Monday, 24 September 2012

Team USA are ryding high

All smiles for now: Olazábal and Love pose with the cup as they prepare to do battle
It was definitely a case of 1-0 to Team USA on Sunday. With just five days until the start of the Ryder Cup at the Medinah Country Club, Brandt Snedeker's PGA Tour Championship triumph in Atlanta, and the assured performances of his teammates lower down the leaderboard, will have seriously boosted the American contingent's belief that they can reclaim the much coveted trophy.

Snedeker, who is one of America's four wildcard picks, fended off the challenges of Team Europe duo Justin Rose and Luke Donald to secure the fourth PGA Tour win of his career and the FedEx Cup jackpot of $10m (£6.15m) in the process.

Masters champion Bubba Watson and U.S. Open winner Webb Simpson were tied for fifth place while Jim Furyk, Tiger Woods, Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar all finished inside the top ten to make it an extremely impressive showing from the core of Davis Love III's team.    

Team Europe's Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia were tied for tenth and fifteenth position respectively but their one other participant, Lee Westwood, had a tournament to forget with his final-round 74 leaving him bottom of the 30-man field on 15 over par.

The Ryder Cup line-ups
Team Europe
Justin Rose 2 (1) (5)
Luke Donald T3 (1) (3)
Rory McIlroy T10 (4) (1)
Sergio Garcia T15 (1) (19)
Lee Westwood 30 (0) (4)
Nicolas Colsaerts N/A (0) (35)
Peter Hanson N/A (1*) (25)
Martin Kaymer N/A (0) (32)
Paul Lawrie N/A (2*) (28)
Graeme McDowell N/A (0) (18)
Francesco Molinari N/A (0) (31)
Ian Poulter N/A (0) (26)

Team USA
Brandt Snedeker 1 (2) (10)
Webb Simpson T5 (1) (8)
Bubba Watson T5 (1) (7)
Jim Furyk 7 (0) (23)
Tiger Woods T8 (3) (2)
Dustin Johnson T10 (1) (13)
Matt Kuchar T10 (1) (15)
Zach Johnson T15 (2) (17)
Phil Mickelson T15 (1) (16)
Jason Dufner T20 (2) (9)
Steve Stricker 22 (1) (12)
Keegan Bradley T23 (1) (14)

1 - Finishing position at the PGA Tour Championship
(1) - Number of PGA Tour wins in 2012 (* denotes European Tour wins)
(1) - World ranking

Much has been made of the significance of home advantage for the Americans - - but that could be the least of European captain José María Olazábal's worries if his opposite numbers can produce the sort of form which has seen them assemble sixteen PGA Tour victories between them so far this season.

Compare that to Team Europe's haul of seven and you can begin to understand why many are tipping their counterparts from across the Atlantic to claim back the trophy.

There's no doubting that McIlroy and co have the capability to retain the crown if 
lady luck is on their side but Team USA's superior strength in depth should ultimately tell when the twelve singles matches are played on day three.

In the current world rankings, four members of Team Europe feature in the top five alongside Tiger Woods, however, six lie outside the top twenty compared to just one from Team America.

The facts speak for themselves. European players and fans alike will just have to hope that there isn't any substance behind them.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Give a little respect

Liverpool and Manchester United go head to head for the 186th time on Sunday in what could prove to be the most pivotal instalment to date.

Twenty-three years after the Hillsborough disaster, Liverpool fans were cleared of all wrongdoing on Wednesday. Unfortunately, that didn't stop a minority of United supporters from continuing to point the finger, whether wholeheartedly or not, at Old Trafford on Saturday.

'Always the victims, it's never your fault', a chant aimed at Liverpool since the Patrice Evra-Luis Suarez incident in the corresponding fixture last season, could be heard from certain sections of the crowd during United's 4-0 win over Wigan.

Manchester United fan Francis makes some very heartfelt comments about Hillsborough chanting at Old Trafford: 

If distasteful slurs of this nature are echoed during Sunday's showdown at Anfield, it could have a seriously negative impact on one of English football's healthiest rivalries.

When these two clubs meet, the eyes of the world are inevitably watching. This match represents all that is great about the Premier League. It's a healthy rivalry because both clubs appreciate what their counterparts have contributed to the English game.

Amid all the hatred, jealousy and bitterness lies a mutual respect. This needs to shine through more than ever on Sunday. No references to the Hillsborough disaster by the United fans and no references to the Munich air disaster by the Liverpool fans. The headlines on Monday morning ought to be about the match itself and nothing else.

The confrontation between Evra and Suarez could well reignite if both players feature, however, such was the impression that left-back Alexander Büttner made on his United debut, Sir Alex Ferguson may well opt to leave out the 31-year-old Frenchman.

The United boss will unquestionably understand the sensitivity of the fixture and may see an opportunity to take the edge off the atmosphere by keeping Evra on the sidelines.

The more focus there is on the football, the better.