LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The U.S. Ryder Cup team appears to be falling apart even before it comes together.
Jason Dufner, before withdrawing during first round of PGA Championship. (Getty Images)
Whether this is a harbinger of an impending rout or the makings of one of the most epic upsets in recent memory remains to be seen, but either way, the squad that America fields next month at Gleneagles in Perthshire, Scotland, will have to be considered a heavy underdog.
"Which maybe isn't the worst thing in the world," Jim Furyk countered. "It never seemed to bother Europe all those times when we had Tiger and Phil at the top of the world rankings."
A U.S. team already reeling from the loss of Dustin Johnson, who last week announced a sabbatical from competitive golf, sustained further bad news Thursday when Matt Kuchar, perhaps its most consistent player, withdrew from the PGA Championship with back spasms, followed by defending PGA champ Jason Dufner pulling out with a neck injury in the afternoon.
For a U.S. team that has won once in the past six Cups, it leaves them in a most unenviable predicament.
Here's a snapshot of the rest of the current U.S. team:
- Bubba Watson: Two wins, including the Masters, but missed the cut in last two majors.
- Jimmy Walker: FedExCup leader with three wins, but none since Pebble Beach and this will be his first Ryder Cup.
- Jim Furyk: Enjoying solid season, but still winless in 2014.
- Rickie Fowler: Only player with three top-fives in majors, but also no victories.
- Jordan Spieth: No sophomore slump, but also no trophies for 2013 Rookie of the Year.
- Patrick Reed: Cooled off considerably since his WGC-Cadillac triumph.
- Jason Dufner: PGA champion slipping because of neck injury that required cortisone shots last week at WGC-Bridgestone. His withdrawal after 10 holes at Valhalla is another unfortunate development.
- Zach Johnson: Except for runner-up at John Deere, has been quiet since he won year's first event, the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.
Is it any wonder Ladbrokes currently lists Europe as a 4-to-7 favorite?
“You know, sometimes, it’s easier for guys to pull together as a team when it seems like there are a lot of things going against them,” said Mickelson, who is 10th on the U.S. Ryder Cup standings and would have to be a likely candidate as one of Tom Watson’s three wild-card picks. “I really think that we’ll be fine, and we’ll find a way to play well.”
“You would never want to take the American team lightly. You can’t be complacent in any way,” Europe’s Graeme McDowell said last week in Akron, Ohio, after the Dustin Johnson news broke. “You know that the U.S. team is going to still put 12 quality players out there and every one of them is capable of doing well.”
Without question the fortunes of the two teams can turn quickly. Going into the Players, a European player had not won on the PGA Tour, while America looked solid with multiple winners Watson, Walker and Reed, plus Kuchar’s four-week burst of brilliance culminating in a victory at the RBC Heritage.
Then Germany’s Martin Kaymer won both the Players and the U.S. Open wire-to-wire and Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy recaptured the top spot from Australia’s Adam Scott in the World Ranking with his back-to-back victories in the British Open and WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Justin Rose won in the U.S. and Europe in consecutive starts, and McDowell and Sergio Garcia have wins abroad.
Europeans hold four of the top five spots in the World Ranking -- No. 1 McIlroy, No. 3 Garcia, No. 4 Henrik Stenson and No. 5 Rose -- while the absent Kuchar is the top-ranked American at No. 6.
It doesn’t help that Europe is playing at home and is coming off its historic final-day singles rally to edge the U.S. by a point in 2012 at Medinah Country Club.
But here are 24 words to give America hope: Phil Mickelson, Anthony Kim, Ben Curtis, Chad Campbell, Boo Weekley, J.B. Holmes, Steve Stricker, Justin Leonard, Hunter Mahan, Stewart Cink, Jim Furyk, Kenny Perry.
That is the roster of the U.S. team that trampled Europe 16-11 here at Valhalla in 2008 in the 37th Ryder Cup. Not exactly filled with so-called A-listers, but they got the job done.
The first shot of the 40th Ryder Cup is Sept. 26. A lot can change before then.