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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

US peaking but Europe have time to catch up for 2018 Ryder Cup

It is too soon to anoint United States 2018 champions-elect

The United States team will have been spurred by their Presidents Cup victory. Bill Streicher / Reuters
The United States team will have been spurred by their Presidents Cup victory. Bill Streicher / Reuters

The Unites States’ success this week in the Presidents Cup has been described as seminal, and not just for the tournament itself.

The Americans triumphed 19-11 at Liberty National, their greatest margin of victory against the Internationals in almost two decades. They led early and never let off. By the time Sunday’s singles rolled around, Steve Stricker’s men were in front by 11 points and required only a half to retain the trophy.

Before long, Kevin Chappell had done enough to tie his match with Marc Leishman. Not much later, Daniel Berger defeated Kim Si-woo to clinch the crown. The US had a seventh Presidents Cup on the bounce.

Cue the forensics and the fanfare. Many queried how the event could be improved, made more evenly contested. Some even asked if such a lop-sided victory had rendered it redundant.

Others, meanwhile, suggested this was the greatest collection of American golfers in the history of match play. To extend the point, a respected golf writer for Sports Illustrated said he feared a “decade-plus of American blowouts” in the Ryder Cup. He proposed that a US team so dominant during those three days in New Jersey could in fact “ruin the Ryder Cup, too”.

It all felt a little over the top. Granted, the US did blow away the Internationals. Admittedly, they are both exceptionally gifted and electrifyingly young. Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler, Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed and Berger are all in their 20s. They made up half the group.

Their talent is obvious. This year, Spieth captured a third major championship, the British Open, a few days before his 24th birthday. Koepka, 27, landed the major before that. Thomas, 24, took home the one after. Then last month, he added the Fed Ex Cup, too.

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Others shone in New Jersey. Berger starred on debut. Reed combined with Spieth to great effect again, taking their partnership across the Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup to eight wins and three draws from 12 matches alongside one another.

Afterwards, Dustin Johnson - the world No 1, no less - said of his compatriots: “We've got a really special team here on the US side. I think we're going to be very good for a long time.”

Veteran Phil Mickelson, doubling as player and unofficial team captain, added: "I've never been part of a team all these years that's this talented and gone out and lit the course up like this.”

Mickelson was right. The US did light up the course. They appeared not only an assemblage of teammates, but a bunch of buddies as well. They dazzled, they dominated, they even danced. The win was comprehensive, conclusive. With next year’s Ryder Cup in mind, it promised much.

But, then again, the biennial battle with Europe represents a very different beast to the Presidents Cup. It has the pedigree and the passion, engendering a real and robust rivalry. Last time out, the US prevailed, securing an ultimately resounding victory at Hazeltine. Twelve months ago, they defeated the Europeans 17-11.

Yet in 12 months’ time, they have to go to Le Golf National in France and prove themselves again. They have to beat Europe in Europe for the first time in a quarter of a century. On the back of Hazeltine, they have won two of the past eight Ryder Cup contests. In 1999, the Americans triumphed at Brookline, then lost the next three. Ditto after their success at Valhalla in 2008.

Undeniably, the US are in fine shape. Unquestionably, they will be even better for their Presidents Cup experience. But it is far too soon to anoint them 2018 champions-elect, and on top of that, beyond Paris to Wisconsin and Rome and New York and more.

Yes, the US looked ominously strong in New Jersey. However, in all likelihood, come next year’s Ryder Cup, so too will Europe.

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