Ryder Cup 2023: Predicting Team Europe including Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and wildcards
The Ryder Cup 2023 is fast approaching ahead of The Masters and golf’s major season.
The United States are big favourites to defend the trophy they claimed with a dominant victory at Whistling Straits in 2021.
But Team Europe, now led by Luke Donald after the farcical departure of Henrik Stenson after defecting to LIV Golf, will hope to harness home advantage in Rome after their iconic win at Le Golf National in 2018.
Here, Independent Sport examines who is already a lock and where Donald might find inspiration from a wildcard – after it was confirmed he will have six captain’s picks to go alongside six players who will qualify automatically – to take down the American behemoth.
Team Europe 2023
As McIlroy goes, Team Europe goes. If the Europeans are going to pull out a win against a star-studded American line-up, they need McIlroy to be the best player at the event. It will have to be the intimidating 2012, 2014 or 2016 version of Rory, rather than the one-point McIlroy reduced to tears after feeling he let his teammates down that we saw in 2021. The Northern Irishman will be the emotional heartbeat of Luke Donald's squad but as he's shown by putting himself front and centre during golf's civil war between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf, that's a role he's more than comfortable with.
“Rahmbo” produced a devastating run of three victories in five starts to start the year, culminating at Riviera. A statement from the Spaniard and evidence that he would probably outlast Rory McIlroy and Scottie Scheffler should all three of those who have claimed the world No 1 ranking this year perform to their potential. A 4-3-1 record in two Ryder Cup appearances, Rahm will be a cornerstone of European golf in this transitional period. Donald might just pencil him in for at least three points when plotting the blueprint to bring about the United States’ downfall.
Hovland had only just burst on to the golfing scene when he made his Ryder Cup debut at Whistling Straits two years ago and, despite his undeniable talent and the fact he was actually Europe's second-highest ranked player heading into the event, he looked every bit the rookie. Forced to play every session due to the Europeans' lack of quality depth, the Norwegian could only muster half points from one fourballs session and his singles match against fellow greenhorn Collin Morikawa. With two years more experience under his belt, and on a European course, he should be set up for greater success this time round, although questions remain about his short game around the greens – the one facet of his play stopping him being a truly elite, top-five player in the world at the moment.
Transformed as an intimidating force off the tee, ‘Fitzy’ now has an aura around him after his US Open victory. Yet to win a point on golf's biggest team stage (0-5-0), this is almost the last piece of the puzzle to make Fitzpatrick a transcendent player in European golf. Forced to sit throughout the entire day's play on Friday in 2018, there will surely be no shortage of opportunities here to further bolster his reputation. While the driving has caught the eye in the last year or so, Fitzpatrick can be trusted to salvage a hole in matchplay based on his scrambling statistics, leading the PGA Tour last year in scrambling, scrambling from the rough and scrambling from 10-20 yards. Don't count him out.
Could the Moliwood bromance return on home turf for Francesco Molinari? The Italian has plenty to do, but Fleetwood will surely be a key cog in Donald’s European machine. After going 4-1-0 in 2018, Fleetwood mustered just two halves in 2021 and sits overall at 4-2-2. Donald will hope for an uptick in form after an unspectacular start to the season across the pond – cut in Phoenix, T20 at Riviera and T61 at Bay Hill – otherwise Fleetwood will be burning one of the wildcard picks, given his position in both ranking lists from the outside looking in.
If ever there was a man made for matchplay, it was Shane Lowry. The Irishman made no secret of his desperation to play at the Ryder Cup ahead of his 2021 debut and he possesses the competitive drive, capacity to step up at the highest-pressure moments and the ability to thrive in raucous atmospheres that could make him a titan of the event. There's more to come after picking up just a single point from three sessions at Whistling Straits and although he's struggled to consistently recapture the brilliance that saw him win the Open at Portrush in 2019, performances such as finishing third at the Masters and winning the BMW PGA Championship last year demonstrate his capability to rise to the occasion.
Personality, passion and entertainment. Tyrrell Hatton is not to everybody’s taste, but he has undeniable quality, as proven while flirting once more atop the leaderboard at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, eventually finishing in a tie for fourth, two behind Kurt Kitayama. An average Ryder Cup record at 2-3-1, yet Hatton is rounding into form nicely as he samples the prime of his career. Fourth on the PGA Tour last year in strokes gained putting, a stellar major season from Hatton could well lift him into that tier behind McIlroy and Rahm.
On the bubble
Another Irishman, Power is something of a late bloomer in golf but now well-placed for a Ryder Cup debut. Waterford-born but based in the US since playing his college golf at East Tennessee State University, it wasn't until 2021 when he stunningly won the Barbasol Championship as a 34-year-old that he made any real impression on the sport. That has given him all sorts of opportunities that he has seized – playing at all four majors in 2022, with three top-30 finishes, including T9 at the PGA Championship, winning a second PGA Tour event at the Bermuda Championship and climbing into the world's top 30. A solid all-round game makes him the most likely of the 'non-locks' to earn selection for Rome and he may well do it automatically given his world ranking.
