VIRGINA WATER, England — It doesn’t necessarily mean anything with as many as 12 days to go before a meaningful ball is struck at the Marco Simone Country Club in the 44th Ryder Cup. Then again, it might just mean a lot. Whatever, the facts are, collectively and mostly individually, that the 12 men who will represent Europe in the biennial contest with the United States produced performances in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth ranging from, in a couple of cases, merely “so-so” to (mostly) outstanding. If captain Luke Donald was looking for positive momentum—a sure bet—this was a good four days.
For one thing, the team nearly produced a winner in Tyrrell Hatton, the 31-year-old just missing out on claiming the biggest title on the DP World Tour for the second time with his T-2, one shot back of Ryan Fox. For another, 11 of the 12 finished in red figures, the one exception Nicolai Hojgaard, with a one-over 289 total.
Still, perhaps most importantly was the form of the best three players—Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Viktor Holland—in the Old World side. Even in these times of statistical overload, the winning formula in any Ryder Cup is simple. If your best three players all perform close to their best and win, say, four points each, you are almost certainly going to be holding the trophy at the end of the three-day match.
You want evidence? Look at the emotional reaction of McIlroy after the Northern Irishman won his first point at Whistling Straits in the singles two years ago. He knew that the six-point lead with which the U.S. had entered the final day could easily be attributable to him. He had played poorly over the first two days and lost three games. If he plays well and wins three points, the match is tied. Such is the responsibility of every team’s elite.
Anyway, the presence of Europe’s three leading musketeers in the top-seven at Wentworth (as well as Hatton and Tommy Fleetwood) is a sure sign, if confirmation were needed, that the home team in Italy is going to be difficult to beat. Asked to sum up the leaderboard, McIlroy did not hesitate.
“It’s awesome,” said the four-time major champion. “We’re in a good spot. We had a really good day in Rome on Monday. The team’s been shaping up really well for the last couple of months, And everyone’s clearly in pretty good form. I’m sure the boys are all excited to get to Rome and get going. Everything is headed in the right direction.”
McIlroy also expressed some surprise that many members of the opposing American team will arrive in Italy on the back of a month-long absence from competitive play. He wasn’t openly criticizing such a policy, but there was an element of surprise in his assessment.
“The Americans will certainly be well-rested,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any substitute for being sharp and playing tournaments. The only thing is its match play and not stroke play, so it’s a little bit different. But I don’t think us playing a little bit more over these last few weeks is going to hurt us at all. If anything, I would say it’s better for me. I wouldn’t have liked to go into the Ryder Cup with my last start being the Tour Championship. But that’s personal preference. I like to play my way into the big events.”
The encouragement McIlroy clearly gleaned from his own play and those of his teammates was echoed by European captain, Luke Donald. The former World No. 1, a two-time winner of this event, didn’t do too badly himself, considering all the distractions that surely came his way over the four days. A closing 69 saw the 45-year-old pull up in a tie for 36th place alongside team member Justin Rose and ahead of Ryder rookies Robert MacIntyre and Nicolai Hojgaard.
“I was watching the leaderboard as I went round today,” said Donald, whose players were a collective 128 under par. “There were six [team members] inside the top-six at one point and a couple of others just outside that. They are coming in with a lot of good form. I’m very happy. This tournament always throws up random names early on. But by the end the cream rises. I’m excited to get to Rome. I’m ready for it. And I think my team is too. All the big names you would expect to do well are doing so.”
So it’s looking good for Europe. So far at least.