Ryder Cup 2014 preview: Team USA

Sports Mole profiles each of the 12 players that make up Tom Watson's USA team for this weekend's Ryder Cup at Gleneagles.

On Friday morning, Gleneagles will play host to the 40th instalment of the Ryder Cup. It is just the second time that Scotland - widely regarded to be 'The Home of Golf' - has held the tournament, with Muirfield having taken on the responsibility in 1973.

Designed by golfing legend Jack Nicklaus, the 7,262-yard par-72 course at Gleneagles is the shortest for a Ryder Cup for over a decade, which will have the longest drivers among the 24 players licking their lips in anticipation.

Nevertheless, the PGA Centenary Course has not been the happiest of hunting grounds for Americans in recent years. The Johnnie Walker Championship has been held there since 1999, with no American having ever won there during that time.

Here, Sports Mole casts a close eye over the USA's 12-man team, who will not only be looking for more success than usual at Gleneagles, but also to halt a run of seven defeats from their last nine Ryder Cup outings.

THE CAPTAIN - TOM WATSON

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

This weekend, Watson will join an illustrious six-man list, which contains the likes of Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Walter Hagen, to have skippered the USA Ryder Cup team on more than one occasion. An eight-time Major winner, the 65-year-old first took on the role back in 1993 at The Belfry. Heading into the Sunday singles, Watson's men trailed by one point, but six victories and three halves saw the USA overturn that deficit to clinch a 15-13 victory.

As a player, Kansas City-born Watson appeared at four Ryder Cups over a 12-year period between 1977 and 1989. His record is more than respectable, having lost just four of his 15 matches, with a return of 10.5 points. Those contributions helped the USA to win on three occasions, while the 1989 event at the The Belfry ended in a 14-14 tie.

His appointment this time around was initially met with surprise. In recent years, the Americans have tended to favour a player in his late 40s, in the belief that he will still be able to connect with the younger members of the squad. At 65, Watson is the oldest ever Ryder Cup skipper, but with the USA having lost by record margins in 2004 and 2006, as well as being victims of the greatest final-day comebacks in 2012, the belief among the PGA of America is that the time was right for a change.

Enter Watson, as he puts his unbeaten Ryder Cup record, both as a player and a captain, on the line. The omens are good - he was the last American to skipper the team to victory on British soil.

Vice captains: Raymond Floyd, Andy North, Steve Stricker

THE TEAM


BUBBA WATSON

Bubba Watson of the United States in action on the fourth hole during day three of the Masters on April 12, 2014© Getty Images

Age: 35
World ranking: 7
Previous Ryder Cup appearances: 2 (2010, 2012)
W: 3 L: 5 H: 0

Best Ryder Cup moment: Watson may have lost the opening singles encounter at Medinah in 2012 to Luke Donald, which set the tone for Europe's comeback victory, but he did get the weekend off to a positive note when, along with Webb Simpson in the fourball, he got the better of Paul Lawrie and Peter Hanson 5&4.

2014 so far: In April, the left-hander became the 17th player in history to win The Masters for a second time. That triumph in Augusta all but sealed his participation at Gleneagles, although he did also emerge victorious from the Northern Trust Open earlier in the year courtesy of back-to-back rounds of 64 over the weekend. That was his first tournament success since he put on the famous green jacket for the maiden time in 2012.


RICKIE FOWLER

Rickie Fowler of the United States watches a shot during a practice round prior to the start of the 96th PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club on August 5, 2014© Getty Images

Age: 25
World ranking: 10
Previous Ryder Cup appearances: 1 (2012)
W: 0 L: 1 H: 2

Best Ryder Cup moment: Truth be told, Fowler will not have enjoyed his Ryder Cup debut four years ago. He was defeated alongside Jim Furyk and Phil Mickelson in the foursomes and fourball respectively, although that losing streak was ended on the Sunday courtesy of a halved singles match with Edoardo Molinari.

2014 so far: Being close friends with and the same age as Rory McIlroy has its drawbacks - just ask Fowler. Earlier in their careers, comparisons were made between the pals. Yet, while McIlroy has won four Majors on his ascent to world number one, Fowler has just the one PGA Tour event to his name, which was won at the Wells Fargo Championship in 2012.

