Watson’s men are not the cowboys of America when it comes to Ryder Cup 2014

Pitted against the Europeans, Tom Watson’s America players are the underdogs and are poor travellers but, as Steve Elling writes, predictions can only go that far.

US Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson has a tough act ahead if he has to lead by example. Noam Galai / Getty Images
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The Ryder Cup teams have been completed, the comparative analysis has begun and a familiar feeling is officially roiling in the bellies of American fans.

It feels a lot like indigestion, but it is more akin to sombre resignation. Yet again, the Americans will be heavy underdogs when the matches begin at Gleneagles in three weeks, and quite rightly so.

Forget the walking dead – with only two US wins in the past nine meetings, the Ryder Cup represents the most-watched zombie series in American TV history.

In pop culture, Yanks are known as cowboys, characterised as rugged individualists and aloof solo artistes. Team golf? Forget it.

Tiger Woods, despite an otherwise transcendent career, has played on only one winning Ryder side.

The only enamel-grinding context that anyone on the left side of the Atlantic Ocean really needs is this: the last time the Americans won the Ryder on the road, in 1993, US team member Jordan Spieth was 61 days old.

Not long ago, American fans used to get angry when the Ryder team would lose to the European upstarts. Now the inferiority tide has turned, they mostly laugh, which is not an encouraging development.

The top-ranked player on the US roster is Jim Furyk, at world No 6. Over his two decades as a professional, Furyk has been an overachiever who has made the most of a limited set of tools, but he owns a career Ryder mark of 9-17-4 (nine wins, 17 losses, four halves).

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Equally experienced Phil Mickelson has played in a record 38 Ryder matches and lost a record 18. He is also in the middle of his first winless season since 2003.

The pair, who both attended college in Arizona, were born one month apart in the summer of 1970 and their combined Ryder record is the stuff of barrel cacti – nobody wants to embrace it.

If these two are driving the bus for American fans, please pass the train schedule.

Given the rip tide and lack of starry candidates, there was not a lot that US captain Tom Watson could do to bolster the troops when he announced his three wild-card picks.

Not surprisingly, Watson, who at age 64 is well past the usual expiration date for contemporary captains, took the conservative route by naming three experienced players to complete the team of 12 that will begin play on September 26.

Watson was a speculative reach as a captain, but his player picks were not outside anyone’s comfort zone. In fact, in selecting Hunter Mahan, Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson he found a trio that have past Ryder experience and have mostly distinguished themselves in the event.

During a Ryder drought in which the Yanks have won once in the past 15 years, Mahan, Bradley and Simpson each have individual Ryder records of break-even or better. A minor miracle, given the American back story.

The trio has two major championships and several big PGA Tour titles among them and are a combined 8-5-3 at the Ryder.

Simpson and Bradley played on the US team in 2012, where the Americans blew a 10-6 lead on the final day, the worst collapse in the event’s history. “This is a redemption year for a lot of guys who were on the team last [time],” said Bradley, who was 3-1-0.

More like reclamation.

If Watson found his wild-card a la carte menu to be limited, it was understandable.

Woods and Jason Dufner are injured, Dustin Johnson is battling personal demons and Steve Stricker is in semi-retirement.

The seasonal maths, not to mention general gut instinct and two decades of final Ryder scores, underscore the apparent lopsidedness. Europe have amassed 13 wins across the PGA and European tours in 2014, to only nine for the Americans.

The European team claimed three of the four majors in 2014, plus the flagship Players and BMW PGA championships on the respective tours.

The Yanks have a better average world ranking at 16.25 per player, versus 18.6 for the Europeans, but only three members of the US team have played on a winning Ryder side.

Two of those players are named Mickelson and Furyk, who have a wretched combined Ryder record of 23-35-10.

The Europeans will be hugely tipped on home soil, as was the case four years ago in Wales when the US brought along two players who had never won a tour event.

It seems suffocatingly self-evident how this Ryder will play out. Then again, Wales was a clinical reminder of why pre-match analysis is worth its weight in virtual internet ink and nothing more.

While Europe hung on to win, they lost three of the four sessions in Wales.

Indeed, the last three Ryder Cups have been far more competitive than most have noticed. To wit, over that span, the Europeans have won three of 14 sessions.

In other words, lopsided predictions and perceived player mismatches aside, only the final outcome has been predictable.

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