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Five things to watch for at the Ryder Cup

Justin Thomas Justin Thomas - The Canadian Press

This week’s Ryder Cup in Rome gives the United States a chance to end the 30-year dry spell of winning on foreign soil.

Two years ago, it seemed that this would be fait accompli as the Americans hammered the European side 19-9 at Whistling Straits Golf Course in Wisconsin. But over the past season, the Euros have elevated their game, with Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy and Viktor Hovland leading the way. It is shaping up to be a close contest, at least before the opening tee shot is struck.

The Ryder Cup rarely plays out as perfectly as the predictions go. Foursomes and Fourballs are vastly different than the medal play that is the usual fare on the PGA and DP World tours. It’s also the one time a year (along with the Presidents Cup) that the fans cheer for and against players. No more of the nice, polite golf claps; this is you versus us. It is a much different environment in which to play golf.

Ahead of Friday’s opening two rounds, here are five things to watch for at this year’s Ryder Cup.

The Course

The Marco Simone Golf Club is a regular stop on the DP World Tour, hosting the Italian Open, and two of the European Team players have won that title, Nicolai Hojgaard in 2021 and Robert MacIntyre in 2022.

While it’s been a suitable home for the stroke-play championship, it underwent an 18-month major renovation to have it become a suitable host for match-play events such as the Ryder Cup. That means it’s full of risk-reward holes that will tempt players to gain an advantage. To that end, there are four par-4s that will play under 400 yards, a couple of which are driveable. The 18th hole, however, is a 597-yard beast that should be a great finale if the matches reach that point.

The course has also received a bit of a makeover for this week, with the grooming designed to penalize the long-bombing Americans. The hope is to try and take short irons out of their hands, so lots of deep rough, reported at five inches in depth, will grab errant tee shots and perhaps force the U.S. players to think about going with less than driver off the tee.

The other factor that captains will need to consider is the toll the hilly course will take on the players, many of whom could be called on to play 36 holes on Friday and Saturday. Fatigue could become a factor and it might be a short list of players who tee it up in all five sessions.

Justin Thomas

After a mediocre season, Thomas managed to get a captain’s pick to make the U.S. side. Controversial? Definitely, although JT says he isn’t taking receipts on anyone who disagreed with U.S. Captain Zach Johnson’s decision to add him.

On the down side, Thomas has struggled off the tee and especially on the greens in 2023. Those are requirements at Marco Simone. On the plus side, he was in contention to win his last start in Napa, Calif., two weeks ago, showing some of the form that has made him one of the game’s best golfers.

If he plays well, Johnson will look like a genius. If he stays cold, the critics will wonder why players such as Keegan Bradley or Lucas Glover weren’t there instead.

Ludvig Aberg

It’s hard to believe that a golfer with 10 professional starts will be playing for the European side.

That’s Ludvig Aberg’s pro resume to date, but two of those rounds were with Euro captain Luke Donald when they teed it up together at the Rocket Mortgage Classic. So impressed was Donald that he put him on his possible list and added the Swede to the Euro side after he won the Omega European Masters last month.

Aberg has been described as a generational talent. Off the tee the 23-year-old is straight and long, already one of the best drivers in the game. Into the greens, his accuracy is exceptional and as a putter, he has no fear.

He also seems to love playing in the limelight. For that reason, look for Aberg to play alongside Viktor Hovland in the opening game on Friday morning in the foursomes session. This could be his coming-out party for a career that seems to have nothing but upside.

The New Europe

The second-, third- and fourth-ranked players in the world are all on Team Europe. That would be Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Hovland. While they can’t win the Ryder Cup on their own, they will be counted on to lead the way, both on and off the course.

These three, along with Justin Rose, will be at the forefront of what is a transitional period for the European side. Gone are stalwarts Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood, and Sergio Garcia, who all moved to LIV. Now it’s up to this group to be the face of the European team. Expect all three to play in every session.

McIlroy is playing his seventh Ryder Cup and in an emotional interview after the Euros lost two years ago, he called the event the greatest in golf.

Rahm, the reigning Masters champion, went 3-1-1, the three wins coming when he was paired with Garcia.

Hovland played all five sessions, losing three times and adding two ties for a single point. The reigning FedEx Cup champion will be called upon to do more if Europe hopes to win.


Some partnerships in the Ryder Cup go together like peanut butter and jam. Thomas and Jordan Spieth, for example.

These two have been friends since their days in junior golf and have enjoyed playing together in any team competitions where they have a tremendous record. Their desire to partner up came despite a very successful pairing Spieth had with Patrick Reed that earned big points for the Americans in two Ryder Cups and a Presidents Cup.

Spieth told 2018 captain Jim Furyk that he didn’t want to play with Reed anymore and would prefer to join with Thomas, something which left Reed steaming. The result, however, was a mark of 8-2 through two Ryder Cups and last year’s Presidents Cup. According to a comment from assistant captain Fred Couples this week, look for them to play all four team sessions together.

Other partnerships you can expect to see? For the U.S., Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele are all but a sure thing while Scottie Scheffler and Sam Burns, fast friends, will also likely be joined at the hip.

For the Europeans, there aren’t really any traditional partnerships to speak of but perhaps some new ones will be formed. Expect Hovland and Ludvig Aberg to play together as well as McIlroy and Matt Fitzpatrick.