2014 Ryder Cup: Early Storylines Emerging Around Tournament at Gleneagles

Mike DudurichContributor IAugust 27, 2014

2014 Ryder Cup: Early Storylines Emerging Around Tournament at Gleneagles

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    European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley talks with one of his key players, Justin Rose.
    European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley talks with one of his key players, Justin Rose.Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Preparations are heading down the homestretch at Gleneagles Centenary Course in anticipation of the Ryder Cup matches that will be contested there at the end of September.

    Bleachers are nearly fully erected, hospitality facilities are starting to put the final touches on, anticipating the huge crowds that have annually been a part of the Ryder Cup in recent years.

    The teams are rounding into shape and will be finalized Monday.

    And the early storylines are starting to come to light as well.

    Here is a list of a half-dozen of those storylines like, how well will Gleneagles fit the game of the U.S. players.

    Check it out.

Will This Be the Year U.S. Wins a Road Game?

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    Paul Azinger was his usual fiery self at the Belfry in 1993.
    Paul Azinger was his usual fiery self at the Belfry in 1993.Michel Euler/Associated Press

    The last time the United States won a Ryder Cup across the ocean Tom Watson was the captain. That was in 1993 at the Belfry.

    Since then, some of the matches have been close, some have been blowouts, but the bottom line is the U.S. is on a four-Cup losing streak.

    Naming the 64-year-old Watson was a risky but thought out selection, made with the hope that some of Watson's dogged determination would rub off on a team that won't be as strong as it might have been because of injuries.

    After a long run of domination by the U.S., Europe has won five of the last seven Ryder Cups.

    The U.S. will have its hands full for three days trying to knock off the Europeans at Gleneagles.

    That's where Watson and his approach will hopefully pay off.

Last Three Players Chosen on Each Side Could Be Crucial

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    Could Miguel Angel Jimenez become a European Ryder Cup pick?
    Could Miguel Angel Jimenez become a European Ryder Cup pick?Alastair Grant/Associated Press

    Much has been made about three captain's choices Tom Watson will announce next Tuesday to complete the United States roster for the Ryder Cup.

    Hunter Mahan seemed to lock up one spot with his win at the Barclays. Keegan Bradley is believed to be almost a lock for the second spot based on his experience on the team in 2012 and his decision to accompany Watson and Jim Furyk on a scouting trip to Gleneagles. 

    Brandt Snedeker, Webb Simpson, Brendon Todd all have a shot at the last spot.

    For the Europeans, Ian Poulter, Luke Donald, Graeme McDowell and Lee Westwood are the headliners not on the team yet. But there also also players like Miguel Angel Jimenez and Francesco Molinari who are under consideration.

    Both captains will be watching how those players perform this weekend and will be weighing the merits of guys playing well at the time vs. Ryder Cup experience. Another factor is choosing players who would make good partners for those already on the team.

How Well Will Gleneagles Fit U.S. Players' Games?

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    U.S. Captain Tom Watson thinks Gleneagles will be a good fit for his team.
    U.S. Captain Tom Watson thinks Gleneagles will be a good fit for his team.Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

    Tom Watson made a scouting trip to Gleneagles' Centenary Course in July, a trip on which he invited a group of players who were either in the top nine of the points standings or hopeful of getting on the team by a captain's choice.

    Only Jim Furyk (on the team via points) and Keegan Bradley (a hopeful) took him up on that invitation. But that allowed Watson to play one round with a bomber (Bradley) and one with a short hitter (Furyk).

    “I think it favors our team in the sense that our team, we've got some guys that can really launch it and hit it high,” Watson said to Alex Miceli in a golfchannel.com story, referring to players like Bubba Watson and Jimmy Walker. "This course, I think, really favors that type of ball striker.”

    Watson also came away from Scotland thinking that, if by chance, the weather is good, a lot of birdies will be made on greens that play bigger than they look. But what of the chances of good weather late in September in Scotland, right?

Can Jim Furyk Rebound from 2012 Ryder Cup Performance?

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    Jim Furyk watches a putt head to the hole.
    Jim Furyk watches a putt head to the hole.Hunter Martin/Getty Images

    For 18 years, Jim Furyk and the Ryder Cup have been synonymous. He's played on nine straight United States teams, but after putting up a 1-2 record and getting only one point at Medinah in 2012, there was some thinking that his run may have ended.

    But Furyk, the highest-ranked U.S. player in the world, responded with a good year in 2013 and an even better one this year.

    He still hasn't been able to close out a victory after leading with 18 to play. He's 0 of 8 in that category.

    What he is doing is putting well, although his overall putting stats don't show that. Furyk has made the critical putts in several recent tournaments that have kept him right in the hunt.

    He also hits a of fairways and greens and doing that in an event like the Ryder Cup makes him a big player for captain Tom Watson.

    The only question is whether he can continue his good play for another four weeks.

Can the U.S. Find a Killer Instinct at Gleneagles?

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    Johnny Miller, center, surrounded by golf greatness.
    Johnny Miller, center, surrounded by golf greatness.Marc Serota/Getty Images

    Johnny Miller, NBC's lead golf commentator, has opinions. Lots of opinions.

    And he's not afraid to give those to anyone who will listen.

    Miller knows about the Ryder Cup, having been a member of two U.S. teams and playing in six matches.

    And he's not bashful about his views on the U.S. team and its recent struggles in the event.

    "The U.S. just hasn't been able to finish off matches, especially near the end of the Ryder Cup, and that was the killer last time," Miller said to Steve DeMeglio in a USA Today story earlier this year. "The Ryder Cup has been great theater, and it's for the good of the Ryder Cup. " … I think the U.S. needs to win."

    Indeed, the United States team lost the last five singles matches in 2012 and gave Europe a 14 1/2-13 1/2 victory.

    Who will be the guy to spark that killer instinct? Maybe Phil Mickelson or Keegan Bradley, assuming he makes the team. Matt Kuchar, Jordan Spieth? 

    This aspect of the competition will be as important as any other when the end of September arrives.

Who Will Putt Best This Year?

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    Sergio Garcia has made a lot of critical putts during his time as a member of the European Ryder Cup team.
    Sergio Garcia has made a lot of critical putts during his time as a member of the European Ryder Cup team.Darren Carroll/Getty Images

    Throughout the history of the Ryder Cup, one constant has been that the team that putts best normally wins.

    In recent years, that has been embodied by Sergio Garcia. He's never been able to win a major title, but once the Ryder Cup rolls around, it's been Garcia that's stuck the dagger in the heart of the Americans time after time. Ian Poulter, too, has carried on that tradition with his fiery personality.

    If you put much stock in statistics, however, that might change when the teams get together at Gleneagles at the end of September.

    The top European putter in the strokes gained putting category is Rory McIlroy, the game's most dominant player, and he's ranked 35th. Garcia is 55th and Martin Kaymer is 127th. Graeme McDowell, one of those hoping to be a captain's choice to the team, leads the strokes gained putting statistic.

    Henrik Stenson (108) and Justin Rose (109) already have spots locked up, but Luke Donald (11), Lee Westwood (69) and Poulter (106) are still hoping to be captain's choices.

    Team USA has the top two ranked players on its team, Jimmy Walker (7) and Matt Kuchar (8). Others already on the team include Jordan Spieth (31), Patrick Reed (52), Phil Mickelson (59), Rickie Fowler (72), Jim Furyk (75), Zack Johnson (86) and Bubba Watson (104).

    It will no doubt come down to putting again, and, with a month left before the start of the Ryder Cup, the U.S. appears to have the edge. But can it do it when the heat is on?