Ryder Cup 2014 preview: Team Europe

Sports Mole provides an in-depth preview on the European Ryder Cup team ahead of this weekend's contest against the USA at Gleneagles.

The 40th Ryder Cup is just around the corner and this year the biennial event is in Scotland - the Home of Golf - for just the second time after the 20th edition was hosted at Muirfield 41 years ago.

The PGA Centenary Course at Gleneagles, which was designed by legendary American Jack Nicklaus and opened 21 years ago, provides an undulating, hazardous test for the 24 golfers that will grace its grass over the weekend.

At 7,262 yards, the par-72 course is the shortest at a Ryder Cup for a decade and many of the longer hitters could take advantage with their driver.

However, the long rough, deep bunkers and changeable weather conditions should mean that it is no easy beast to tame.

Here, Sports Mole runs the rule over hosts Europe, who have won seven of the last nine contests and spectacularly retained the Cup in the Miracle of Medinah two years ago.

THE CAPTAIN - PAUL MCGINLEY

Team Europe captain Paul McGinley poses with the Ryder Cup ahead of the contest against the USA at Gleneagles on September 23, 2014© Getty Images

The Irishman is no stranger to the Ryder Cup and is one of its most famous sons after his nerveless putt on the last hole at The Belfry in 2002 which guaranteed Europe the half-point they needed to wrestle back the trophy after the controversy of America's victory at Brookline in 1999.

McGinley, 50, was never on the losing team in his three appearances as a player in 2002, 2004 and 2006 and has also been vice captain for the last two wins in 2010 and 2012 - the only Ryder Cup he hasn't been a part of since 2002, in 2008, was the only one that USA have won since the Millennium.

The Dubliner has chosen a five-strong vice-captaincy team to assist him that includes 2012 winning captain Jose Maria Olazabal and Sam Torrance, who was his skipper at The Belfry 12 years ago.

If McGinley can lead his side to another victory, he will become just the third European to hole a Ryder Cup-winning putt and lead his team to victory in separate contests after Torrance and the late, great Seve Ballesteros.

Vice captains: Padraig Harrington, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Jose Maria Olazabal, Des Smyth, Sam Torrance

THE TEAM


RORY MCILROY

Rory McIlroy celebrates winning the PGA Championship on August 10, 2014© Getty Images

Age: 25
World ranking: 1
Previous Ryder Cup appearances: 2 (2010, 2012)
W: 4 L: 3 H: 2

Best Ryder Cup moment: It was almost catastrophe, but McIlroy's most memorable moment is when he arrived just minutes before his singles match against Keegan Bradley on the final day two years ago.

It was so close to forfeit and disaster for McIlroy, who quickly focused after confusing US time zones to beat talismanic Bradley 2&1 on a day European golf will never forget. The Northern Irishman said that it was the best Ryder Cup golf he has ever played and he will want to go even better after a fabulous year on Tour.

He also now knows the importance of the Cup after describing the event as just "an exhibition" prior to his debut in 2010.

2014 so far: The world's best golfer and rightly so after a brilliant year that will be remembered for his streak of three straight tournament wins, two of which were Majors, in the summer.

He ended an 18-month wait for a professional victory at the European Tour's flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, in May before winning his first Open title with a dominant performance at Royal Liverpool in July.

Two weeks later he made it two in a row at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone before capping a memorable run with his second US PGA triumph.

He ended the PGA Tour by coming ever so close to the hefty $10m payout in the playoff-style FedEx Cup. In the end, he fell short of in-form Billy Horschel after starting the final round level with the American at the season-ending Tour Championship.


HENRIK STENSON

Sweden's Henrik Stenson practicing at the US PGA Championship on August 5, 2013© Getty Images

Age: 38
World ranking: 5
Previous Ryder Cup appearances: 2 (2006, 2008)
W: 2 L: 3 H: 2

Best Ryder Cup moment: The Swede might have only played in two other matches on his debut in 2006, but he will surely never forget holing the putt that saw him defeat Vaughan Taylor 4&3 for his first full Ryder Cup point. It was also the putt that confirmed a comfortable victory for the European team at the K Club.

