independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

US rookie quartet light up Medinah -- but bank on old hands to take centre stage again for 2014 renewal

It used to be so simple. Topple Tiger Woods and take down the American dream. But there we were yesterday, as the climax approached, with the 14-time Major champion nought from three yet his team in a commanding advantage.

Regardless of the singles, the new Starred and Striped generation had already proven one thing. They don't require Woods to show them the way.

Their insecurities are not wrapped up in one player, one icon. They are their own men and have formed their group. Woods simply has to fit in, not vice versa.

Consider that this was only the second time America had "won" the first two days since 1995. In Keegan Bradley, Jason Dufner and Webb Simpson and Brandt Snedeker they had four rookies who won eight points between them in the first four sessions. The virgin soldiers had led from the front and dragged the veterans with them.

So much for the old image of the American robots, disconnected from the atmosphere, alone in their introverted world. This new breed are characters, even Dufner, a laid-back figure described by his partner Zach Johnson as "borderline dead". There was a diversity of personality within that Davis Love's team-room which couldn't fail to energise. A fact acknowledged by Phil Mickelson.

"I certainly got energy from the rookies," he said. "Keegan brought the best out of me."

Another veteran, Jim Furyk, concurred. "The newcomers brought the enthusiasm. They infused amazing energy into the crowd, and also into the team."

Both Mickelson and Furyk played in 2008 at Kentucky and will appreciate it was a similar story then. Of the six rookies who helped Paul Azinger's men win 16.5-11.5, only 45-year-old Steve Stricker was in Chicago. Four years ago, we were saying the same about Boo Weekley and Anthony Kim as we are now about Bubba Watson and Bradley. The eccentric and the young master. A rosy future awaited.

Four years on, Weekley is 297th in the world, Kim is out for a year having suffered injury and personal problems. The difference is, of course, that Watson and Bradley are already Major champions.

Three days in a team event really is no guarantee for lasting success.

And nor should a flop be used to suggest the days of Lee Westwood or any of his team-mates are on the inexorable slide. Only a fool would gamble on Westwood not qualifying for the next Ryder Cup at Gleneagles in two years' time. Golfers go through peaks and troughs and it was Westwood's, and indeed, Europe's misfortune that one of his has happened to collide with the biennial dust-up.

For two years, the 39-year-old has shown ridiculous consistency, but it is impossible to sustain a high level of quality over many years. McIlroy discovered this with his mini-slump in the summer. Expect some more in his career. They are inevitable.

But surely we can anticipate the likes of Bradley performing his pre-routine jig in the Highlands. Barring injury or personal meltdown Woods will be there, as will Mickelson, as will Dustin Johnson. The other spots are up for grabs and will be hotly contested by a legion of PGA Tour youngsters.

Those who missed out this time such as Rickie Fowler and Hunter Mahan will be desperate to return after watching the Medinah madness ensue, while those still emerging such as Bud Cauley and Harris English will have the Ryder Cup inked in high up their priority list. They will have seen Bradley enjoying what he called "the days of my life" and be enthralled by the possibility of climbing the pedestal themselves.

Without wishing to sound overly cynical, their agents will be counting up the potential endorsements.

But what of Europe? Where is their future. Of course it is embodied by McIlroy, but the Northern Irishman's schedule will become increasingly American. If there is a concern, it is that the European Tour weakens because of the recession and there will be talents like Rafael Cabrera Bello and Danny Willett and Thorbjorn Olesen not receiving enough of the highest competitive exposure. So much is invested in the Middle East and Far East in this regard.

Nicolas Colsaerts will be in demand Stateside. In practical terms the "them and us" atmosphere in the locker-room is gone forever.

But we have seen this last three days that it still very much alive in the team-room. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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