson in 2010's singles but he is a steady fourballs player with composure that would probably benefit a rookie like Colsaerts.
So are Europe a better side than the last outing? Probably just. They have some obvious pairings and a few fantasy ones that look great on paper like GMac/Rory, Poulter/Rose, Garcia/Donald, Westwood with anyone, Hanson/Colsaerts, Kaymer/Lawrie.
Four 'Rookies' in for the USA and Cink, Fowler, Overton & Mahan out. I place emphasis on the team Rookie because these four men; Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson, Jason Dufner & Brandt Snedeker hardly constitute golfing rookies. Bradley & Simpson have accomplished something that eight of Europe's side have yet to do: win a major, whilst Snedeker has just cashed a cheque for $12 million and Jason Dufner has been one of the PGA Tours most consistent players all season. USA's four inclusions certainly point to a better American side than the one that came so close in Wales.
Tiger Woods is in better form than two years ago and wants to use this Ryder Cup to send a polite reminder to Rory McIlroy about who is the real numero uno. Bubba Watson has come on leaps and bounds since last time out and will always have a green jacket as a momento of his breakthrough year.
Phil Mickelson will be vital to Team USA around the greens on this birdie paradise, Lefty and Bubba get the crowd going like no other players and will happily play the cheerleader role. Mickelson & Dustin Johnson could form a lethal foursomes duo with Johnson's long hitting and Phil's deadly accuracy around the dance-floor.
Steve Stricker is around as Tigers playing partner in order to make the fourteen time major champ feel as comfortable as possible and Furyk & Zach Johnson are both straight and experienced in fourballs whilst Zach Johnson toppled Harrington in the singles at Celtic Manor.
Davis Love has also had the advantage of setting up a course that favours his long but wayward players. The lack of rough has been specifically set up to aid his player off the tee and this, of course, provides USA with an advantage.
For me, the USA side is a far better one this time around and probably the strongest they have had in a decade. Full of experience and youthful exuberance they appear to have the beating of Europe in the fourball format and have the all important home advantage.
This years Ryder Cup is as close as it has ever been and when you write down all 24 names in an attempt to place them in singles matchups you can see straight away what an incredible field it is.
My gut feeling is that USA will win by a squeak. 14.5-13.5 or 15-13. I feel that they have greater depth from 1-12 which will benefit them on Sunday and all 12 players appear to be on form which is not something that can be said for Europe. I also feel there is more to the Westwood/McIlory than meets the eye. Europe will need to take advantage of session one on Friday morning and win the foursomes contest, lose that and it could signal a tough three days for Ollie's boys.
Hopefully I'm wrong and Europe emerge victorious but against a raucous Chicago crowd it will be a huge ask. Lets the Games begin. I can't wait.Suggest a correction