2014 so far: After a near-perfect rise to stardom last season, it is hardly surprising that Stenson has dipped a little this year. In 2013 he became the first man to win both the FedEx Cup and European equivalent Race to Dubai in the same season.

Although he has not won a tournament in 2014, he has shown that he is still right up there on the big stage with some strong Major performances. The Swede achieved career-best finishes at the Masters (T-14) and US Open (T-4) and matched a career-best finish at the US PGA Championship (T-3). He also reached a career-high world ranking of two in May.


SERGIO GARCIA

Sergio Garcia of Spain looks on as he competes in the final round of the Qatar Masters at the Doha Golf Club on January 25, 2014© Getty Images

Age: 34
World ranking: 3
Previous Ryder Cup appearances: 6 (1999, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2012)
W: 16 L: 8 H: 4

Best Ryder Cup moment: One of Europe's all-time great players and another from Spain, Garcia looks set to follow in the footsteps of fellow countrymen Olazabal and Ballesteros in the Ryder Cup history books.

He remains the youngest ever player at the event for his 19-year-old participation in 1999 and winning both his matches on the opening day at Brookline will no doubt live long in the memory. He also almost became the first man to win all five matches in 2006, but lost his singles match on the final day.

The only contest he has missed since the Battle of Brookline was in 2010 when his interest in the game briefly waned, but he was still considered such an important figure in the dressing room that captain Colin Montgomerie drafted him in as a vice captain.

2014 so far: Began in perfect fashion with a playoff victory at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters on the European Tour, but that would be his only win.

However, it has been a strong year for Garcia, who ended 2013 10th in the world rankings but now lies only behind McIlroy and Australia's Adam Scott.

He missed the cut at The Masters in April, but then finished in a tie for second behind McIlroy at The Open. Two weeks later he again challenged the Northern Irishman, but couldn't topple his European teammate, again ending as runner-up at Firestone.


JUSTIN ROSE

Justin Rose of England hits a tee shot on the second hole during a practice round for the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club on February 12, 2014© Getty Images

Age: 35
World ranking: 6
Previous Ryder Cup appearances: 2 (2008, 2012)
W: 6 L: 3 H: 0

Best Ryder Cup moment: Won three of his four matches, but in a losing effort in 2008, so will probably say that his steely display at the death in Medinah was his fondest Ryder Cup memory.

After starting Sunday 10-6 behind, Europe had clawed back when Rose and opponent Phil Mickelson entered the final few holes. With Mickelson 1 up and on the verge of a securing at least a half-point, Rose holed a 10-footer on the 16th before sinking a lengthy birdie putt on the next to send the match down the 18th all square.

He then once again found his touch with the short stick, holing a 12-footer for another birdie and a 1-up victory.

2014 so far: After claiming his first Major at the US Open in 2013, Rose has had a solid year on Tour this time around.

He remains safely in the world's top 10 and had two wins in quick succession in the summer at the Quicken Loans National on the PGA Tour and the European Tour's Scottish Open.

He also finished inside the top 30 in all four Majors.


MARTIN KAYMER

Martin Kaymer of Germany celebrates his putt for birdie on the 13th green during the final round of the 114th U.S. Open at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club, Course No. 2 on June 15, 2014© Getty Images

Age: 29
World ranking: 12
Previous Ryder Cup appearances: 2 (2010, 2012)
W: 3 L: 2 H: 1

Best Ryder Cup moment: Kaymer played in just two matches in Medinah and after being beaten with Rose in the day one fourballs, he wasn't chosen again by Olazabal on Friday or Saturday.

His second match was the compulsory Sunday singles and up against him was veteran Steve Stricker. Kaymer went out in the penultimate game and must have not thought that his result would matter given the American lead at the start of the day.

