No easy Ryder as the big guns ride into town

Kevin Garside on the big showdown at Medinah

Not a fag paper between the sides, big-city location hosting the world's top players, the Ryder Cup in Chicago places golf at the centre of the sporting universe for three high-octane days. It can't be long before Las Vegas pitches for it, such is the heavyweight dynamic attached.

Having lost in bids for the Superbowl and the Olympics, the Ryder Cup is the outlet for a city that craves a sporting fix. Graeme McDowell, who holed what turned out to be the deciding putt on the 16th at Celtic Manor, believes this is the strongest team Europe have had, and faces the best America side since the inception of the European team.

Medinah will be as loud as it is long, with the rough cut back to encourage the flow of birdies. The bellicose nature of the home support has spilled over into the unacceptable, particularly at Brookline in 1999, where, encouraged by galleries in tumult, the players went into premature celebration of Justin Leonard's monster putt on the 17th with Jose-Maria Olazabal still to play.

At Valhalla four years ago, Lee Westwood complained of sustained abuse that even targeted his mother. Chicago resident Luke Donald expects the decibels to rise, but acceptably so. "It'll be extremely raucous," he said. "I've played in three Ryder Cups and I think this is the biggest city and that'll make it a little bit more fun.

"I think the fans will make it tough for the Europeans. They're going to be on the Americans' side, they'll be cheering hard but they're a fair crowd and hopefully they'll respect both teams. The home team's biggest advantage is the crowd support and if we can take that away a little bit, not just through my relationship with Chicago, but also playing well, then that will be a benefit for us."

Olazabal gathered his forces at a team dinner in Kiawah Island before the PGA Championship to establish a framework for attacking the week. He wants his players as relaxed as possible, free of fear and restraint. The Ryder Cup will be won with birdies not pars. Passion is the buzz-word in the European team room.

If the Americans have home advantage, then Europe have an edge in their deeper understanding of the team concept. The US have to work hard at sharing the love. Olazabal has already tapped into that sensibility. Since their inauguration in 1979 the European team have edged the contests eight to seven with one tie. Their first victory on foreign soil came 25 years ago in Ohio, and co-incided with Olzabal's debut. Away victories have tended to come in eight-year cycles. The last was in 2004. You know what that means.

The fine tuning continues at first practice on Tuesday before the start shortly after dawn on Friday.

As holders, Europe need only draw to retain the trophy. Fourteen points is the magic number.

EUROPE

The lead-out men

Lee Westwood

P7 W16 L11 H6

Turned the corner just in time. Europe need their most experienced figure to be at his dominant best and, judging by his form in the FedEx Cup play-offs, he is exactly that. New short-game coach Tony Johnstone has proved talismanic. Westwood is supreme in pairings, but Europe need him to win a singles point, too.

Sergio Garcia

P5 W14 L6 H4

Fantastic boost to have him back. Thought he was lost to the sport two years ago before an ambassadorial role at Celtic Manor seemed to re-ignite his love for the game. Ended a three-year European winless streak with back-to-back wins in Spain last year, and broke a four-year duck on the PGA Tour at the Wyndham last month.

Luke Donald

P3 W8 L2 H1

Relatively quiet after his year of years in 2011, topping both money lists and becoming world No 1. Still won twice on either side of the Atlantic and will be a pivotal player. Length off the tee is not decisive in match play, as he showed winning in Tucson last year. A brilliant putter, who Westwood calls "deadly from 120 yards in".

The knock-out punchers

Rory McIlroy

P1 W1 L1 H2

The best in the world in the form of his life. Tasted Ryder Cup fever for the first time in Wales and it blew his mind. Knows better what to expect here. Former captain Colin Montgomerie warns not to put too much pressure on him. Fair point, as he is only 23, but it will be hard for Jose-Maria Olazabal to hold this kid back.

Ian Poulter

P3 W8 L3 H0

Defined by this competition. Comes alive in match play and his infectious attitude spreads through the team. Promised a point in the singles against Dustin Johnson in Wales and delivered the fist-pump finale. Loves the spotlight, as three top-10s in majors this season indicate. Likely to partner Justin Rose on Friday.

