The United States arrive in Rome this week as favourites to end a 30-year wait to win the Ryder Cup on European soil against a home team without several stalwarts following the LIV Golf fall-out.
US captain Zach Johnson has an array of riches at his disposal, including world number one Scottie Scheffler and five-time major champion Brooks Koepka, the only LIV player to make the trip to Italy.
Seven of the team also featured in 2021 when the Americans dismantled Europe with a record-breaking 19-9 victory at Whistling Straits.
Johnson will have four rookies to blood into the matchplay showdown, but largely opted for experience with his captain’s picks, calling up Koepka, Jordan Spieth, the out-of-form Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler.
Big names missing from European team
Europeans have to be members of the DP World Tour to be available for selection, so skipper Luke Donald will have to do without Ryder Cup stars Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter.
Garcia, the event’s record points scorer, attempted to get his card back earlier this year so he could possibly play at the Ryder Cup, but said he was turned away by European Tour CEO Keith Pelley.
The PGA Tour, DP World Tour and the Saudi-backed LIV Golf announced a closer financial relationship earlier this year, partly healing a rift in the sport.
“I called and asked him about the possibility of me being a member of the Tour again,” Garcia told the i newspaper.
“I knew I had to be a member to have any possibility of being a part of the European team in Rome.
“That’s what I wanted, if I paid all my fines and played the minimum number of tournaments required. I was willing to do both…
“The answer was there was no chance.”
Johnson did select Koepka after his excellent performances in the major tournaments this season, winning the PGA Championship after finishing runner-up at the Masters.
Johnson, DeChambeau and Reed missing for USA
But there was no place for Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau or former Ryder Cup hero Patrick Reed, who all now ply their trade with LIV.
Dustin Johnson was the talisman of the USA team two years ago, romping to five wins from five matches.
“I would love to be a part of the team,” Dustin Johnson told the Palm Beach Post.
“But to be honest, I haven’t really played that well this year. But have I played well enough to be on the team? Yeah.
“I didn’t have the best year. Was it good enough to make the team? I think so. If I would have been playing on (the PGA Tour), I would have made the team.”
Ryder Cup ‘top of list’
This will be the first Ryder Cup since the LIV exodus from the established tours, but Rory McIlroy believes that will be long forgotten at the Marco Simone Golf Club.
“There are some tournaments in our game that are bigger and more important than all of that stuff and obviously the Ryder Cup is right at the top of the list,” said McIlroy, who is the most experienced player in either team with six previous appearances.
“At the end of the day, it’s about competition and about sport and competing at the highest level. That is exactly what the Ryder Cup is.”
Europe will be underdogs but recent history is on their side after six consecutive home wins and they boast a dangerous team spear-headed by McIlroy, Masters champion Jon Rahm and the in-form Viktor Hovland.
McIlroy will be desperate for redemption after breaking down in tears while apologising for his disappointing performance in 2021.
Rahm, and his partnership with Garcia, was the only real bright spark for Europe during that thrashing.
A lot of eyes will be on Swedish youngster Ludvig Aberg, who only turned professional in June but has already climbed to 80th in the world rankings.
Despite boasting the world’s second, third and fourth-ranked players, Europe’s average ranking of just over 29 is far inferior to the USA’s 12.75.
But that has often been the case in previous Ryder Cups when Europe have ended up with their hands on the trophy.