However, his role would prove vital and it would be him to hole the putt with the scoreboard at 13-13 that ensured the trophy would return to European shores. A moment he'll never forget.

2014 so far: The German bounced back this year after starting the campaign as the world number 39. He now has two Majors to his name after a bullish eight-shot victory at the US Open.

Victory at Pinehurst meant that he was the first player to ever win the US Open and the PGA Tour's flagship event - The Players Championship - in the same year after his triumph at TPC Sawgrass. Not a bad couple of wins for the season.


THOMAS BJORN

Thomas Bjorn in action during day 1 of the World Cup of Golf on November 21, 2013© Getty Images

Age: 43
World ranking: 30
Previous Ryder Cup appearances: 2 (1997, 2002)
W: 3 L: 2 H: 1

Best Ryder Cup moment: The wily Dane, who was the first from his country to play in a Ryder Cup at Valderrama 17 years ago, makes his return to the team after 12 years, but has been involved as a vice captain for the last two wins at Celtic Manor and Medinah.

In fact, the 15-time European Tour winner has never been part of a Ryder Cup defeat and will perhaps most fondly remember defeating Stewart Cink in a crucial singles match in 2002.

2014 so far: His best Major result was a tied-eighth finish at The Masters, which came after he won the Nedbank Golf Challenge at the back end of 2013.

No victories in the 2014 calendar year, but that win in South Africa and consistent displays on the European Tour meant he sealed an automatic return to the team for the first time since The Belfry.


VICTOR DUBUISSON

Victor Dubuisson plays an approach during the final round of the Turkish Airlines Open on November 10, 2013© Getty Images

Age: 24
World ranking: 23
Previous Ryder Cup appearances: Rookie

2014 so far: After winning his maiden European Tour title at the Turkish Airlines Open last year, Dubuisson had a solid year, albeit without a win, in 2014.

He all but ensured his first Ryder Cup berth by showing his match play prowess in a tense final defeat to Jason Day at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship and then went on to record top-10 results at the last two Majors of the year - The Open and US PGA Championship.

A mysterious character who has insisted that he will bond with the already close-knit group, some feel that the Frenchman could be Europe's ace in the pack at Gleneagles.


JAMIE DONALDSON

Jamie Donaldson in action during the Bridgestone Invitational on August 2, 2013© Getty Images

Age: 38
World ranking: 25
Previous Ryder Cup appearances: Rookie

2014 so far: A three-time winner on the European Tour, Donaldson guaranteed his place on McGinley's team by winning the penultimate counting event, the Czech Masters, a month ago today.

He had a mixed bag in the Majors, finishing inside the top 30 at the bookending Masters and US PGA Championship, but missing the cut at the US Open and Open Championship.

Pontypridd-born, Donaldson is the first Welshman on the European team since Phillip Price in 2002.


GRAEME MCDOWELL

 Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland acknowledges the crowd after finishing his round on the 18th green during the Alstom Open de France - Day Four at Le Golf National on July 6, 2014© Getty Images

Age: 35
World ranking: 18
Previous Ryder Cup appearances: 3 (2008, 2010, 2012)
W: 5 L: 5 H: 2

Best Ryder Cup moment: Undoubtedly when his tricky down-the-hill putt on the 16th crept in the right-hand side of the hole and sent the Celtic Manor crowd bonkers four years ago.

McDowell was the last match out and that putt put him 2 up with two to play against Hunter Mahan, who conceded on the next hole to guarantee that Europe won the Cup back after Valhalla.

After winning his opening match at Medinah two years ago, McDowell lost his next three and will certainly want an improved display this time around.

2014 so far: He just about qualified automatically for the team as Stephen Gallacher agonisingly missed out on the chance to nudge him out into wildcard territory at the end of last month.

One victory this year on the European Tour - a title defence at the Open de France.

Missed the cut at The Masters, but then improved somewhat in the other Majors, finishing inside the top 10 at The Open as fellow Northern Irishman McIlroy claimed victory. There are reports that the duo's long-standing Ryder Cup partnership may be severed this year in Scotland.


