Wednesday 18 September 2019

Bjorn and Furyk ready to ride team captaincy wave of triumph or disaster

Furyk: Will be a hero or a villain. Photo: PA
Furyk: Will be a hero or a villain. Photo: PA

Phil Casey

Whatever the outcome of the 42nd Ryder Cup at Le Golf National, one thing is for certain. Either Thomas Bjorn or Jim Furyk will be hailed as a brilliant captain and a vital part of their team's victory.

The man not drenched in champagne by his adoring players, meanwhile, will be derided for making poor pairings and woeful wildcard selections - which everyone else knew at the time were wrong, of course - and join the likes of Hal Sutton, Tom Watson, Nick Faldo and Darren Clarke in the captaincy 'Hall of Shame'.

Such is the lot of the Ryder Cup captain, whose success or failure can come down to the 18th hole of the 28th match over three days of competition between 24 of the best players in the world, over whom they have no direct control - although the late Seve Ballesteros might have disagreed with those sentiments.

What they can control are those wildcard selections and pairings, with Bjorn opting for Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, Paul Casey and Henrik Stenson, while Furyk selected Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau and Tony Finau.

Bjorn courted controversy by selecting the out-of-form Garcia over England's Matt Wallace, who had won the final qualifying event in front of the captain, while Furyk had an easier time in picking players who finished ninth, 10th, 11th and 15th in qualifying.

In terms of pairings, only time will tell if either captain avoids the type of blunder committed by Sutton in 2004, when he insisted on sending out Woods and Mickelson - who were then not exactly the best of friends - in the opening match.

It was an error he repeated in the afternoon, even after they had lost to Colin Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington. They lost again and the experiment was over, Europe going on to claim a record nine-point win.

For the United States, Paul Azinger's "pod system" of small groups of like-minded players was deemed a crucial part of their victory in 2008, a win pointedly referenced by Mickelson as he publicly threw Watson under the bus after the loss at Gleneagles in 2014.

That led to the formation of a "Task Force" charged with improving US results in the Ryder Cup and it paid instant dividends, 2012 captain Davis Love given the chance for redemption at Hazeltine and selecting as one of his vice-captains a certain Jim Furyk.

A more coherent American team won the opening session 4-0 and held off a European fightback to win 17-11, with Furyk subsequently handed the task of retaining the trophy in Paris by securing a first win on European soil since 1993.

The former US Open champion has a strong side at his disposal with 10 players ranked inside the world's top 17 and only wildcards Woods (21st) and Mickelson (25th) outside the top 20.

And of the three rookies in the American team, one happens to be a former world number one and 2017 US PGA winner Justin Thomas.

Bjorn has a total of five rookies to handle in Paris, almost certainly a factor which influenced his wildcard selections, although two of them are European number one Tommy Fleetwood and world number seven Jon Rahm.

The bookmakers are seldom wrong and make the United States odds-on favourites, but Europe has always relished the underdog role and will not be lacking in motivation.

"The Americans wanted it really badly and the crowd were right behind them (in 2016)," Justin Rose said. "We want it back badly now. Losing it has made us all more hungry again, no doubt about it."

Irish Independent

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