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Ryder Cup: European stars hitting form in time for Rome

A few weeks ago, when Brian Harman became Open champion and the third different American winner of the last three major titles, prospects of a European Ryder Cup success in the autumn were looking slim at best.

Harman's triumph at Royal Liverpool followed Wyndham Clark's win at the US Open and Brooks Koepka's at the USPGA, while sitting atop the world rankings looking down on everyone was another one of the United States' very best, the indomitable Scottie Scheffler.

With other top-ten players including Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele and Max Homa chomping at the bit to make Zach Johnson's side, the Americans look to be assembling a world-class dozen heading to Rome in the last week of September.

But last weekend at the BMW Championship in Chicago, Europe made a statement – and it was quite the statement.

In a 50-man field of which 29 were American, it was a European, Norway's Viktor Hovland, who came through the field with a stunning Sunday burst to take the title. 

Two shots further back was an Englishman, Matt Fitzpatrick. In fourth place was Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy.

Belatedly, and with immaculate timing, European golf has bared its teeth – and that can only be good news as the clock ticks down to trans-Atlantic battle being renewed at Marco Simone Golf and Country Club.

WhatRyder Cup
WhereMarco Simone Golf and Country Club, Rome
When29th September – 1st October, 2023
How to watchSky Sports
OddsEurope 11/8, Tie 12/1, USA 8/11

Does Europe have the depth to turn the tide in Rome?

The 2021 Ryder Cup was about as soul-destroying as it gets for fans of European golf.

A tournament which Europe had come to dominate was turned on its head at Whistling Straits where the Americans didn't just win, they did so by a landslide.

The 19-9 scoreline was the largest margin of victory in 46 years and so dominant – and relatively young – was that American team, the fear was they would start to turn one of sport's epic team events into a biennial procession.

And the fact that European statements since then have been thin on the ground has only added to the pessimism.

Yes, Matt Fitzpatrick would win the 2022 US Open and Rory McIlroy topped the FedEx Cup standings last season while Jon Rahm won his first Green Jacket at Augusta in April.

But these successes were occasional glimmers of European positivity against a barrage of American triumphs – but all that might have changed over the last few days at Olympia Fields a few miles outside Chicago.

Slick Vik's back-nine tricks make Americans take notice

There is no doubt European captain Luke Donald's riches are thinner than opposite number Zach Johnson's, so he needs his big guns to start firing and will have been delighted with what unfolded at the BMW Championship.

McIlroy, in consistently strong form this year, shot 65-70-67-66 for fourth place and had his putter been working would almost certainly have walked off with the title.

Fitzpatrick looked right back to his best after a few months of driving dismay with four rounds in the 60s to tie Scottie Scheffler for second place.

And best of the lot was Hovland, a major winner-in-waiting, a prolific Tour winner and showing under the most intense scrutiny that he has the game for any occasion.

Hovland birdied seven of his final nine holes on Sunday, carding a back-nine 28, with a majestic display of iron control that confirmed what a rich talent the 25-year-old Norwegian really is.

Can Donald find a dozen to challenge US dominance?

Hovland, McIlroy, Fitzpatrick, Rahm. Those are pretty much the first four names on Donald's team sheet and suddenly, with a bedrock of a team looking in such good form, the signs are very different and very promising from a European perspective.

However, Donald needs 12 names to fly out to Italy and no passengers and he has to hope that others will be inspired by the feats of Hovland, Fitzpatrick and McIlroy over the weekend.

A trio of Englishmen – Justin Rose, Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton – also made the BMW field and are three golfers who have enjoyed Ryder Cup success before. And all three are renowned scrappers, ideal for the battle.

And then there were seven. But that still leaves five more.

Shane Lowry you would imagine is a good thing for selection but worryingly he has dropped to 36 in the world and has not had a top-ten finish since February.

Robert MacIntyre currently occupies the third and final counting position in the Ryder Cup standings, but the Scottish left-hander is down at 60 in the world rankings.

He has, though, won at the Marco Simone club, as has Adrian Meronk, another player who will be high on Donald's think-list should the Pole require a Captain's pick.

Austria's Sepp Straka, ranked at 24 and likely to climb further having made the elite Tour Championship field this week, is going to be a hard man to ignore.

Whoever gets on the team, whether by right or by invite, knows the magnitude of the task given the strength of the American game right now. But maybe what Hovland achieved in Chicago at the weekend will have heightened the belief that the Ryder Cup could yet be returning to European hands in Rome. 

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