Graeme McDowell

P2 W4 L2 H2

Back in the form of 2010, when the winning putt in the Ryder Cup followed victory at the US Open. Had a putt to force a play-off at this year's US Open and was in the final group at Royal Lytham a month later, showing his appetite for the big show. G-Mac is more than a mentor to McIlroy, he is a match winner in his own right.

Martin Kaymer

P1 W2 L1 H1

Edged into the final qualifying spot. Nowhere near the form that took him briefly to the world No 1 last year. Tinkered with his swing to conquer Augusta and saw confidence drain. A share of fifth in Italy last week hinted at a return to form. Long off the tee and a lethal putter, Kaymer at his best is a huge plus for Olazabal.

The middle order

Justin Rose

P1 W3 L1 H0

Played the best golf of his career this year, culminating in victory at the WGC Cadillac in March. Then lost confidence with the putter, but top-fives last month at the Bridgestone Invitational and PGA Championship show a return to form. An assured ball striker, Rose is finally delivering on his poten- tial as a 17-year-old at Birkdale.

Peter Hanson

P1 W1 L2 H0

Victory at the KLM Dutch Open a fortnight ago, his first on the European Tour in two years, could not have been better timed. Might have won the Masters in April and is increasingly comfortable on the big stage. His consistency off the tee and even temperament are a great asset to Olazabal, who can pair him with anybody.

Paul Lawrie

P1 W3 L1 H1

Another in the best form of his career with two wins this year. Had a baptism of fire at Brookline after his Open victory in 1999, hitting the first drive of the contest. Came out in credit on losing team. Criticised in America for missing the US Open, to play in Europe and try to seal his Ryder place. Looks like he was right.

Francesco Molinari

P1 W0 L2 H1

Only McIlroy and Rose are ahead of him in the Race to Dubai. Plays unspectacularly, but has one win this year and a couple of seconds. If he could putt like his brother, Eduardo, he would be Luke Donald. Arguably as good a ball striker as any, and a good bloke, which makes him a great partner in the absence of his brother.

The joker

Nicolas Colsaerts

Debut

McIlroy-long off the tee and with a tidy short game, he could be Olazabal's trump card as the Americans will not know much about him. Was outside the top 1,000 three years ago. Turned pro in 2000 and after years of struggle saw a big upturn in 2009. First European Tour win in China last year and has not looked back.

UNITED STATES

The lead-out men

Tiger Woods

P6 W13 L14 H2

Not yet the Woods of old, but playing his best golf under coach Sean Foley. Three wins this year and a serial leaderboard presence, he is central to his team's prospects. Paired with Steve Stricker in the impact slot at Celtic Manor. Expect similar at Medinah as Davis Love III seeks an early advantage.

Phil Mickelson

P8 W11 L17 H6

Patchy year since victory in February, but like so many finding consistency at the right time with two top-fives in the Fed-Ex play-offs. The most experienced player on either team. Held Rickie Fowler's hand last time and a candidate to partner one of the four rookies. Hugely influential, having the ear of the skipper.

Steve Stricker

P2 W3 L3 H1

The oldest player in the USA team at 45. Stricker came late to the Ryder Cup, making his debut in 2008, but has grown into one of the most consistent players on the PGA Tour and is a cornerstone of the team. Sent out first in the singles at Celtic Manor and he did not disappoint, seeing off Europe's big hitter, Lee Westwood.

The knock-out punchers

Bubba Watson

P1 W1 L3 H0

Said he didn't know what all the fuss was about when he made his debut at Celtic Manor. It's only golf. Then the whistle went. The Masters champion has it all but can be streaky. If he is on, he can take the game away from Europe. If not, the US may find the going harder than expected. Expect Bubba fireworks either way.

