The Open: Claret Jug hopefuls primed for final-day battle

By Sports Desk July 18, 2021

Louis Oosthuizen will tee off his final round at The Open on Sunday with a one-shot lead over playing partner Collin Morikawa.

The 2010 winner, who has finished as runner-up six times in majors, is eyeing a wire-to-wire victory at Royal St George's, where he starts his fourth round at 14:35 local time at 12 under.

American Morikawa also has a second major in his sights, having claimed the 2020 US PGA Championship.

Jordan Spieth is firmly in the mix, the three-time major winner and 2017 Champion Golfer of the Year at nine under, while pre-tournament favourite Jon Rahm is two strokes further back.

 

Corey Conners and Scottie Scheffler are each on eight under and hoping to earn maiden major triumphs.

Glorious weather means the course is set fair for low scoring for anyone who can summon the courage and accuracy to take on some tough pin positions at the Kent links.

There was promise in the early scores coming in, with American trio Rickie Fowler, Xander Schauffele and Bryson DeChambeau all shooting 65.

If any of the leading trio should go that low, it will rule out the chasing pack and reduce the contenders down to the final couple of groups on course.

That would mean Brooks Koepka's surge up the leaderboard would still leave him short, the four-time major winner having made the turn in 31.

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  • Ryder Cup: USA rookies Cantlay, Schauffele ready for McIlroy, Poulter Ryder Cup: USA rookies Cantlay, Schauffele ready for McIlroy, Poulter

    Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter have a combined 46 Ryder Cup matches to their credit, while their opponents in Friday's foursomes, Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele, have none. 

    That disparity is of no concern to the American rookies, who expressed confidence they will be able to get the job done at Whistling Straits in the final match of Friday's opening session. 

    Considering their form lately, that makes sense. Cantlay enters his first Ryder Cup ranked fourth in the world, while Schauffele – who won Olympic gold this summer in Tokyo – is fifth. 

    Cantlay won the final two events of the FedEx Cup playoffs, beating Bryson DeChambeau in a playoff at the BMW Championship and edging Jon Rahm by one stroke to take the Tour Championship. 

    The duo also are comfortable playing together. They paired up for the foursomes and fourball at the 2019 Presidents Cup, winning both of their foursomes matches, and each also won his singles match in that event. 

    "Xander and Patrick have had success in foursomes in The Presidents Cup, so we thought it was a natural fit for them to do foursomes here tomorrow morning," said USA captain Steve Stricker, an assistant captain with that 2019 team. 

    As the final match on the course in the opening session, Cantlay and Schauffele also figure to have the full-throated support of what is expected to be an overwhelmingly pro-USA crowd. 

    "It will be fantastic," Cantlay said. "The Wisconsin fans will be showing up and cheering us on all day. They have been great so far this week and those have just been practice rounds." 

    Whatever their comfort level, the challenge they face is daunting, as McIlroy and Poulter have played together regularly for years and have exemplary records in Ryder Cup play.

    "You always want to play against the best," Schauffele said. "Best way to challenge your game. Pat and I are looking forward to putting a point on the board and going from there."

    Their European counterparts will of course have something to say about that. 

    While McIlroy was complimentary of the young American pair Thursday, he did note that they will be stepping into an entirely different type of arena Friday. 

    "Patrick has had a hell of a year and Xander is a great player," McIlroy said. "Probably doesn't quite compare to what a Ryder Cup is, so they will feel a little different on the first tee tomorrow."

  • Ryder Cup: Garcia and Rahm to team up as Europe pick veterans for opening matches Ryder Cup: Garcia and Rahm to team up as Europe pick veterans for opening matches

    Europe will look to their Ryder Cup veterans to set the tone when play begins at Whistling Straits on Friday. 

    Captain Padraig Harrington's four oldest players, all in their 40s, will feature for Europe in the morning foursomes against a youthful USA group whose oldest player, Dustin Johnson, is 37. 

    All-time Ryder Cup scoring leader Sergio Garcia, 41, will lead the charge with world number one Jon Rahm as the Spanish pair face Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth in the opening match in Wisconsin. 

