Ranking the Top 10 Golfers Ahead of the 2018 Ryder Cup

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    The sands are nearly through the preparatory hourglass, which means it’s time for our biennial Ryder Cup ranking.

    No less an authority than Scotland’s Colin Montgomerie sees the Americans as prohibitive favorites as they cross the Atlantic, chock-full of major winners and looking to defend the thrilling 2016 victory they scored at Hazeltine in Minnesota.

    Six of the world’s top 10 players are on the American side, as is Tiger Woods, who won the Tour Championship last weekend to end a five-year winless drought. Meanwhile, on the opposite side is Englishman Justin Rose, who birdied the final hole in Atlanta to clinch the FedEx Cup playoff title.

    “This is certainly the best American Ryder Cup team to come over to Europe since 1997 and probably since 1981. That is why I truly fear our first defeat on home soil in 25 years,” Montgomerie, a World Golf Hall of Fame member and five-time major runner-up, wrote in a pre-Ryder piece for The Telegraph.

    “I hope I am completely wrong in all this, I really do. Yet even the law of averages points me towards the visitors. In my book, they have to be undoubted favorites.”

    Who fills out our top 10 before the first matches get going Friday at Le Golf National?

    Those who made the cut include some who’ve been on a winning roll all season, others who’ve caught fire in the final weeks of tournament play and still others who’ve earned a pass thanks to Ryder Cup street cred. 

    Scroll through for the 10 players most likely to make a winning impact.

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    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    OWGR: 16

    Best of 2018: It’s been six years since Webb Simpson won the lone major of his career, but his 2017-18 season was certainly one in which he climbed back into golfing relevance. He was a four-shot winner at The Players Championship and racked up major-stage top-20s at the U.S. Open (T-10), the British Open (T-12) and the PGA Championship (T-19).

    Why He’s Here: He posted nine top-10 finishes across the whole season, including three in his last five outings as his world ranking climbed from 20th to 16th. 

    Ryder Cup History: Simpson was a member of the 2012 and 2014 teams, going 2-1 in four-ball matches while winding up winless in foursomes (0-1) and singles (0-1-1) competitions.

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    John Amis/Associated Press

    OWGR: 13

    Best of 2018: If you’re a golf fan and you’re unaware of the season that Tiger Woods has had, here’s a hint…you’re not really a golf fan.

    The 14-time major champion completed a prolonged return to the spotlight this past weekend at the Tour Championship in Atlanta, winning by two shots to hoist his first PGA Tour trophy since 2013. It wrapped up a season in which he chalked up seven top-10s in 18 appearances, including a tie for sixth at the British Open and a solo second at the PGA Championship. 

    Why He’s Here: Hmmm…where do we begin? The win in Atlanta was the 80th of Woods’ PGA Tour career and ratcheted his world ranking up to No. 13, a ridiculous 643 spots from the inglorious No. 656 he’d worn at the close of 2017.

    Ryder Cup History: The trip to France will be Woods’ eighth time on the U.S. team, making him one of captain Jim Furyk’s veteran stalwarts. He’s 13-17-3 overall and has a noteworthy 4-1-2 record in singles matches, which could be a significant factor come Sunday’s homestretch.

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    OWGR: 8

    Best of 2018: Firmly among the world’s top 10 players, Jon Rahm was a dual winner this past season, winning once on the PGA Tour at the CareerBuilder Challenge and once in Europe at the Open de Espana.  

    Why He’s Here: When your career winning percentage is mentioned alongside the numbers belonging to Tiger Woods, you know you’re doing well for yourself and you’re ready for more. Rahm won four times in his first 38 professional starts—a ratio bettered only by Woods in the last 30 years.

    Still just 23, the Spaniard has boosted the win total to five in 62 events, accompanied by four seconds, three thirds and 14 more top-10 finishes.

    Ryder Cup History: None.

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    OWGR: 7

    Best of 2018: Though he’s still barely 25, Bryson DeChambeau officially made the vault from hot prospect to successful professional this season thanks to a victory at the Memorial Tournament in June and two consecutive triumphs at the Northern Trust and the Dell Technologies Championship that kicked off the FedEx Cup playoffs.

    Why He’s Here: He’s never taken a swing in Ryder Cup competition, but DeChambeau has been on the career track toward international stardom for years. He won both the NCAA championship and the U.S. Amateur in 2015 and then was the low amateur at the Masters in 2016 while tying for 21st overall.

    Now a veteran of 84 tournaments, the Californian has finished in the top three nine times and between fourth and 10th five more times. In other words, he’s ready to make a name.

    Ryder Cup History: None

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    OWGR: 6

    Best of 2018: Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy won once and finished in the top 10 10 other times in 2018, including a second behind Ryder Cup teammate Francesco Molinari at the British Open.

