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Sunday, 09 December, 2018

Fiery Thomas Bjorn provides strong leadership for Team Europe

Confident Dane could give Sergio Garcia heavy workload

Ryder Cup captains Thomas Bjorn (right) and Jim Furyk
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Thomas Bjorn Captain
Age 47 Ryder Cups Three (1997, 2002, 2014)

The fiery Dane does not suffer fools gladly and is never afraid to voice his opinion, so he should provide strong leadership for Team Europe. He won the Ryder Cup in each of his three appearances as a player.

Paul Casey was arguably his most dubious wildcard selection – Matthew Fitzpatrick or Thomas Pieters may have been better team players – but there are no question marks against Bjorn's ability to manage his 12 players. He can be fancied to revel in the job.

Paul Casey
Age 41 Ryder Cups Three (2004, 2006, 2008) Overall record P9, W3, L2, H4 Fourballs W1, L0, H3 Foursomes W1, L1, H0 Singles W1, L1, H1 World ranking 21

Surrey slugger Casey has played consistently well for two years but has won only one trophy – this year's Valspar Championship – in that period. Injury niggles have contributed to a form dip from the Open onwards and it would be a surprise should Bjorn employ his wildcard pick a great deal before the Sunday singles.

A fourballs outing, perhaps alongside Francesco Molinari, may be the extent of Casey's involvement before Sunday. He is a flash and difficult character to work into a harmonious team.

Tommy Fleetwood
Age 27 Ryder Cups Rookie World ranking 12

Southport's finest is one of five Englishmen on the team. Whether he gets paired with a compatriot is debatable though. A foursomes union with Alex Noren, pairing the last two winners of the French Open at Le Golf National, might appeal to Bjorn.

Fleetwood is full of tee-to-green control and may play both foursomes and maybe one fourballs. It should be noted, though, that although victorious at this venue last year, he has missed the cut in his other four appearances in Paris.

Sergio Garcia
Age 38 Ryder Cups Eight (1999, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2012, 2014, 2016) Overall record P37, W19, L11, H7 Fourballs W7, L4, H3 Foursomes W9, L3, H3 Singles W3, L4, H1 World ranking 28

Spain's Ryder Cup legend has been beaten only 11 times in 37 matches, with his foursomes record particularly impressive. Although this year has been disappointing, his last three starts in mainland Europe have resulted in 12th place in the BMW International, eighth in the French Open at Le Golf National, and seventh last time out in the Portugal Masters.

Bjorn could easily turn to Garcia for five matches – he has been handed a full set five times before – and a Friday fourballs success alongside Jon Rahm could be all the spark super Sergio needs for another fantastic Ryder Cup. Francesco Molinari is a potential foursomes partner.

Tyrrell Hatton
Age 26 Ryder Cups Rookie World ranking 26

Wired and feisty at the best of times, Hatton could find the intense and angry world of Ryder Cup combat right up his street. Perhaps the rookie from Buckinghamshire will be blooded alongside Justin Rose in the foursomes.

Hatton hit form from the US Open onwards, finishing tenth in the US PGA, so should get at least one session before the singles to unleash his trademark fury towards the Americans.

Rory McIlroy
Age 29 Ryder Cups Four (2010, 2012, 2014, 2016) Overall record P19, W9, L6, H4 Fourballs W3, L2, H2 Foursomes W4, L3, H1 Singles W2, L1, H1 World ranking 6

Former world number one and four-times Major champion McIlroy will probably be handed five matches by Bjorn to build on a decent Ryder Cup record. He was inspired in the previous two editions, leading by example, and Europe need a roaring Rory if they are to boss proceedings in Paris.

A partnership with Ian Poulter, which famously won a late Saturday point to lay the foundations for the Miracle of Medinah six years ago, could be in the offing. Or maybe Thorbjorn Olesen, a rookie in a similar mould to the Thomas Pieters of Hazeltine, could be a potential fourballs sidekick. 