Dustin Johnson

P1 W1 L3 H0

Arguably the best of the post-Tiger generation. Unlucky not to win a major. Impossibly long off the tee with a velvet touch around the greens. Missed three months of the season with injury but won St Jude Classic on his return. Reputation as the team's uber-athlete yet smokes like a trooper. A beacon of blue collar charisma.

Keegan Bradley

Debut

A controversial omission from the President's Cup team last year after his PGA Championship victory, but took the decision out of the selector's hands here. Like Watson, can blow hot and cold. Missed three cuts in five events but bounced back to win the WGC Bridgestone Invitational and finish third in his PGA defence.

Webb Simpson

Debut

Outside the top 200 two years ago, he has enjoyed a meteoric rise. Pipped at the top of the US money list by Luke Donald in the last tournament of 2011. Form dipped since but showed big-match temperament and attacking instincts by shooting from the pack at Olympic Club to beat Graeme McDowell and Jim Furyk to win the US Open.

The middle order

Matt Kuchar

P1 W1 L1 H2

An unflappable temperament makes him ideal for match play. Not a ticket-seller, offers quiet dependability. Earned his place with an impressive spring charge which saw him post top 10s at the WGC Accenture Match Play in Tucson and the Cadillac at Doral, come third at the Masters and win The Players Championship.

Zach Johnson

P2 W3 L3 H1

Two wins and a couple of seconds in a laser burst in the heart of the season confirmed Johnson's return to form and his readiness for this event. A great competitor, steady as you like and an assured putter, Johnson is key for Love. Missed only one cut all year, the St Jude Classic, surprisingly in the middle of his hot-streak.

Jim Furyk

P7 W8 L15 H4

His Ryder Cup record does not inspire fear. The fact that he kept out the likes of Fowler and Nick Watney as a captain's pick demonstrates how high a value Love places on experience and camaraderie. Furyk is in because he is highly regarded by the likes of Woods and Mickelson. Will be given the role of chaperone to the rookies.

Jason Dufner

Debut

For a six-week spell after the Masters, it appeared Dufner could not miss. A run of five tournaments yielded two wins, a second and fourth at the US Open. It had been a long time coming. His victory at the Zurich Classic in April was his first on the PGA Tour, 12 years after he turned pro. Count the waggles before he hits.

The joker

Brandt Snedeker

Debut

Missed five months through injury, but on his return finished third at Royal Lytham after leading at halfway. Once said Rory McIlroy had more talent in his fingernail than he had. Make that two finger- nails. His putting earned him his spot, a selection vindicated with a second and a sixth in the Fed-Ex Cup play-offs.

Who's won what since Europe was united in 1979

England

Players 24

W 102 H 22 L 88

Highest pts Nick Faldo 22

Singles wins 22 Halves 3

Scotland

Players 7

W 45 H 16 L 48

Highest pts Colin Montgomerie 23

Singles wins 11 Halves 5

Wales

Players 2

W 14 H 6 L 13

Highest pts Ian Woosnam 16 1/2

Singles wins 0 Halves 3

Northern Ireland

Players 5

W 16 H 8 L 13

Highest pts Darren Clarke 11 1/2

Singles wins 3 Halves 3

Republic of Ireland

Players 6

W 16 H 7 L 27

Highest pts Padraig Harrington 10

Singles wins 4 Halves 3

France

Players 2

W 1 H 0 L 3

Highest pts Thomas Levet 1

Singles wins 1 Halves 0

Germany

Players 2

W 23 H 7 L 16

Highest pts Bernhard Langer 24

Singles wins 4 Halves 3

Spain

Players 9

W 63 H 20 L 49

Highest pts Seve Ballesteros 22 1/2

Singles wins 8 Halves 3

Italy

Players 3

W 6 H 3 L 8

Highest pts Constantino Rocca 6

Singles wins 1 Halves 1

Sweden

Players 9

W 12 H 12 L 17

Highest pts Jesper Parnevik 6

Singles wins 3 Halves 3

Denmark

Players 2

W 2 H 2 L 5

Highest pts Thomas Bjorn 2 1/2

Singles wins 1 Halves 1

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