International competition tends to bring out the best and worst in fans. No matter which side fan behavior leans toward, it's a unique aspect that gives any Country A vs. Country B competition a special atmosphere that can't be duplicated in domestic play. Bragging rights are on the line. Legendary status in the golf world is there for the taking. No prize money is awarded to the winner, but no dollar amount can replace the pride that comes with victory.
Welcome to the 2012 Ryder Cup.
It's country versus continent. Fifty states versus 47 countries. The Ryder Cup began in 1927 and has seen some format changes over the years. From 1927-1971, it was USA vs. Great Britain. Ireland was added to Great Britain's arsenal from 1973-1977 and since 1979 all European countries have been included to face the United States. What should seem like a huge competitive disadvantage for the United States is actually not the case. Team USA has a 25-11-2 record, while Team Europe (including years as GB and GB/IRE) has not had such a great run with an 11-25-2 record.
Yet, that doesn't truly capture the modern day tale of the Ryder Cup because even though history has favored the USA, the past decade-and-a-half has not been so kind. Team Europe has won six of the last eight competitions and has held a strong home field advantage by not defending their home turf successfully since 1993. Team Europe won by one point in 2010, bettering the Americans 14.5 to 13.5 at the Celtic Manor Resort in City of Newport, Wales.
That home field advantage will not be such a dominant factor this year because the Ryder Cup is being played on US soil at Medinah Country Club in Medinah, IL. Major championships in the United States have been won twice by Americans this year (Bubba Watson, Masters; Webb Simpson, US Open) and twice by international players including Team Europe phenom Rory McIlroy (PGA Championship).
This year is shaping up to be one of the tightest competitions in years, and that's saying a lot after closely contested matchup in 2010. Just take a look at the rosters for this year:
Captain: Davis Love III
Captain: Jose Maria Olazabal
Nicolas Colsaerts, Belgium
Luke Donald, England
Sergio Garcia, Spain
Peter Hanson, Sweden
Martin Kaymer, Germany
Paul Lawrie, Scotland
Graeme McDowell, Northern Ireland
Rory McIlroy, Northern Ireland
Francesco Molinari, Italy
Ian Poulter, England
Justin Rose, South Africa
Lee Westwood, England
What to like about Team USA: Two 2012 major championship winners... Brandt Snedeker just dominated the TOUR Championship enroute to winning the FedEx Cup... Tiger Woods has been resurgent in 2012 and if he does get paired with McIlroy, he's got a track record of playing great golf... veterans Jim Furyk, Phil Mickelson and Steve Stricker excel in Ryder Cup play... Keegan Bradley, Dustin Johnson, Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner may have hot and cold golf games, but when they're hot, they're scolding hot.
What to like about Team Europe: Rory McIlroy... Rory McIlroy... Rory McIlroy... Graeme McDowell, Luke Donald and Martin Kaymer have a tendency to get white hot in very key moments... Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia seem destined for a breakout anytime now... Nicolas Colsaerts and Francesco Molinari are young enough to not quite grasp the magnitude of the competition and with such high stakes that youthful ignorance could very well be the key to their success (think Anthony Kim in 2008).
Friday Foursome Match Ups and Picks
Match 1: Jim Furyk and Brandt Snedeker vs. Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell (8:20 a.m. ET)
Pick: McIlroy and McDowell
Match 2: Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley vs. Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia (8:35 a.m. ET)
Pick: Mickelson and Bradley
Match 3: Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner vs. Lee Westwood and Francesco Molinari (8:50 a.m. ET)
Pick: Westwood and Molinari
Match 4: Steve Stricker and Tiger Woods vs. Justin Rose and Ian Poulter (9:05 a.m. ET)
Pick: Stricker and Woods
Team USA: 2, Team Europe: 2
The Summer Olympics may have come and gone, but for golf, the gold medals are on the line.