The Ryder Cup 2023 is fast approaching with Luke Donald naming his six wildcard picks to complete his European team for Rome.
The United States are favourites to defend the trophy they claimed with a dominant victory at Whistling Straits in 2021.
But Team Europe, now led by Donald after the farcical departure of Henrik Stenson, having defected 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 Donald’s 12 players from their style of play to experience and form:
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 – who mathematically secured automatic qualification with weeks to spare – to be the best player at the event. It will have to be the intimidating 2012, 2014 or 2016 version of Ryder Cup 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 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. The wait for an elusive fifth major goes on but a Ryder Cup victory would go some way to assuaging that pain.
“Rahmbo” produced a devastating run of three victories in five starts to start the year, before brilliantly adding a second major to his CV by winning the Masters at Augusta and qualification for the Ryder Cup became a mere formality. 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. 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. He claimed a top 10-finish at the Masters, came agonisingly close to winning the PGA Championship while finishing tied for second and then nabbed a top-20s at the US Open and the Open to cement his place as a truly elite, top-five player in the world. He then had a simply scintillating August as he produced a remarkable final-round 61 at the BMW Championship (playing alongside McIlroy, incidentally…) to snatch the title away from Scottie Scheffler before blitzing the field to win the season-ending Tour Championship by five strokes, claim the mammoth $18m prize and lay down a serious Ryder Cup marker.
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. A runner-up at TPC Sawgrass, Hatton set the table for his best year yet as further top-five finishes came at Quail Hollow, the Byron Nelson and the Canadian Open. An average Ryder Cup record at 2-3-1, yet Hatton is rounding into form nicely as he enters the prime of his career. Fourth on the PGA Tour last year in strokes gained putting, Hatton is lifting himself into that tier behind McIlroy, Rahm and Hovland.
Transformed into an intimidating force off the tee, ‘Fitzy’ now has an aura around him after his 2022 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. He showed a timely return to form by finishing T2 at the BMW Championship. Don’t count him out.
Having finished third in the European points list, the Scot has secured his place at his first Ryder Cup later this month. MacIntyre’s most eye-catching performance came the week before the Open Championship at his home tournament – the Scottish Open. It was there that the 27-year-old delivered a stirring final-round performance to charge up the leaderboard. He was ultimately pipped to the post by McIlroy but the Scot demonstrated his ability to thrive under pressure. His form on the DP World Tour has perhaps not been the most consistent when compared to his peers but, at his best, the left-hander can be a feisty and formidable member of the European locker room. Another positive will be his most recent Tour win which came at the 2022 Italian Open, played on the same course as this year’s Ryder Cup.
The Moliwood bromance sadly won’t return on Francesco Molinari’s home turf – on the course at least, with Molinari selected as a non-playing vice-captain – but Fleetwood will 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. Fleetwood has been in flying form since March, even if the wait for a first PGA Tour title goes on. The Englishman is not just knocking on the door across the pond but absolutely hammering it, with a T3 at the Valspar, a T5 at Quail Hollow, a T3 at the FedEx St Jude Championship, a T6 at the season-ending Tour Championship and an agonising play-off defeat at the Canadian Open, where he could not have come closer to ending his drought. A stellar major campaign also saw him follow a top 20 at the PGA Championship with a T5 at the US Open and a T10 at Royal Liverpool, where his charge for the Claret Jug fell away over the weekend. He is a man to be feared.
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 also two play-off losses at the FedEx St Jude and Sanderson Farms Championships but when he went a little cold in mid-2023 to slip down the world points list, his Ryder Cup hopes looked to have gone. However, two weeks of scintillating golf in July put him right back in the mix as he won the John Deere Classic for another PGA Tour victory and then produced a career-best major performance by far to work his way into a tie for second at the Open at Hoylake. He’s making himself tough for Donald to ignore.
Moved up to a lock with T4 at the British Masters, the former Olympic champion’s choice to resist LIV Golf was rewarded on the PGA Tour with victory at Pebble Beach back in February, snapping a four-year drought. He backed that up with a T6 finish at TPC Sawgrass. A stalwart of Team Europe across five appearances, totalling a 13-8-2 record, Rose has already done enough now to snaffle a wildcard spot despite his form dipping in recent weeks and his experience will be invaluable.
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. Form is a concern after a largely disappointing season in strokeplay events.
The Hojgaard twins look set to be Ryder Cup staples in the future and while it initially looked as if 2023 may come too soon for them, Nicolai has thrust himself right into the heart of the wildcard conversation in recent times, even as Rasmus fell away somewhat. At just 22 years old, the Dane could provide a genuine youthful fearlessness in Rome and, importantly, is a superb driver of the ball. He has two wins on the DP World Tour, most notably at the 2021 Italian Open on the Marco Simone course where this Ryder Cup will be played – beating Tommy Fleetwood and future winner Adrian Meronk by a stroke. When the pressure was on during the build-up to the Ryder Cup, he responded in style with a major-best finish of T23 at the Open, a T14 over the pond at the Wyndham Championship, solo 3rd at the Czech Masters and then put himself in contention heading into Sunday at the European Masters. Throw in the 3.5 points he won earlier this year at the Hero Cup (the matchplay event used as a Ryder Cup warm-up for Team Europe where GB&I took on Continental Europe) and the case is hugely compelling. He may unluckily be the final man off the list due to Ludvig Aberg’s emergence, however.
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.
The 23-year-old stormed back in the Omega European Masters to chase down Matt Fitzpatrick with four successive birdies from holes 14-17, clinching his first professional win. No Ryder Cup experience, obviously, but the 23-year-old has played plenty of team golf in the junior ranks and has taken to professional golf in style with a series of impressively high finishes on the PGA Tour as a rookie. If Donald is looking for a spark, Aberg might just provide it. Broadcaster Nick Dougherty revealed a conversation between himself and Donald on Aberg: “He told me there have only been a few [players] that he’s played with for the very first time that have the ‘wow’ factor. One of them is Rory. Now he says Ludvig Aberg is one of those guys as well. He said his driver is a huge weapon, he makes the game look effortless. He added that as long as he continues to show form, he will definitely be considered for the [Ryder Cup] team. This guy is going to be a superstar.”
His driving is exceptional, as shown by his leading of the strokes gained off the tee statistic for the entire PGA Tour since debuting and that is a perfect fit for a course where driving will be key. His profile and chances are both boosted by winning the European Masters at the weekend.
How was the team selected?
It was confirmed Donald will have six captain’s picks to go alongside six players who will qualify automatically (three via the world rankings and three via the European points list) – to take down the American behemoth. The final qualifying event was the European Masters, which finished on 3 September.