    "We would have been aware that JT and Jordan would have gone first, obviously, so we were going to lead ourselves with a strong partnership," Harrington told a news conference. "The whole world will be watching that one."

    Teeing off next, Paul Casey (44) will team with rookie Viktor Hovland against Johnson and Open Championship winner Collin Morikawa, followed by Lee Westwood (48) and Matthew Fitzpatrick against Brooks Koepka and Danel Berger. 

    The final matchup of the opening session will pit Ian Poulter (45) and Rory McIlroy against the rookie American duo of Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele. 

    "We've gone with an experienced setup, no doubt about it, but it was our strong setup," Harrington said. "It just happened to be experienced. I was happy with that, there's no doubt, when it came out like that and you're looking at it and you go, yeah, that's very experienced. That is a big bonus.

    "But it didn't weaken our fourballs – that was very important. We still have a strong fourball setup and we haven't taken from the afternoon by going with a strong setup in the morning." 

    Europe will leave Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Shane Lowry and Bernd Wiesberger on the sidelines for the opening matches, while the USA will do the same with Bryson DeChambeau, Harris English, Tony Finau and Scottie Scheffler. 

    While the Europe captain said it was safe to assume his players who will sit out the morning will play in the afternoon fourballs, his US counterpart Steve Stricker declined to be drawn on that topic – though both captains said their foursome and fourball pairings were set and communicated to their teams early in the week.

    Each also said he was focused on his own side as opposed to worrying about what the other team might be doing, though both put special emphasis on the first and fourth matches. 

    "We talked occasionally about maybe who they're going to put out, but it doesn't matter," Stricker said. "I mean, they're all such great players, they're all highly ranked players and we know that we're going to have to play our best to to beat them.

    "We had an idea that Rory and Rahm would probably go one and four, and that's pretty much all we knew, or really thought about. We didn't know who their guys were going to be paired with but we kind of had that figured out, so we tried to act accordingly as well."

    Asked whether any of his players had expressed disappointment in not being included in the morning pairings, Stricker immediately responded "not at all." 

    "These guys have been incredible," he added. "I can't stress it enough, really, and it's about the communication that we've had, the captains and myself, and being upfront with them and just letting them know what we're thinking, so there's no curveballs.

    "We've heard it multiple times from all the players: If you want to play me once, or all five, you know, that's up to you – meaning the captains – and just so we can try to win this Cup."

    Friday's foursomes

    Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth (USA) v. Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia (EUR)
    Dustin Johnson and Collin Morikawa (USA) v. Paul Casey and Viktor Hovland (EUR)
    Brooks Koepka and Daniel Berger (USA) v. Lee Westwood and Matt Fitzpatrick (EUR)
    Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele (USA) v. Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter (EUR)

  • Ryder Cup: USA's rookies out to party like it's 1999 as Westwood closes in on Mickelson record Ryder Cup: USA's rookies out to party like it's 1999 as Westwood closes in on Mickelson record

    The time for talking is almost done as the coronavirus-delayed 43rd Ryder Cup gets under way at Whistling Straits on Friday.

    Europe head into the much-anticipated showdown with the United States as defending champions after winning 17.5 - 10.5 at Le Golf National in 2018.

    This year's edition in Wisconsin promises to be as competitive as ever, with USA hoping their team of rookies can prevail against their more experienced European opponents.

    Here, Stats Perform picks out the best of the facts and figures ahead of the first tee off.

     

    EUROPE'S RECENT DOMINANCE

    – This year's Ryder Cup is the 43rd edition, with nearly half of those (21) having pitted Europe against USA. Due to the tournament being delayed by a year by the coronavirus pandemic, this is the first Ryder Cup to be held in an odd year since 1999.

    Europe have the upper hand with 11 victories since 1979, compared to eight for USA. There was a tie in 1989, which saw Europe regain the cup having won the previous edition two years earlier.

    Europe have won nine of the last 12 Ryder Cups, including half of the last eight played on US soil.

    – Six of the last eight Ryder Cups have seen a final score gap of at least five points. The gap was never more than three points in each of the previous eight editions (1987 to 2002).

