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Tuesday, 18 December, 2018

Decorated skipper Jim Furyk heads team packed with experience

Versatile Rickie Fowler provides excellent options

Calm all-rounder Rickie Fowler can put in a solid shift in France
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Jim Furyk Captain
Age 48 Ryder Cups Nine (1997, 1999, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014)

The American skipper has played in three times as many Ryder Cups as his European counterpart and is much more decorated, having won the 2003 US Open, been second in the world golf rankings, before winning the 2010 FedEx Cup and firing a US Tour record round of 58 in the 2016 Travelers Championship. He has won 17 US Tour titles.

Opting for Tony Finau over Xander Schauffele for the final wildcard pick was a debatable decision, while Furyk will be concerned about the form of another of his call-ups, Phil Mickelson.

Bryson DeChambeau
Age 25 Ryder Cups Rookie World ranking 7

The 2015 US Amateur champion has been making rapid strides in the professional ranks over the last couple of years, winning on the Tour before claiming four US Tour titles, including the first two events of the FedEx Cup playoffs this year.

The quirky Californian plays the same type of ball as Tiger Woods – a Bridgestone – and the pair seem set to join forces at some stage over the first two days. DeChambeau may be used as a foursomes partner for Woods.

Tony Finau
Age 29 Ryder Cups Rookie World ranking 17

Captain Furyk's final wildcard choice, Finau excelled in the Majors this year – the only player to post top-ten finishes in the first three – and his putting stroke has improved amid some bright efforts in the FedEx Cup playoffs.

Finau's FedEx playoffs form was 2-4-8-15 and he has matured into one of the most consistent performers on the circuit. It remains to be seen whether that translates to being a significant factor on his Ryder Cup debut at an unsuitable course he had never seen before this week. One fourballs outing, perhaps alongside Tiger Woods, may be Finau's fill before the singles.

Rickie Fowler
Age 29 Ryder Cups Three (2010, 2014, 2016) Overall record P11, W2, L4, H5 Fourballs W0, L1, H2 Foursomes W1, L2, H2 Singles W1, L1, H1 World ranking 9

California's colourful star missed the first two FedEx Cup playoff events, suffering from an oblique tear, but he returned to action in fine fettle. Eighth place in the BMW Championship was followed by seventh in the Tour Championship and Furyk knows this calm all-rounder can put in a solid shift for him in France.

Fowler is good friends with Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth, so could see some action with either of them, while Phil Mickelson is a possible fourballs partner and Webb Simpson could be a sidekick for the foursomes. Fowler is well-liked, versatile and disciplined, providing some excellent options for Furyk.

Dustin Johnson
Age 34 Ryder Cups Three (2010, 2012, 2016) Overall record P11, W6, L5, H0 Fourballs W2, L3, H0 Foursomes W1, L2, H0 Singles W3, L0, H0 World ranking 1

The giant Carolinian has been dealing with a relationship crisis and increasing frustration with his putting. His fiancee, the mother of his two sons, has made the trip to Paris despite reports of tensions. Johnson switched to a cross-handed putting grip for the final round of the Tour Championship as he desperately seeks to find a way to roll his rock as well as he strikes it.

Even with these issues, Johnson finished third at East Lake, and it seems likely that Furyk will hand the world number one a heavy workload. An opening morning fourballs gig alongside his pal Brooks Koepka – Furyk showing off his wares by pairing the world numbers one and three – seems almost certain. If Johnson and Koepka start well, they could easily stick together for the foursomes as well.

Brooks Koepka
Age 28 Ryder Cups One (2016) Overall record P4, W3, L1, H0 Fourballs W1, L1, H0 Foursomes W1, L0, H0 Singles W1, L0, H0 World ranking 3

The Floridian powerhouse has won three of the last six Majors he has entered – a burst of glorious golf in his late 20s which has put the world at his feet. Le Golf National is not an ideal track for him or his probable playing partner Dustin Johnson, but the pair are so talented that it is almost impossible for Captain Furyk to consider benching either of them for long.

Expect to see the Johnson-Koepka cool-dude pairing, which has a combined heart rate of about one beat per minute, for both fourballs sessions. Their Friday morning form could decide whether they are trusted for foursomes action too.

Phil Mickelson
Age 48 Ryder Cups 11 (1995, 1997, 1999, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016) Overall record P45, W18, L20, H7 Fourballs W8, L8, H2 Foursomes W5, L7, H4 Singles W5, L5, H1 World ranking 25

Phil The Thrill created a headache for Furyk by spectacularly losing his form in the Tour Championship, finishing last in the 30-runner event. The gifted but erratic Lefty and Le Golf National looked like unhappy bedfellows anyway, so the US skipper faces a tough task of guiding a veteran with a big ego to a cold bench.

A happy Mickelson helps greatly with American team morale, but it can work the other way too, as Tom Watson found to his cost at Gleneagles. Furyk could hand the most senior member of his side a place in the opening fourballs, probably alongside Rickie Fowler, before 'resting' him until the singles.

