Ryder Cup: Stars who could earn their stripes for the USA and Europe

By Sports Desk September 23, 2021

After three long years, the wait for another Ryder Cup ends this week as the United States and Europe take to the fairways and greens of Whistling Straits. 

Europe are the holders but the USA start as favourites for many observers, with home advantage and a formidable-looking team. 

There will be shocks along the way and there will be some expected stars of the show who end up taking a back seat as unlikely heroes emerge. 

Captains Steve Stricker and Padraig Harrington will have their own ideas of who might be best placed to make a telling impression. 

Here, Stats Perform looks at four players who could make a huge impact across the weekend in Wisconsin. 

UNITED STATES: Super Spieth ready to show his teeth

Jordan Spieth has been a resurgent force this year, finishing second at the Open Championship and in a tie for third at the Masters, while at the other two majors he finished a respectable 19th and 30th. 

The American also ended a four-year wait for a victory on the PGA Tour with a sweet win in his home state at the Texas Open in April and is primed to cap a fine year with a strong Ryder Cup. 

Spieth has mentioned in the build-up that he loves the course set-up at Whistling Straits, which he feels provides scoring opportunities on almost every hole. 

The 28-year-old also referenced his previous Ryder Cup success. 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 USA players in the team format. 

UNITED STATES: Nice guy Finau just the man for Stricker's superstars

American teams in the past have been accused of…well…not exactly getting along. Having the ultimate good guy in the team is sure to boost morale and Tony Finau certainly fits that mould. 

But make no mistake, Finau is a guy with real pedigree – even if sometimes he hasn't quite been able to convert that into wins (his triumph at the Northern Trust last month was only his second PGA Tour title and first in five years). 

On his Ryder Cup debut, he was one of few bright notes for Team USA, with Finau winning two of his three matches – including a singles win over the otherwise unflappable Tommy Fleetwood, setting the second-best points ratio (66.7 per cent) in the American team after Justin Thomas (80 per cent, four points out of a possible five). 

Moreover, at the 2015 US PGA Championship, Finau finished 10th having shot four sub-par rounds at Whistling Straits. Finau is the sort of character who can really flourish at a Ryder Cup, particularly with home support behind him. 

 

EUROPE: Europe eye trophy Rahm raid

Jon Rahm is the man for the big occasion. He is the only player to have secured a top-10 finish at all four majors this year, while he is also Europe's most recent victor at one of the leading events, having won the U.S. Open. 

The world number one's Ryder Cup debut did not go entirely to plan in 2018, as he won only one of his three matches, but that triumph was in a singles match-up with Tiger Woods – only Tiger's second loss in the format. 

Now established at the forefront of the sport, Rahm will expect to be the man to lead Europe to glory with an improved all-round showing, justifying his status as the bookmakers' favourite to be the leading points scorer at Whistling Straits. 

EUROPE: Viktor sounds like a winner

Belgium's Thomas Pieters was the top points scorer five years ago at Hazeltine, scoring four points but ending on the losing side. With Norway's Viktor Hovland relishing his debut on the team, could there be another surprise leader on the points board? 

Hovland played college golf for Oklahoma State and has been a familiar figure on the PGA Tour, so playing in America is second nature. He was low amateur at the Masters and U.S. Open in 2019, won the U.S. Amateur, and has come of age since, jumping to a career-high world ranking of number 10 in August. 

Eight top-10 finishes and just one missed cut since the turn of the year show what he brings, and that level of consistent play is bound to appeal to captain Harrington. 

"I'd like to think I have some fans out there that maybe won't necessarily boo against us," Hovland said this week. "But if they do end up doing that, that's what they're going to do. We're still going to play golf, and if they do end up doing that, that means we're doing something good." 

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  • Bellingham would be a 'fantastic signing' for Liverpool, says Barnes Bellingham would be a 'fantastic signing' for Liverpool, says Barnes

    Borussia Dortmund midfielder Jude Bellingham is the exact type of player Liverpool should be targeting and would make a "great signing" for the club.

    That is according to John Barnes, who also told Stats Perform he believes the Reds missed a trick by not bringing in Yves Bissouma, who has now signed for Tottenham.

    Liverpool have already been active this window, having added Darwin Nunez and Fabio Carvalho to their attack to compensate for the loss of Sadio Mane, who has joined Bayern Munich.

    Jurgen Klopp's side continue to be linked with an array of other players, with Dortmund star and England international Bellingham a rumoured target.

    Bellingham has made a big impact for the Bundesliga giants since arriving from Birmingham City two seasons ago, and Barnes would like to see him return to English football.

    "I think he's a fantastic player," Barnes said of Bellingham. "Another player who I like to have thought would have suited Liverpool, but went to Tottenham, is Yves Bissouma.

    "Obviously that's not there anymore because he's gone to Tottenham, but that's the template of the type of midfield player we want. 

    "A hardworking midfield player, probably more defensive than attacking, who may not score many goals but works hard, wins the ball, gets it forward to the front three quickly. 

    "Jude Bellingham is similar [to Bissouma]. He probably has a little bit more quality on the ball. He's English, he's young, that would be a fantastic signing for us. 

    "But it probably isn't going to happen this year. Hopefully next season we could make that signing."

    Despite still being aged 18, Bellingham started 44 games for Dortmund in all competitions in the 2021-22 season – four more than any other player.

    He has also racked up 15 senior caps for England and became the youngest player to represent his country in a major tournament at last year's Euro 2020.

    While speculation surrounding Bellingham's future looks set to continue, Liverpool have already spent big to sign Nunez from Benfica.

    The Uruguay international starred in the Primeira Liga and Champions League and will help fill the void left by Mane's move to Bayern.