    – This year's Ryder Cup is the first to be played in Wisconsin, making it the 19th US state to host the tournament, with only California, Massachusetts and Ohio having played host on more than one occasion.

    – Since 1979, only four of the 20 Ryder Cups have seen a team overturn a deficit going into the singles (1993, 1995, 1999 and 2012).

    – USA have won 12 of the 20 singles sessions against Europe since 1979 (60 per cent). However, since 2002, Europe have the upper hand in the Sunday format, winning it six times in nine attempts.

    Only two of the 42 Ryder Cups have ended in a tie: 1969 (16-16) and 1989 (14-14).

    WESTWOOD LEADS THE WAY FOR EXPERIENCED EUROPE

    – With a combined total of 156 matches played at the Ryder Cup, this is the most experienced European team since the 1995 edition (196 matches). Three players are making their debut for Europe: Bernd Wiesberger, Viktor Hovland and Shane Lowry, half as many as the US team (six).

    – Fifty per cent of the European team are made up of English players (six out of 12). Since the introduction of Team Europe in 1979, that ties the highest number of English players after 2016.

    – In Sergio Garcia and Jon Rahm, Spain have a playing representative at the Ryder Cup for the 21st consecutive edition. In fact, other than England, they are the only nation to have had at least one player at every Ryder Cup edition since the introduction of Team Europe in 1979.

    – Rahm – world number one and Europe's most recent major winner (US Open 2021) – is playing in his second Ryder Cup. He won only one of his three matches in 2018, but that was the singles match against Tiger Woods, only the American's second ever loss in the singles format after 1997.

    Garcia is the highest points scorer in the history of the Ryder Cup (25.5 points out of a possible 41). The Spaniard is taking part in his 10th Ryder Cup – that's every edition since 1999 except 2010. It is also only the third time he has been a captain's pick after 2002 and 2018.

    – Rory McIlroy is making his sixth consecutive Ryder Cup appearance (all since 2010), the longest current run among European players. He has played every single session at the tournament since his debut in 2010.

    – Viktor Hovland is the youngest player at this year's Ryder Cup – he will be aged 24 years and six days on the opening day of the tournament. He is also the first Norwegian to play in the tournament.

    – This is Lee Westwood's 11th Ryder Cup, joining Nick Faldo as the European player with the most appearances in the biennial tournament. If he plays at least four matches, he will overtake Phil Mickelson for the most in the tournament's history. Westwood is also the oldest player at this year's tournament.

    HISTORY ON USA'S SIDE

    – USA have six Ryder Cup rookies at this year's tournament, the most since 2008. In fact, they have won both previous editions against Europe where at least 50 per cent of their team was made up of newcomers: 1979 (eight rookies) and 2008 (six rookies).

    – Eight of the 12 American players at this year's Ryder Cup are aged under 30, which is twice as many as the European team (four out of 12).

    – Collin Morikawa is the youngest US player at this year's Ryder Cup – he will be aged 24 years, seven months and 18 days on the opening day of the tournament.

    – Tony Finau's first Top 10 at a major came in the 2015 US PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. He won two of his three matches in his only previous Ryder Cup appearance in 2018, setting the second-best points ratio (66.7 per cent) in the US team after Justin Thomas (80 per cent, four points out of a possible five).

    – This is Brooks Koepka's third – and consecutive – Ryder Cup appearance. He won three of his four matches the last time it was held in the United States (2016).

    – This is Jordan Spieth's fourth consecutive Ryder Cup appearance. He has collected eight points from a possible 11 in fourballs/foursomes, a 73 per cent scoring rate. Only Tom Watson, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus have a better ratio among US players in the team format.

    – At 37, Dustin Johnson is the oldest member of this year's US Ryder Cup team. This is his fifth appearance in the showpiece event, winning only one of his previous four (2016). He is the US player with the most matches played in the history of the tournament without a single half point (W7 L9).

    – Bryson DeChambeau lost all three of his matches in his only previous Ryder Cup appearance in 2018. He was the only US player to remain scoreless alongside Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, whom he both partnered in 5 and 4 losses.

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