Europe’s rookies can prove mettle

IF it boils down to a battle of the rookies at Celtic Manor this weekend, then the Ryder Cup will be safely back in European hands. There are 11 debutants between the two teams with six in the home side – with three straight into action this morning.

However, as Paul McGinley pointed out this week, the word has little meaning when one of the sextet, Martin Kaymer, captured the USPGA at Whistling Straits last month, and another, Rory McIlroy, blew away one of the strongest fields of the year in the Quail Hollow Championship last May.

True, McIlroy has done just a little too much talking in recent times and it’s now time to walk the walk and no better man than the 21-year-old from Holywood to do just that.

Who would have predicted as recently as this time last year that two Italian brothers would be among the European debutants? Francesco Molinari may have won only once on tour – in Italy in 2006 – largely because of a dodgy putter. But he played his way on to the team with consistent performances with as many as seven top 10 finishes in the qualifying period.

Far more important, however, is his partnership with older brother Edoardo. Their victory in last year’s World Cup at Mission Hills, China, was obviously the high point of what they have achieved so far together but they also shone in the Vivendi Trophy in Paris this time last year. Colin Montgomerie saw the siblings as such a readymade partnership that he sent them out in the same group on each of the three practice days this week.

The manner in which Edoardo forced Monty’s hand with a birdie, birdie, birdie finish to win the final Ryder Cup counting event, the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles, spoke volumes for his battling qualities. He’s another who looks well equipped to deal with the unique pressures of Ryder Cup golf.

Ross Fisher and Peter Hanson are considered by many as weak links. That’s unfair to players who won tournaments when they had to to make it to Celtic Manor. In qualifying Hanson dashed from the USPGA to the Czech Republic to tee it up to prove his mettle. Nobody merits a place more than Hanson or Edoardo Molinari.

Fisher also demonstrated what he was made of when warding off the final day challenge presented by Harrington in the 3 Irish Open.

Jim Furyk claims that the American old guard have been “energised” by the presence of five newcomers. But I can’t imagine anyone getting too enthusiastic about the presence of guys like Jeff Overton and Matt Kuchar. Overton is the only player on either side not to have won a tournament and despite his surprise selection for the opening fourballs, may be used sparingly, not least because his short game and his putting has deserted him.

Phil Mickelson spoke glowingly in favour of Dustin Johnson but the way he collapsed at the US Open questions his resolve under pressure. It remains to be seen how he copes with the demands of Ryder Cup. The same can be said of another huge hitter, Bubba Watson. And the biggest question surrounds 21-year-old Rickie Fowler, the first man ever to go from the Walker Cup one year to the Ryder Cup in the next.

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