    Nunez joins Liverpool after netting 48 goals in 85 appearances for Benfica in total, finishing as the top scorer in the Portuguese top flight in the 2021-22 campaign with 26 strikes.

    But while Liverpool may have splashed out a reported £64million (€75m) to sign the striker, with a further £21.4m in potential add-ons, Barnes believes he will need time to adjust.

    "He's coming to a new country, he's young, he's coming to new environments and new team, he has to be given time," Barnes said. 

    "Now if he's like [Diogo] Jota, for example, he hits the ground running, that's a bonus, but I don't expect him to come in and all of a sudden take to the team straightaway.

    "We've seen times that players, like [Roberto] Firmino for example, took time to adjust. Thiago [Alcantara] is another who took time to adjust.

    "I think they've done their homework and knowing that they can fit him into the template of what they actually want.

    "But I'm not putting expectations on him all of a sudden to be the best player on the team and for everything to be seamless. 

    "Jurgen Klopp has done his homework and will feel that he can get the best out of him within the framework of the team. So I'm expecting him to be successful in time."

  • Bagnaia vows to fight Quartararo all the way after clinching pole in Assen Bagnaia vows to fight Quartararo all the way after clinching pole in Assen

    Francesco Bagnaia vowed to fight Fabio Quartararo all the way after giving his slim MotoGP title chances a much-needed boost with pole position for the Dutch Grand Prix.

    The Ducati rider fell 91 points behind Quartararo last week when crashing out of the German Grand Prix early on – his fourth abandonment in 10 races this season.

    But Bagnaia, who has won two of his past five Dutch GP appearances, looked in good shape on Saturday when shattering the lap record at Circuit Assen with a time of 1:31.504.

    Victory in the Netherlands on Sunday is needed if the Italian is realistically going to catch Quartararo, with four other riders separating last season's top two.

    After an intense battle on the opening lap in Sachsenring last time out, Bagnaia is aiming to come out on top in round 11 to put some pressure on his rival.

    "For sure, Fabio on this track is always so competitive. I would like to have a fight but this time until the end of the race, not just the first two laps," he said.

    "I think it's more difficult on this track to open a gap, but we have demonstrated we can be so competitive in the first laps, Fabio too."

    Bagnaia, who has claimed four poles this year, pitted after his record lap as he did not believe anyone would be capable of matching his pace.

    "That’s the reason I stopped in the box, because I said 'doing more than this is impossible'. If someone did overtake me, I would be OK with it," he said.

    "But I'm very happy for this qualifying because this morning I was struggling a lot to be consistent and competitive."

    Championship leader Quartararo once again missed out on pole, yet he has made a habit of recovering as the weekend goes on this season.

    And as he seeks a third successive victory for the first time in his MotoGP career, the Monster Energy Yamaha rider declared himself pleased with his performance in qualifying.

    "I'm happy to have made that front row with the army of Ducatis around me. It's almost impossible to make a pole position with these Ducatis," he said.

    "I was really on the limit [for my fastest lap] and on the next lap I wanted to try but I knew it was going to be a little bit worse. Today, the front row was the target."

    Pramac's Jorge Martin will start Sunday's race in third, while Jack Miller of Ducati finished sixth in qualifying but was penalised for an incident involving Maverick Vinales.

    Miller narrowly avoided colliding with Vinales and will serve a long lap penalty for the second weekend running, though the Australian felt there was nothing he could do.

    Speaking ahead of the penalty being confirmed, Miller said: "I mean, I didn't do anything wrong. I did everything I could right. I pulled over to the left.

    "I was side-saddle from push starting it. I was just trying to load my foot up and make sure that the [damaged] footpeg wasn't going to snap as I stood on it with all my weight.

    "I was already hard on the left-hand side of the track and I just looked to make sure I'm not in anyone's way and Vinales was there. There's a lot of track there. 

    "I understand the racing line and the track sort of pulls you that way, but there's not much I could do. I went to apologise because I know it's bad, but there's nothing I can do."

     

    PROVISIONAL GRID

    1. Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati) – 1:31.504
    2. Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha) + 0.116
    3. Jorge Martin (Pramac Racing) + 0.204
    4. Marco Bezzecchi (Mooney VR46) +0.292
    5. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia) + 0.364
    6. Jack Miller (Ducati) + 0.620
    7. Johann Zarco (Pramac Racing) + 0.671
    8. Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM) + 0.768
    9. Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) +0.803
    10. Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM) +0.863

  • Li Haotong extends lead at BMW International Open after third-round 67 Li Haotong extends lead at BMW International Open after third-round 67

    Li Haotong holds a three-shot lead going into the final day of the BMW International Open in Munich after carding a third-round 67 on Saturday.

    The 26-year-old from China followed Thursday's course record-equalling score of 10 under par at the Golfclub Munchen Eichenried with a 67 on Friday.

    The same score on Saturday means he heads into the final round with a healthy lead over Belgium's Thomas Pieters, who carded a 66.

    Li, who has not won a DP World Tour title since 2018 when he triumphed at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, told reporters: "Just another great day again. Germany has been treating me very good so far.

    "I didn't expect an eagle on number six, and didn't expect that birdie on 15 as well. I didn't expect the driver on the last to hit a tree, but to be fair, I pulled it a little bit. It was just another perfect day for me.

    "Tomorrow will be a tough day. I just need to hang on in there, play my game. Expect everything. I just need to get comfortable as much as possible."

    Pieters made an eagle and four birdies in his round to sit second, one shot ahead of Jordan Smith, who carded 67.

    Pieters said: "People have come back from further behind. I just look forward to a lovely day tomorrow and hopefully a lot of birdies."

    Ryan Fox's hopes of glory were dealt a blow after a round of 71, which left him tied fourth on 15 under par with Darius Van Driel.

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