Paul McGinley has made it clear his European team won’t be underestimating the USA heading into this year’s Ryder Cup at Gleneagles. There has been plenty of criticism aimed at Tom Watson and his US team in the run-up to the biennial tournament, from the players in the team, the choice of wild cards and the lack of form of some key players. All of this will see Europe start the event as the firm betting favourites but despite the US team being written off by critics in some quarters, McGinley has insisted he and his 12-man line-up are expecting a strong and focused US team to arrive in Scotland for this Ryder Cup.

Europe produced one of the tournament’s most dramatic comebacks two years ago to snatch the trophy from American hands at Medinah, with many of that team in the European line-up at Gleneagles. The US team has undergone a number of changes from two years ago, most notably the omission of Tiger Woods. But that hasn’t been the most contentious part of the selection process for US captain Watson, with Chris Kirk and Billy Horschel both missing out after Watson selected his three wildcards before the Deutsche Bank Championships and the FedEx Cup play-offs – which Kirk and Horschel won respectively – with Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson and Hunter Mahan named as wildcards despite all struggling with form.

The Irishman is preparing to captain for the first time in the famous tournament, but there has been a marked difference in the pressures surrounding McGinley and his Europe team compared to Watson and the US side. McGinley, a player in three Ryder Cups, has played down the theory all Europe have to do to win is turn up, making it known his team members are fully focused and expected a strong challenge from the US team.

“I think we’ve got a slightly different threat from America than we’ve had in the past as they really feel like they’re underdogs and they’re up against it. We will not be underestimating America. We will be absolutely ready for this. I’m under no illusions whatsoever, neither are the players. I’ve spoken to them all and we’re all really gung-ho and ready for this. We’re very motivated.

“We know it’s going to be a very strong American team, we know it’s going to be a very strongly motivated team, and a strongly-led American team. This is going to be very, very difficult to win this Ryder Cup.”

120928_ryder_cup_2Europe are being tipped to secure a routine win against the USA in the Ryder Cup but recent history suggests nothing can be taken for granted in this most unpredictable of events.

Who would have thought that Europe would retain the trophy two years ago in Medinah when they trailed by four points coming into the final day?

Everything would appear to suggest Europe will win the Ryder Cup for an eighth time in the last ten contests but predictions are notoriously difficult to make in this thrilling biennial competition.

Lee Westwood has it about right when he says Europe are confident but not complacent about retaining the Ryder Cup and the golf betting would appear to back up such a viewpoint.

Europe currently have four of the world’s top-six players, with Rory McIlroy at number one, Sergio Garcia third, Henrik Stenson at five and Justin Rose at six, while the USA have only Jim Furyk at four.

To add to the USA’s woes they are without several key players, including of course Tiger Woods who is continuing his rehabilitation from the troublesome back injury that has ruined his season.

US captain Tom Watson is also without Dustin Johnson, who is taking a break from golf because of “personal challenges” as well as the former USPGA champion Jason Dufner, who is sidelined with a neck injury.

But whereas the likes of Ian Poulter and Bubba Watson are expected to come up with crucial points at vital times, it could be the lesser names that have a pivotal role to play.

For instance, little is known of Europe’s Victor Dubuisson even though he made the Match Play Championship final in February, eventually losing out to Jason Day.

The Frenchman remains the European team’s mystery man with Thomas Bjorn even saying in the build-up to the Ryder Cup: “Does anybody really know Victor?”, while Lee Westwood admitted: “It’s very difficult to know what to make of Victor.”

Even Graeme McDowell got in on the act, saying: “He’s a bit of an enigma and just a tough guy to get your head round what he’s thinking.”

If his team-mates know so little about Dubuisson, it is doubtful whether the US have any more inside knowledge, although it is fair to say that they have some little-known men of their own.

Bubba Watson, Furyk, Phil Mickelson, Matt Kuchar, Zach Johnson, Hunter Mahan, Keegan Bradley, Rickie Fowler and Webb Simpson are all household names but the likes of Jimmy Walker, Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed may all have key roles to play at Gleneagles.

It is unfortunate for Tom Watson that two of the players he decided not to hand wildcards to – Chris Kirk and Billy Horschel – have enjoyed successful tournaments since being omitted from the team, but the chances are that the USA will once again ensure that the 2014 Ryder Cup will be a tight and memorable occasion.

I’ve been playing golf for more than 25 years and I seriously can’t recall a time where I’ve ever needed all 14 clubs in my golf bag. The folks at Golfplan have recently asked a question of their readers if 14 clubs is too many to put in your bag. In my personal opinion, I definitely don’t think you need to lug that many sticks around on the course and chances are you typically don’t use five or six of them throughout a round.

So then, which clubs should you put in your bag. Well, I believe that answer totally relies on the course you are playing and where your strengths are. Do you really need three different wedges? Probably not, unless you are Phil Mickelson. If you’re playing a course you’ve played before a number of times, chances are you know the course well and know the types of shots you have to hit. If you are high handicapper, this may be a different story, as you probably can’t rely on consistency of where you’ll be on the course from time to time. But the course where I play most of my golf, I can safely get around with 8-10 clubs max.

If you learned to play as a kid as I did, you can probably remember having about four or five golf clubs in your tiny little bag. Those clubs usually consisted of a driver, a short iron, a mid iron, a long iron, and a putter. That was all you needed and you learned to be creative and to hit a lot of different shots with those clubs.

There’s a guy at my club who’s been known to get around the course with only a 5-iron. He gets off the tee with it, hits it from the fairway, and even putts with it. I should add that he also breaks 80 with only that said 5-iron. Sure, that’s a bit of an extreme case, but it goes to show you that depending on the course you are playing, and the level of your game, there’s a possibility that you can get by with maybe more than just half of your clubs that you normally put in your bag. So next time you are taking to the course, look through your clubs and try to mentally play your ideal round and decide if you really need that 5 iron that you can’t remember ever needing while playing that course.

What do you think your optimal number of clubs are to put in your bag for a round of golf?

adam-scott-golferIn his 14th year as a professional, Adam Scott’s climb to the top of the rankings has been a long and arduous process, but the Australian will know the battle isn’t just to reach number-one in the world but to stay at the top for a prolonged period of time. The 33-year old ended Tiger Woods’ latest spell as the world’s number-one, a run which had lasted 60 weeks, but it remains to be seen just how long Scott can now hang on to top spot, although a number of Betfair fans are backing Scott to be the man to fill the number one place for the foreseeable future.

While Woods has dominated the top spot of the rankings – and the Betfair odds – for much of the past decade, the number-one position has been passed around since the end of Tiger’s 281 week-stay between 2005-2010. Since 2010, Lee Westwood has twice found himself at the top of the tree, separated by a brief Martin Kaymer stint as number one, before Luke Donald and Rory McIlroy spent a year passing the number one spot back and forth before Woods’ returned from injury and restored order as golf’s dominant force.

In reaching the top of the world rankings for the first time, Scott has become only the 17th player to ever be No. 1 since the rankings started in 1983, and only the second Australian. Scott also became the 11th player to reach the top of the rankings in a week in which he wasn’t playing.

While Betfair fans will now be wondering how this will impact Scott’s preparations for this summer’s Open Championship at Royal Liverpool, the Aussie has insisted he is more focused on collecting the wins and letting the rankings take care of themselves.

“I hope I’m keeping myself in a similar kind of position for a while,” said Scott. “But I haven’t really thought about it too much. I’m really just into the process of trying to get my game better all the time. Pretty much wins takes care of all the rankings and all the questions,” said Scott.

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