By Tony Jimenez
Paul McGinley rates his Ryder Cup team as one of the strongest assembled by Europe but he will be mindful this week of the special influence rival captain Tom Watson can exert on his United States side.
Holders Europe are considered the favourites to win the 40th edition of the biennial team event especially as they boast four of the top six players in the world rankings and have won seven of the last nine Ryder Cups.
McGinley, however, sounded a cautionary note to his 12 players.
“We are confident. We have assembled a great team, arguably the strongest European team ever, but there is a word of warning as well,” the Irishman said.
“If you know Tom Watson, that glint never leaves his eye, he’s a real competitive guy. This is a strong American team and it’s not to be underestimated how strong they’re going to be and we’ve got a real challenge ahead of us.
“If you take their average world-ranking position, theirs is 16 and ours is 18 so this is not a weak American team,” McGinley told a joint news conference as the countdown began to the matches that start with Friday morning’s four fourball encounters.
“As strong as we are they’re very strong as well and that’s what makes the Ryder Cup so great and unique.”
For his part, Watson said the trip to the ‘Home of Golf’ represented an opportunity for the Americans to banish the memory of their capitulation two years ago.
Europe trailed 10-6 going into the final-day singles but staged a remarkable fightback to win by 14-1/2 points to 13-1/2 in a match now known as the ‘Miracle in Medinah’.
“I have made it very clear to them that this is a redemption trip,” said Watson. “Those players that played on that team…it’s time to make amends and try to redeem yourselves for what happened in 2012.
“I think it’s a motivation rather than a negative. I know our team is totally committed to bringing the cup back and I’m going to do everything in my power to help them do that.”
Watson said any fourballs, foursomes or singles victory over world number one Rory McIlroy would give his team’s confidence a lift and that his players were also looking to minimise Europe talisman Ian Poulter’s impact on the matches.
“Whenever you beat the stud on the opposing team it gives your team a boost, no question,” the US skipper said of McIlroy.
“I think with Ian, he is an 80 per cent victor over the series of matches he’s played in. We’d like to reduce that.”
Poulter and American left-hander Bubba Watson both played through a wall of noise on the first tee at Medinah, prompting criticism from some establishment figures who felt it was out of place in a game where decorum and respect are key components.
McGinley and Watson agreed that instances like that were okay as long as they were kept to a minimum.
“We are great traditionalists Tom and myself,” said McGinley, “and certainly we’ll be leading our teams with a great understanding and reverence towards the rules and traditions.
“What Bubba did spontaneously on the first tee at Medinah as a one-off was, I thought, fantastic. I wouldn’t want it every round but at that moment I thought it was great.
“Having said that, just like crowd behaviour, there is a line and we all want to stay on the right side of that line.”
Watson said: “I concur with what Paul said exactly. There is a moment for certain things to happen but there is a line that you shouldn’t cross.”