    He finished fifth at the BMW Championship and wound up seventh while sharing a final-round pairing with Tiger Woods last weekend at the Tour Championship.

    Why He’s Here: If Europe’s got a Tiger on its roster, it’s McIlroy, who’s won four majors in the decade that’s elapsed since Woods picked up his 14th. He’s got 22 victories, 24 runner-ups and 17 more third-place efforts in 281 career tournaments.

    Ryder Cup History: McIlroy is captain Thomas Bjorn’s unquestioned superstar and will make his fifth consecutive appearance as a member of the European team. He’s compiled a respectable 9-6-4 overall record in the four previous outings, including 2-1-1 in singles matches and four wins in foursomes.

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    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    OWGR: 5

    Best of 2018: Francesco Molinari was arguably as good as anyone in the world this year and almost certainly the best non-American player, as evidenced by his triumph at the British Open in which he rallied to snatch the final-round lead from Tiger Woods. He’s the first Italian player to win a major, and he made a run at two straight before winding up tied for sixth at the PGA Championship.

    Why He’s Here: Molinari had picked up solo wins in four different years before 2018, in which he won three times and finished atop the European points list. He’ll arrive in France as the fifth-ranked player in the world and forms a formidable trio with Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy.

    Ryder Cup History: It’s a return trip to the European team after a six-year hiatus for the Italian, who’s never been on a losing team. It’s not translated to great individual success, though, as he’s still looking for his first victory after going 0-1-1 in four-balls, 0-1 in foursomes and 0-1-1 in singles play.

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    OWGR: 4

    Best of 2018: Kentucky native Justin Thomas won three times, finished second once and was in the top 10 six other times in 2018, including a sixth as the defending champion at the PGA Championship.

    Why He’s Here: Those who’d never heard of Thomas at the start of January 2017 certainly knew his name by the end of December, thanks to four victories in the calendar year—highlighted by the PGA Championship and a win in the FedEx Cup playoffs. He closed that year ranked third in the world after starting it at No. 22, and chances are it’ll be a while before he’s in the 20s again.

    Ryder Cup History: None.

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    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    OWGR: 3

    Best of 2018: Not everyone can say he won a U.S. Open, let alone repeated as its champion. And it’s a similarly slim collection of players who’ve bagged two majors in a single season.

    But two-time national champion Brooks Koepka is one of those guys after a virtuoso performance at the PGA Championship, at which he shot 69-63-66-66 to hold off Tiger Woods by two strokes.

    It was the highlight of a year that included one other win (the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills), a second-place finish and two other top-10 efforts.

    Why He’s Here: It’d be tough to rationalize keeping a three-time major winner off the team, and Koepka made it academic by ending the year ranked No. 3 in the world. He’s shown a tangible affinity for performing his best in the big moments. 

    Ryder Cup History: Koepka made his first Ryder Cup appearance in Minnesota in 2016 and was one of the winning team’s stars, going 3-1 overall—including 1-0 in both singles play and foursomes.

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    OWGR: 2

    Best of 2018: If the FedEx Cup playoffs are evidence of the way a guy is playing at the end of the season, then no one can stake a claim to being hotter as the Ryder Cup arrives than Justin Rose.

    The Englishman birdied the 18th hole at the Tour Championship to snatch the playoff championship—if not the tournament itself—from Tiger Woods. He was a top-10 finisher in 11 of 18 events overall for the year, including a win at the Fort Worth Invitational and consecutive seconds at the Dell Technologies Championship and the BMW Championship.

    Why He’s Here: Rose is undeniably one of the individual stars on a European team that has fellow studs like Rory McIlroy mixed in with five rookies. He’ll set an example for the newbies, and it’ll have to be a good one for the hosts to win back the cup in France.

    Ryder Cup History: It’s Rose’s fourth consecutive Ryder Cup berth and fifth overall, and he’s tasted the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat twice apiece. Rose is a strong 11-6-2 in his Ryder Cup outings, including four wins in four-balls, five more in foursomes and a 2-1-1 mark in singles.

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    OWGR: 1

    Best of 2018: World No. 1 Dustin Johnson won three times on the PGA Tour in 2018, marking the third consecutive year he’s reached the winner’s circle at least that many times—making him the first to do so since Tiger Woods.

    Why He’s Here: The father of Wayne Gretzky’s grandkids is a 19-time professional winner and has been as consistent as they come, winning at least once in 11 straight seasons since breaking through for his first triumph in 2008.

    Ryder Cup History: A win at the Canadian Open clinched Johnson’s fourth Ryder Cup berth. He was 2-2 in the United States’ 2016 win in Minnesota and teamed with Matt Kuchar to help the Americans to their first 4-0 sweep in the opening session since 1975.

    Overall, Johnson is 6-5 in Ryder Cup play, including a pristine 3-0 in singles play.

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