Ryder Cup takeaways: Europe's stars lead from front as Cantlay revels in villain role

Team Europe reclaimed the trophy in Rome on Sunday following an impressive 16½ to 11½ victory

Viktor Hovland, holding the Ryder Cup trophy, came of age in Rome and proved why he is one of the best players in the world. Getty
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After three enthralling days of golf in Rome, Europe reclaimed the Ryder Cup in emphatic style. Sunday's singles may, at one stage, have provided some tension, but ultimately the 16½ to 11½ victory demonstrated the hosts' overall dominance.

Here are the main takeaways from the 44th edition of the Ryder Cup.

Europe's stars lead from the front

Two years ago at Whistling Straits, the US delivered the most lop-sided beatdown in Ryder Cup history. Such was the manner of victory and strength in depth the US possessed, it led to suggestions that it could mark a decade of dominance. Yet, there was one key ingredient in Europe's control that would improve their chances in Rome: getting their top players in form.

Jon Rahm aside, no Europeans performed anywhere near their best in Wisconsin, but from the moment Viktor Hovland chipped in to win his first hole of the Friday morning foursomes, it was clear Europe's top stars were in the mood to take it to the Americans.

World No 4 Hovland, a rookie two years ago but FedEx Cup champion and arguably the best player in the world now, revelled in his newfound leadership role, claiming three-and-a-half points from a possible five including an all-time foursomes thrashing. Third-ranked Rahm went unbeaten and led from the front in Sunday's singles to grind out a half-point against Scottie Scheffler; and world No 2 Rory McIlroy delivered his best Ryder Cup return of four points, two years on from breaking down in tears.

Even outside Europe's Big Three, there were leadership performances throughout the team. Justin Rose, the veteran of the side, was superb in marshalling rookie Robert MacIntyre throughout their two fourballs matches; Tyrrell Hatton was sensational to claim three-and-a-half points from four; and Tommy Fleetwood overcame a shaky first morning to win three matches and clinch the cup on Sunday.

By comparison, many of the US leaders were nowhere to be seen. World No 1 Scheffler and three-time major winner Jordan Spieth failed to win any of their four matches, as did five-time Ryder Cupper Rickie Fowler, who was winless from two.

It meant Team USA's hopes of ending 30 years without a Ryder Cup triumph in Europe would extend to at least 34 years.

Aberg lives up to 'generational' hype

Never before has a player been selected for a Ryder Cup team having never played in a major, while Ludvig Aberg's three months as a professional is by far the shortest time before making a Ryder Cup debut.

Yet such is the hype and excitement surrounding the Swede that his selection felt inevitable. Captain Luke Donald described Aberg as a "generational talent", thus placing even more pressure, perhaps unnecessarily, on the 25-year-old's shoulders.

It didn't matter, though. After a shaky first few holes on Friday morning, Aberg grew into the tournament, culminating in a historic 9&7 victory alongside Hovland over Scheffler and five-time major winner Brooks Koepka in the Saturday morning foursomes. Aberg won two and lost two of his four matches for an excellent Ryder Cup debut, and is sure to be a key part of the European team for the next decade or more.

Aberg's showing was one of several impressive rookie contributions. On the European side, Robert MacIntyre went unbeaten including a singles win over US Open champion Wyndham Clark, despite being perceived as the team's weak link, while for Team USA, Max Homa was their star player in his first appearance, and Open champion Brian Harman also impressed.

Cantlay revels in villain role

It was an eventful week in Rome for Patrick Cantlay. It started with the world No 5 suffering a first defeat alongside best mate Xander Schauffele in Friday's foursomes and again in the Saturday morning session. But a forgettable tournament was flipped on its head when he drained a monster putt on 18 in the Saturday fourballs to ensure the US won the session 3-1 and give the visitors some momentum ahead of the singles.

His 18th-hole heroics were greeted by the US team, and his caddie Joe LaCava, swinging their caps in the air – a nod to both a 'hat's off' compliment and the fact Cantlay opted to not wear a cap throughout the Ryder Cup. The official line from Cantlay was that he couldn't find a cap that fit, although various reports claimed it was in protest to not being paid for the tournament.

LaCava's antics in particular irked opponent McIlroy, who was measuring his putt to secure a half-point, only for Cantlay's caddie to hover nearby swinging his cap above his head. McIlroy missed the subsequent putt and the anger boiled over into the car park, where the Northern Irishman was filmed in a heated exchange with Justin Thomas' caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay.

It all served to set up a feisty Sunday, where Cantlay was drawn to play against Rose in the singles. But instead of shrinking in the face of constant boos and jeers, Cantlay revelled in the role of pantomime villain to claim a 2&1 victory.

Cantlay may be one of the less colourful characters in professional golf, but this performance showed there is plenty of steel and fire beneath his calm exterior.

Donald dominates battle of captains

The chants among the European players of 'Two More Years!" as captain Luke Donald accepted the Ryder Cup trophy said it all. Donald, a former world No 1, was thrust into the role after it was stripped from Henrik Stenson following the Swede's decision to join the LIV Series.

And the Englishman was flawless as Team Europe's captain. Donald nailed his captain's picks, blending experience with exciting youth, and his decision to play foursomes on Friday and Saturday morning was a masterstroke as Europe dominated the sessions to leave the US chasing. As the result proved, Donald largely got his pairings and orders right, and displayed unwavering trust in his rookies.

Perhaps most importantly in his role as captain, Donald created an environment and culture within the team room that allowed his players to go out and perform.

The same could not be said of Team USA skipper Zach Johnson. A pleasant and friendly character, 'ZJ' seemingly struggled to inspire his troops, while there were more than a few rumours of division among the ranks. Many of his pairings failed to deliver, and his decision to send out Fowler on Friday morning despite claiming he was ill was odd.

As Team Europe demands two more years of Luke Donald, the US will be hoping it's never again for Zach Johnson.

Rome delivers on debut

Only once before, in 2018 in France, had the Ryder Cup been held in mainland Europe, so when Marco Simone Golf and Country Club, on the outskirts of Rome, was chosen to host the 2023 edition, there was a combination of excitement and trepidation.

There were no doubts over Rome as a host city – how could there be? – but a few concerns did exist about the suitability of the golf course and its layout to bring the best out of the Ryder Cup.

In reality, Marco Simone proved to be an excellent host venue. The inland course made it possible for fans to pack in around the greens and tee boxes - compared to coastal courses where several holes are inaccessible for supporters – to ensure an electric atmosphere throughout.

And the course itself was brilliantly suited to the Ryder Cup's matchplay format, providing a firm and fair challenge that rewarded good shots and punished bad ones.

There should be no complaints if the Ryder Cup returns to Marco Simone in future.

Updated: October 02, 2023, 9:01 AM