Even so, 2014 has been Fowler's most productive year on the professional circuit, so much so that those in the know believe that a first Major is only just around the corner. The 25-year-old finished joint second in both the US Open and the Open Championship, joint fifth at The Masters and joint third in the US PGA.


JIM FURYK

Jim Furyk celebrates a third-round birdie on the 17th at Oak Hill during the US PGA Championship on August 10, 2013© Getty Images

Age: 44
World ranking: 5
Previous Ryder Cup appearances: 8 (1997, 1999, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012)
W: 9 L: 17 H: 4

Best Ryder Cup moment: Furyk may be a Ryder Cup veteran, but his overall record is not the greatest. From his 30 matches, he has won just nine. When the USA triumphed at the The Country Club in 1999, Furyk played a key role in the singles with a comprehensive 4&3 victory over Sergio Garcia.

2014 so far: The 44-year-old may not have won a PGA Tour event since 2010, but the last few months have seen the right-hander produce some positive form.

He has recorded seven top-10 finishes during 2014, as well as having ended the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool in fourth. However, he did blow the chance to win the RBC Canadian Open in July when after holding the lead for 54 holes, he was pipped by Tim Clark, who produced five birdies during the last eight holes to win the title.


JIMMY WALKER

Jimmy Walker in action during the final round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am on February 9, 2014© Getty Images

Age: 35
World ranking: 19
Previous Ryder Cup appearances: Rookie

2014 so far: It seemed for a long while that Walker was never going to shake off the 'journeyman' tag. He turned professional in 2003, but he had earned himself a reputation as a player that could not sustain a serious challenge over a four-day event. That changed last year when he won the Frys.com Open, which appeared to inject the 35-year-old with plenty of confidence.

Having secured his spot in the USA team by February of this year, Walker went on to finish in the top 10 of The Masters, the US Open and the PGA Championship.


PHIL MICKELSON

 Phil Mickelson in action on the 18th hole during the third round of the Wells Fargo Championship on May 3, 2014© Getty Images

Age: 44
World ranking: 11
Previous Ryder Cup appearances: 9 (1995, 1997, 1999, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012)
W: 14 L: 18 H: 6

Best Ryder Cup moment: The three-time winner of The Masters is the record holder of Ryder Cup appearances, having featured nine times. In 2012, he may have lost a crucial singles encounter with Justin Rose, but the partnership that he formed with Keegan Bradley to win two foursomes and a fourball will live long in the memory.

2014 so far: 'Lefty' has an uncanny knack of running into some good form at just the right time. His showings at the US Open and Open Championship were average at best, but he came good at the PGA Championship in August. The 44-year-old finished second behind McIlroy, which kept up his proud tradition of having never had to rely on a captain's pick to represent his country.


MATT KUCHAR

Matt Kuchar plays his second shot on the second hole during the final round of the Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC Boston on September 2, 2013© Getty Images

Age: 36
World ranking: 9
Previous Ryder Cup appearances: 2 (2010, 2012)
W: 3 L: 2 H: 2

Best Ryder Cup moment: Kuchar thrives in the matchplay environment. Of his five paired contests, the 36-year-old is yet to taste defeat. His partnership with Stewart Cink at Celtic Manor in 2010 was one to remember. The fourball against McIlroy and Graeme McDowell was halved, but in the foursomes against the same opponents, Europe's dangerous duo were defeated by one hole by Kuchar and his partner.

2014 so far: A back injury threatened to sideline Kutcher, but he returned to action in March. The former US amateur champion finished fourth at the Valero Texas Open and then second at the Shell Houston Open. Those showings were followed by an eye-catching display at The Masters, where he finished fifth. Then, a week later, he won the RBC Heritage - his seventh PGA Tour title.


JORDAN SPIETH

Jordan Spieth plays a shot from the bunker on April 03, 2014.© Getty Images

Age: 21
World ranking: 13
Previous Ryder Cup appearances: Rookie

2014 so far: Is there a more exciting prospect in the game of golf at present? Probably not. Despite his tender years, Spieth shot to fame by winning the 2013 John Deere Classic aged just 19. That helped to earn him the Rookie of the Year award.

He has continued to fulfil his potential this year, particularly at The Masters in April. After 54 holes, Spieth shared the lead with his American teammate Bubba Watson. At one point on the final day he even held a two-shot advantage, but he failed to retain his grasp and finished second with Jonas Blixt. Despite that disappointment, he is the youngest player to have finished as runner-up at the event.


