There is no worse designation than being the Ryder Cup favorite, which is why both teams will tell you their opponent is the greatest assemblage of golf talent in the history of collared shirts. On one side, you have a European team that has won six of the last eight Ryder Cups. On the other is a U.S. squad that boasts 11 of the top 20 players in the world, and will be playing on a traditionally power-friendly American course -- in front of a raucous home crowd. All of this is reason the Americans should win, which is the precise reason why they won't. We told you this stuff is confusing.
Are Tiger and Stricker a lock?
Time was when Woods was the Ryder Cup equivalent of your spinster aunt, never quite able to find the right partner. In Stricker, Woods found a teammate he was at ease with, and who wasn't overly intimidated by the 14-time major champion. After a 4-0 showing at the 2009 Presidents Cup, however, Stricker and Woods have gone a pedestrian 2-2, with their two defeats one-sided losses at the 2010 Ryder Cup and 2011 Presidents Cup (the pairing played together only once in the latter because of a Stricker injury). While that might indicate Davis Love III would be willing to experiment with new combinations, the U.S. captain specifically cited Stricker's chemistry with Woods when he tabbed the 45-year-old veteran as one of his wildcard picks, and the two have been practicing together plenty this week.
Will Tiger play Rory in singles?
We can only hope so. Unlike the Presidents Cup, the Ryder Cup match-ups are constructed without the benefit of knowing the other team's plan, so it would take some like-minded assumptions by Love and European skipper Jose Maria Olazabal to orchestrate the Sunday match both sides of the Atlantic want to see. It would go something like this: "I bet they'll put Tiger out last. Ergo, I'll put Rory out last as well." Here's hoping both captains are writing this down.
How much will Medinah favor the U.S.?
Start with the fact that Woods has won the last two majors at Medinah -- the 1999 and 2006 PGAs. Now consider that the 7,658 yard layout, which features minimal rough, should also set up well for other U.S. bombers like Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson. Throw in a Chicago crowd that has never been shy, and the Americans should feel quite at home. "When we go over there (to Europe) for the Ryder Cup, the fairways tend to taper in at 280 or 290 (yards) and there's a lot of deep rough," Davis Love said. "I'm not real clever, but I've done just the opposite."
Which Phil will we see?
Mickelson's bizarre 2012 began with an inspired win at Pebble Beach in February, but then devolved into a listless summer in which he went more than three months without a top 10. September brought a quiet resurgence. After tinkering with a new claw putting grip, Mickelson worked his way into contention in both the Deutsche Bank and the BMW. Expected to play alongside Keegan Bradley to start, Mickelson might not go 5-0, but we expect him to contribute in Chicago as a leader, mentor, and leading Ping-pong trash-talker.
Who will be the U.S. breakout star?
Four years ago at Valhalla, it was the brash Anthony Kim (remember him?) who served as an unlikely catalyst for the Tiger-less Americans. In that role this year we like Keegan Bradley, a major champion already who has the ideal fiery mindset for team competition, and has the benefit of playing alongside the veteran Mickelson. One small problem: after qualifying for the U.S. team with ease when he had a win at Bridgestone and a third-place showing at the PGA, Bradley was a non-factor in the FedEx Playoffs. Was he just saving his energy for Medinah? Yeah, that's it. Let's go with that.
Will Sergio continue to be Sergio?
It wouldn't be the Ryder Cup without Garcia bear-hugging and fist-bumping his way around the golf course for three days. Heck, he was like that in 2010, and he was just an assistant captain. Now Garcia is back. He picked up a win in Greensboro last month to secure his slot on the team, and in addition to his impressive 14-6-4 career Ryder Cup record, he's played the past two PGAs at Medinah better than anyone not named Tiger Woods. Something tells us the Americans could be cursing his name by week's end.
Which captain's pick is under the most scrutiny?
We know it isn't Brandt Snedeker after the FedEx Cup champion's $11.4 million weekend in Atlanta. Instead, it's Jim Furyk who has the most to prove in his eighth Ryder Cup. Although the 2003 U.S. Open champion has played well enough to be in contention in a few high-profile events this year, Furyk has stumbled badly each time. The trend continued at the Tour Championship, when Furyk took the lead into the weekend then shot four over the rest of the way. Another poor showing at Medinah will have people second-guessing Davis Love faster than you can say, "Hunter Mahan."
Which captain has the upper hand?
Davis Love III is popular among his players and has tremendous credentials (20 PGA Tour wins, including a major), but his record as a player lags well behind that of Jose Maria Olazabal, whose 18-8-5 career mark in the Ryder Cup sets him apart from his contemporaries. But does that mean Olazabal will be the better captain? Who the heck knows? Ryder Cup skippers are sort of like offensive lineman. You don't really notice them until they screw up.
Will Martin Kaymer play before Sunday?
The one-time world No. 1 has played like a journeyman for most of 2012, missing the cut badly in both the British Open and the PGA, before reemerging with a T-5 in the Italian Open earlier this month. Still, Captain Olazabal will surely have more appealing options at his disposal come Friday, and likely Saturday, too. For Kaymer to play either of those days, it may likely take someone else to play themselves out of the lineup -- or Olazabal to realize sending Kaymer into a Sunday singles match cold is a recipe for a one-sided defeat.