Patrick Reed
Age 28 Ryder Cups Two (2014, 2016) Overall record P9, W6, L1, H2 Fourballs W3, L1, H0 Foursomes W1, L0, H2 Singles W2, L0, H0 World ranking 15

Captain America, as he is known by his peers for his magnificent Ryder Cup efforts, has become a talisman for his country in this competition. He squared up to the Gleneagles galleries in 2014, going down fighting hard in Scotland, and his gutsy singles success over Rory McIlroy two years ago put the kibosh on a potential European revival at Hazeltine.

Reed revels in the heat of Ryder Cup combat – and has become a Major champion since the last edition – but, like Phil Mickelson, he was awful at East Lake last week. Reed has developed a decent relationship with Tiger Woods, so that is a potential pairing, while Jordan Spieth is the other name likely to be in the shake-up for partnering Paddy.

Webb Simpson
Age 33 Ryder Cups Two (2012, 2014) Overall record P6, W2, L3, H1 Fourballs W2, L1, H0 Foursomes W0, L1, H0 Singles W0, L1, H1 World ranking 16

Mild-mannered and deeply religious, the Carolinian has not enjoyed the Ryder Cup bearpit in his two previous starts, opening the 2014 match with a horrifically mishit drive which went only 190 yards. His confidence has increased this year - his runaway Players Championship success was the most impressive performance of his career. Simpson could have a significant role for the visitors if Furyk loses faith in the more powerful, aggressive sorts who dominate his line-up.

A Friday foursomes session alongside Rickie Fowler, then a Saturday fourballs session with his friend Bubba Watson may be the best way for Furyk to employ the new king of Sawgrass.

Jordan Spieth
Age 25 Ryder Cups Two (2014, 2016) Overall record P9, W4, L3, H2 Fourballs W3, L1, H0 Foursomes W1, L0, H2 Singles W0, L2, H0 World ranking 10

The gritty Texan finished 31st in the FedEx standings, meaning he missed the Tour Championship, but that could work in his favour in terms of freshening him up for the Ryder Cup battle. Spieth is a three-time Major champion and former world number one who is bursting with energy and he loves competing overseas. So there is every reason for Furyk to ignore the formbook and hand the Golden Child five matches.

Spieth was third in the Masters this year, ninth in the Open and 12th in the US PGA, so he can still raise his game on the biggest stages despite struggling for trophies, and Le Golf National is a course made for his razor-sharp golfing brain. Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed and Rickie Fowler are potential playing partners, so Spieth seems guaranteed some quality back-up.

Justin Thomas
Age 25 Ryder Cups Rookie World ranking 4

One of the greatest rookies to have graced the competition, the Kentucky-born powerhouse has already won nine US Tour titles, including the 2017 US PGA, and the FedEx Cup last year. His last victory was in a WGC event, so Furyk will not be treating JT as somebody who is wet behind the ears.

Thomas was the only member of his side to play in the French Open in the summer, gaining valuable knowledge on his way to eighth place, and he looks an important cog in the visiting side. Jordan Spieth is a possible partner, with Rickie Fowler the alternative. Thomas has been suffering with tendonitis in his right wrist, so may need a session off.

Bubba Watson
Age 39 Ryder Cups Three (2010, 2012, 2014) Overall record P11, W3, L8, H0 Fourballs W3, L3, H0 Foursomes W0, L2, H0 Singles W0, L3, H0 World ranking 14

The dual Masters champion has won three times on the US Tour this year, enjoying a resurgence which brought automatic Ryder Cup qualification, but 29th place in the Tour Championship was a far from ideal warm-up.

Watson hated every minute of his last trip to Paris, missing the cut by four shots in 2011, and this easily irritated character has an unsurprisingly poor record amid the muck and bullets of Ryder Cup wars. A fourballs outing with Webb Simpson, a friend who seems able to keep Watson calm, may be all the action the mercurial left-hander sees before the singles.

Tiger Woods
Age 42 Ryder Cups Seven (1997, 1999, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2010, 2012) Overall record P33, W13, L17, H3 Fourballs W5, L8, H0 Foursomes W4, L8, H1 Singles W4, L1, H2 World ranking 13

Arguably the greatest player of all time rolled back the years at East Lake last week, producing some vintage golf to win a third Tour Championship, ending more than five years outside the winner's enclosure.

Exhaustion after that epic and emotional effort may have a negative side-effect for Captain Furyk. Woods could be drained as he heads into cup combat, but Furyk will probably feel obliged to play the living legend for all five matches if that is what Tiger wants. Patrick Reed and Bryson DeChambeau seem the most likely playing partners, with Tony Finau a more remote possibility.

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Thomas was the only member of his side to play in the French Open in the summer, gaining valuable knowledge on his way to eighth place
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