PATRICK REED

Patrick Reed lines up a putt on the first hole in the final round of the Wyndham Championship on August 18, 2013© Getty Images

Age: 24
World ranking: 27
Previous Ryder Cup appearances: Rookie

2014 so far: After winning the Wyndham Championship in 2013, Reed followed that up this year with two more PGA Tour titles at the Humana Challenge and WGC-Cadillac Championship. It sparked the 24-year-old to make the bold claim that he was one of the five best golfers in the world. There is little doubt that Watson will be determined to make sure that overconfidence doesn't hamper his performance levels this weekend.


ZACH JOHNSON

Zach Johnson playing in the John Deere Classic on July 10, 2014© Getty Images

Age: 38
World ranking: 16
Previous Ryder Cup appearances: 3 (2006, 2010, 2012)
W: 6 L: 4 H: 1

Best Ryder Cup moment: As far as Americans are concerned, the final day of the 2012 Ryder Cup will forever be regarded as one of their worst days in the tournament's history. On a personal level, though, Johnson produced some of his best golf.

His encounter with McDowell went almost down to the wire, before he was able to overcome his Northern Irish opponent 2&1. He was just one of three Americans to win that day.

2014 so far: There have not been many players that have shown as much consistency as the 36-year-old this year. Indeed, he is one of the most in-form members of the USA team. His 11th PGA Tour title was won in Hawaii back in January, while he also recorded five other top 10 finishes. Having said that, his record at Majors in 2014 left a little to be desired, having finished no higher than 40th.


KEEGAN BRADLEY (WC)

Keegan Bradley of the United States hits a shot during the second round of the 114th U.S. Open at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club, Course No. 2 on June 13, 2014© Getty Images

Age: 28
World ranking: 26
Previous Ryder Cup appearances: 1 (2012)
W: 3 L: 1 H: 0

Best Ryder Cup moment: His only Ryder Cup appearance came at Medinah, where he forged a formidable understanding with Mickelson. The pairing won all three of their contests, including a 7&6 hammering of Luke Donald and Lee Westwood in the foursomes.

2014 so far: Vermont-born Bradley has been given a big vote of confidence by Watson, who made him one of his three captain's selections. Yet, his PGA Tour form in recent years, coupled with his partnership with Mickelson two years ago, justify his inclusion.

If Watson did have any doubts, Bradley's performance at the US Open in June, where he finished tied for fourth along with four other players, will have settled any uncertainties that he may have harboured.


HUNTER MAHAN (WC)

Hunter Mahan on the fifth hole during the second round of the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship on March 7, 2014© Getty Images

Age: 32
World ranking: 21
Previous Ryder Cup appearances: 2 (2008, 2010)
W: 3 L: 2 H: 3

Best Ryder Cup moment: When the USA comprehensively defeated Europe at the Valhalla Golf Club in 2008, Mahan was a key figure. He went unbeaten from his five matches, which earned his team a highly impressive 3.5 points. Watson will be hoping for a similar return from his wildcard pick this time around.

2014 so far: Although he was not an automatic inclusion, it's by no means been a disappointing year for Mahan. In August, he produced his best ever display at the PGA Championship by finishing tied for seventh, as well as winning The Barclays at the Ridgewood Country Club by a two-stroke margin.


WEBB SIMPSON (WC)

Webb Simpson in action during round one of the World Golf Championships on August 1, 2013© Getty Images

Age: 29
World ranking: 33
Previous Ryder Cup appearances: 1 (2012)
W: 2 L: 2 H: 0

Best Ryder Cup moment: Partnered with Watson in 2012, Simpson was part of a duo that won two of their three contests. His best performance came in the day two afternoon fourball against Rose and Molinari, which ended a convincing 5&4 victory for the Americans.

2014 so far: The understanding that he formed with Watson two years ago was probably a major reason as to why he has been selected by his captain, but he is also a player in form. The four-time PGA Tour winner, who also claimed the US Open title in 2012, has finished in the top 10 in two of his last three events.


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 USA Ryder Cup team and captain Tom Watson 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%
Keegan Bradley of the United States hits a shot during the second round of the 114th U.S. Open at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club, Course No. 2 on June 13, 2014
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