1. Tiger vs. Rory » Fans are clamoring for a Sunday singles match between Rory McIlroy (Europe) and Tiger Woods (United States). But team captains Jose Maria Olazabal and Davis Love III have downplayed the potential matchup, stressing that the Ryder Cup is a team competition. If one side takes a significant lead, however, don't be shocked to see them facing off. Oddly enough, neither player has embraced Ryder Cup competition. Before playing for the first time in 2010, McIlroy questioned the significance of the event. Woods has a 13-14-2 record in Ryder Cup competition, helping America win just once in six appearances.
2. The course » Medinah Country Club's No. 3 course measures 7,658 yards, the longest track in Ryder Cup history, and has been tweaked by U.S. captain Davis Love III to accommodate the abilities of the longer-hitting Americans. Medinah has hosted five major championships. The last two, the PGA in 1999 and 2006, were won by Tiger Woods. Medinah has since been renovated but remains a traditional, tree-lined American classic that favors players who can hit the ball high and long. "I've just had a lot of success here," Woods said. "I don't know what it is. But I seem to be very, very comfortable here."
3. The matchup » Judging from the world golf rankings, these teams are evenly matched. But judging from their Ryder Cup records, this is a mismatch. While the United States doesn't have a player with a winning record, Europe is loaded with players who have thrived, including Lee Westwood (16-11-6), Sergio Garcia (14-6-4), Luke Donald (8-2-1), Ian Poulter (8-3) and Graeme McDowell (4-2-2). Steve Stricker (3-3-1) and Zach Johnson (3-3-1) are the only Americans who are batting .500. In addition, the United States has four Ryder Cup rookies -- Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Jason Dufner and Keegan Bradley -- while Europe has just one, Nicolas Colsaerts.
4. The inspiration » The silhouette of Seve Ballesteros will appear on the bags of the Europeans during the competition. Ballesteros, who helped Europe win four Ryder Cups as a player and one as captain, died of brain cancer in May 2011. His familiar partner and countryman, Jose Maria Olazabal, serves as Europe's captain this year. The United States will find inspiration from a raucous crowd. Chicago is one of America's great golf cities, and players have been amazed this week by the size and intensity of the crowds during practice rounds. Fans played a huge role in U.S. victories at Valhalla (2008) and Brookline (1999).
Holes to watch:
As the matches heat up on the back nine, two of the more interesting holes will be Nos. 13 and 15. The 13th is a 245-yard par 3 with little margin for error as it plays over the arm of a lake and to a green guarded on three sides by bunkers. The hole can be shortened to 185 yards. The 15th is a 391-yard par 4 that can be shortened to as little as 290 yards, making it drivable, but that's risky with a pond up the right side.
Player to watch:
Brandt Snedeker is a Ryder Cup rookie but enters with the hottest putter in the sport. He finished in the top six in three of the four FedEx Cup events, including a victory in the Tour Championship on Sunday. He ranks first on the PGA Tour in strokes gained putting. In the opening foursome (alternate shot), Snedeker will be paired with Jim Furyk against Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell.
By the numbers:
9 Points, the highest margin of victory at the Ryder Cup, accomplished by Europe with 18?-9? victories at Oakland Hills (Mich.) in 2004 and K Club (Ireland) in 2006.
9 Ryder Cup appearances by Phil Mickelson, the most by any player in U.S. history. Ray Floyd, Billy Casper and Lanny Wadkins played in eight.
12 Points won together in foursomes and four ball competition by Spaniards Jose Maria Olazabal (this year's European captain) and Seve Ballesteros.
35 World ranking of Belgium's Nicolas Colsaerts, the only player in this year's competition not in the top 30.
2010 Ryder Cup:
After losing the Cup in 2008 at Valhalla, the Europeans got it back with a 14?-13? victory in the first Ryder Cup staged in Wales. Captain Colin Montgomerie guided Europe, which was led by Ian Poulter (3-1), Luke Donald (3-1) and Graeme McDowell (2-1-1), who won the clinching singles match 3 and 1 over Hunter Mahan. Tiger Woods (3-1) and Steve Stricker (3-1) led Corey Pavin's U.S. squad.