Rumours swirled surrounding Rose’s future and the potential to jump over to LIV Golf, yet the former Olympic champion held his nerve, trusting himself to escape a troubling period of form. His decision was vindicated with victory at Pebble Beach back in February, snapping a four-year drought. A stalwart of Team Europe across five appearances, totalling a 13-8-2 record, Rose has probably already done enough now to snaffle a wildcard spot.
A classy golfer who has become a serial winner on the DP World Tour, Perez, based out of Dundee, could be the man to bring some continental European flavour to Donald's team in Italy. His breakthrough came when triumphing at the 2019 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and it's often the bigger events where he thrives, as shown by beating a stacked field to take the Abu Dhabi Championship earlier this year. If he keeps contending in Europe and makes a splash at one of the majors, he may earn automatic selection for Rome, but he should be at the forefront of Donald's wildcard thinking even if not.
Making a maiden Ryder Cup appearance after finishing third in the world points list in 2018, Noren went 2-1-0. After missing Whistling Straits, Noren quietly put together a fine 2022, displaying immense character and trust in his game to leave Scotland days before The Open, despite being first alternate, before finishing second at the Barracuda. Two more runner-up finishes at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and the DP World Tour Championship, mixed in with fourth at the Houston Open and fifth in Abu Dhabi and the Swede could be primed to bring a veteran presence to this year's team.
In a wildcard battle littered with inexperience (aside from Justin Rose), Olesen's previous Ryder Cup experience may count in his favour. During the 2018 success at Le Golf National, the Dane raised eyebrows by demolishing Jordan Spieth 5&4 in the singles. Europe could certainly do with that sort of chutzpah in 2023. It's easy to forget that Olesen is still only 33 years old, given he turned pro as a teenager and was winning on the DP World Tour at the age of 21 over a decade ago but his career was derailed after some idiotic behaviour on a British Airways flight resulted in sexual assault charges. He was cleared in court at the end of 2021 and, on the course, is now recapturing some form, having won the British Masters last year and the Thailand Classic this year. He's a tantalising wildcard option given his talent.
When he narrowly missed out on a Ryder Cup debut in 2021 as an ascendant talent just outside the world's top 40, MacIntyre looked nailed on to make the team in Rome two years later. However, the likeable left-hander has lost form at the worst possible time and is now in danger of dropping out of the top 100. A pair of top-ten finishes at the Open show his ability to mix it with the best on his day but the Scot is scratching around, searching for a spark and that is not the sort of position from which a golfer is normally granted a wildcard.
The Hojgaard twins look set to be Ryder Cup staples in the future, although truthfully 2023 may come too soon for them. Rasmus is probably ahead of his brother Nicolai in terms of development and at just 21 years old could provide a genuine youthful fearlessness in Rome. He became the third-youngest winner in DP World Tour history when claiming the Mauritius Open in December 2019 at just 18 years and 271 days, before taking two more tournament victories in the years since. Would probably need multiple wins this year to get the call but he undeniably has the talent to do just that.
The Austrian put himself on the Ryder Cup radar last February with victory at The Honda Classic, edging out Shane Lowry for a maiden PGA Tour victory. There were two play-off losses at the FedEx St Jude and Sanderson Farms Championships. Has gone a little cold since and slipped down the world points list, which could prove problematic without Ryder Cup experience when Donald considers his wildcards.
If Donald wants a wildcard to rip it off the tee and provide an intriguing foil for a more accurate, shorter hitter in fourballs, then Adrian Meronk could be just the ticket. The Pole – who became the first man from his country to win on the DP World Tour with success at the Irish Open last July – finished second for strokes gained off the tee last season and is in the top three once more. He will probably require a couple more big wins to really make a persuasive case for a wildcard, however.
Capitalising on a fine run of form, Yannik Paul is slotting in nicely behind McIlroy and Rahm in third place on the European points list as we enter major season. Another who will likely need a top-three place to play in Rome, but the system will benefit him should he continue to contend on the DP World Tour.
A genuine wildcard option with supreme talent as the No 1 amateur in the world last year, while gaining invaluable experience on the college circuit at Texas Tech. No Ryder Cup experience, obviously, but the 23-year-old has played plenty of team golf in the junior ranks. If Donald is looking for a spark, Aberg might just provide it, with a promising T24 at Bay Hill in March. Imagine Noren playing his way onto the team and having a Swedish double act.
What about LIV Golf?
The ultimate wildcards in the race for a place in Team Europe are the defectors currently plying their trade on the controversial, breakaway, Saudi-backed tour LIV Golf. There is plenty of Ryder Cup experience among the likes of Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia, Paul Casey, Lee Westwood and Henrik Stenson – the latter of whom was set to be captain before his defection, enabling Donald to take over.
The LIV stars are unlikely to be able to qualify automatically and if the DP World Tour succeed in banning them from their events in the battle currently being waged through the courts, they won’t be eligible for Rome at all. Even if they are, Donald disrupting the harmony of his team to select a defector who would be hugely unpopular with their PGA Tour loyalist teammates feels unlikely.
From a purely golfing perspective, Garcia and Casey would probably have earned earn a place providing there is no huge drop-off in form over the next few months and younger stars such as Thomas Pieters and Sam Horsfield would also have been strong contenders to gain selection had they stuck to the traditional tours. However, their decision to defect to LIV appears to have closed that door and undoubtedly made Team Europe weaker in the process.