STEPHEN GALLACHER (WC)

Stephen Gallacher of Scotland with the trophy after the final round where he became the first back to back winner of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic on the Majlis Course at the Emirates Golf Club on February 2, 2014 © Getty Images

Age: 39
World ranking: 34
Previous Ryder Cup appearances: Rookie

2014 so far: A popular wildcard choice and there would have been serious questions asked of McGinley if he had overlooked home favourite Gallacher for a more experienced face.

As mentioned above, he was ever so close to edging McDowell out of automatic qualification when just falling short of the second-place finish required at the Italian Open. That would have been his second win of the season after he triumphed at the Dubai Desert Classic for the second straight year in February.

He has a good history at Gleneagles and is also the nephew of former European Ryder Cup captain Bernard Gallacher. He has, however, never had a top-10 Major finish.


IAN POULTER (WC)

Ian Poulter of Europe celebrates with his caddie Terry Mundy after making birdie on day two of the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah on September 29, 2012© Getty Images

Age: 38
World ranking: 38
Previous Ryder Cup appearances: 4 (2004, 2008, 2010, 2012)
W: 12 L: 3 H: 0

Best Ryder Cup moment: Mr Ryder Cup, The Postman, call him what you like - Ian Poulter loves playing the Americans.

The most guaranteed wildcard pick of the three, Poulter has an incredible 80% win rate in the contest and won all four of his matches at Medinah two years ago.

The Englishman has had so many highlights in the Ryder Cup but perhaps none quite as spectacular as when he birdied the last five holes on Saturday evening in 2012 to win a fourball match with McIlroy. Many say that it lifted a European dressing room that felt there was no chance of victory. We all know what happened on Sunday.

Even in defeat in 2008, he was the highest scorer on either team with four points and he has never lost a singles match. He just gets it.

2014 so far: He has certainly not had a good year after ending 2013 as the 12th-ranked player in the world. However, with Poulter, you feel that it doesn't really matter given his match play mettle.

The last time he won a tournament was almost two years ago, with top-20 finishes at The Masters and US Open his best Major results of 2014.


LEE WESTWOOD (WC)

Lee Westwood of England waves during the first round of the 96th PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club on August 7, 2014© Getty Images

Age: 41
World ranking: 44
Previous Ryder Cup appearances: 8 (1997, 1999, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012)
W: 18 L: 13 H: 6

Best Ryder Cup moment: Last up, it's the most-experienced of the lot in Westwood. This will be his ninth Ryder Cup and only a handful of greats have played in more. Nick Faldo holds the record with 11 appearances. If Westwood wins four points at Gleneagles, he will equal Faldo's record of 25 total points and in fewer matches.

The Englishman has played in every single Cup since his 1997 debut and his best moment might be when he beat Kenny Perry by one hole in 2004 at Oakland Hills after losing his first three singles matches in 1997, 1999 and 2002. It was also the point that ensured a European retention.

2014 so far: Often described as one of the best players to never win a Major, he again flirted with victory in one of the big four this year.

However, as has so often been the case, he couldn't deliver when it mattered, finishing seventh at The Masters and tied-15th at the US PGA Championship after sharing the lead on day one at Valhalla. He missed the cut at the US Open and Open Championship.

His sole victory of 2014 came at the Malaysian Open in April shortly after his decent finish at Augusta.


Sports Mole will be covering all three days of the Ryder Cup in detail with live coverage, match reports, news, reaction and more.

The 2014 European Ryder Cup team and captain Paul McGinley pose for a photo at Gleneagles ahead of the event on September 23, 2014© Getty Images

Who will win the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles?

Europe
Draw (Europe retains)
USA
Europe
68.0%
Draw (Europe retains)
8.0%
USA
24.0%
Ian Poulter of Europe celebrates with his caddie Terry Mundy after making birdie on day two of the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah on September 29, 2012
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