Francesco Molinari
Age 35 Ryder Cups Two (2010, 2012) Overall record P6, W0, L4, H2 Fourballs W0, L1, H1 Foursomes W0, L2, H0 Singles W0, L1, H1 World ranking 5

The Italian has taken his game to a new level this season, winning the BMW PGA Championship, the Quicken Loans National and the Open Championship, suddenly finding great courage to marry to his technical ability.

Molinari has the perfect game for Le Golf National and should quickly start improving on his shabby Ryder Cup record. A foursomes union with Sergio Garcia would be fearsome for the Americans, while Paul Casey and Tommy Fleetwood are potential fourballs foils. The top qualifier for Europe seems set for five matches.

Alexander Noren
Age 36 Ryder Cups Rookie World ranking 18

One of five rookies on the European team, the Swede will probably play only twice before the singles. He won his tenth European Tour title at the French Open on the first day of July – and has finished in the top ten in his last three visits to the track – so course comfort makes Noren a strong option for the foursomes.

A foursomes pairing with Tommy Fleetwood could work well, or Bjorn may look to pair Noren with Henrik Stenson in an all-Swedish alliance.

Thorbjorn Olesen
Age 28 Ryder Cups Rookie World ranking 45

Being good friends with Bjorn could count against the rookie in terms of getting playing time. The captain knows his fellow Dane will give everything for the team whatever his involvement and will do nothing to upset team spirit.

Olesen has been playing nicely and has twice finished in the top three at Le Golf National, but the free-swinging rookie will probably be risked in only one fourballs match, perhaps alongside Rory McIlroy, before the singles.

Ian Poulter
Age 42 Ryder Cups Five (2004, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014) Overall record P18, W12, L4, H2 Fourballs W4, L3, H1 Foursomes W4, L1, H0 Singles W4, L0, H1 World ranking 34

Known as the Postman because he always delivers for his team, the European talisman looks set to play an integral role against the United States again. Played 18 Won 12 is an incredible Ryder Cup record for a man who squeezes the maximum from his talent with a fearless, fierce and intimidating approach to matchplay golf.

Poulter, who won the 2010 WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, charged back into the top 50 of the world rankings with victory in the Houston Open in April and has found his old swagger. He could join forces with Rory McIlroy or may be given the role of mentoring a rookie.

Jon Rahm
Age 23 Ryder Cups Rookie World ranking 8

The Spanish beast will not be frightened by the format and will be expecting to make a major impression on his debut. He came close to becoming world number one at the start of the year, but has dropped down to eighth after a slight form dip.

Rahm has finished tenth and fifth in his two French Open starts, and that may be enough to convince Bjorn that four sessions alongside Sergio Garcia is a sensible role for his best rookie. Depending on his form at the start of the event, Rahm may be made to sit out the foursomes.

Justin Rose
Age 38 Ryder Cups Four (2008, 2012, 2014, 2016) Overall record P19, W11, L6, H2 Fourballs W4, L3, H0 Foursomes W5, L2, H1 Singles W2, L1, H1 World ranking 2

FedEx Cup champion Rose is full of confidence as he starts his fifth Ryder Cup having just banked a $10m cheque. He finished second in the two FedEx playoff events prior to a share of fourth in the Tour Championship.

Providing the East Lake exertions have not taken too much out of Rose, and his troublesome back is in top condition, the Englishman should be handed five matches by Bjorn. Henrik Stenson seems a likely partner – they are great friends who have done a lot of damage together – for at least two sessions.

Henrik Stenson
Age 42 Ryder Cups Four (2006, 2008, 2014, 2016) Overall record P16, W7, L7, H2 Fourballs W3, L2, H1 Foursomes W2, L3, H1 Singles W2, L2, H0 World ranking 24

Injury niggles have ruined the second half of Stenson's year, but there has not been much wrong with his swing when he has appeared, and a cold putter has been most to blame for his lack of impact. A Ryder Cup seems the perfect place for the 2016 Open champion to put some sizzle into his season, starting alongside his buddy Justin Rose.

There has to be a chance Bjorn will opt to rest his most senior Swede in the foursomes, but Stenson surely has a significant role to play if Europe are going to regain the Cup.  

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Molinari has the perfect game for Le Golf National and should quickly start improving on his shabby Ryder Cup record
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