Ryder Cup 2016: Hazeltine stage set for thrilling showdown


The Ryder Cup is that rare thing in sport - a contest that consistently succeeds in surpassing all expectation.

Time and again the biennial showpiece delivers as each staging adds to the event's growing legend, making it evermore alluring to the watching world.

It has a magnetism so great that people otherwise indifferent to golf can find themselves transfixed on the unfolding drama, understanding little of its technical nuance, but somehow fully grasping its improbable importance.

Hazeltine will provide the stage this year and some think they know the script, too, with the United States heavily favoured to win back a title that has been claimed by Europe on six of the last seven occasions.

But the rich history of the Ryder Cup shows that this story and its protagonists pay little mind to pre-determined narratives. Before 2012, you could not have conceived of the plot for the Miracle at Medinah without fear of ridicule. Bernhard Langer's missed six-footer at Kiawah Island 25 years ago? Not in the script. And nobody envisaged the scenes that played out on the 17th green at Brookline in 1999 following Justin Leonard's monster putt.

These are the moments that remind us this matchup, perhaps more than any other in the world of sport, defies any notion of predictability. 

Still it is no surprise the hosts are fancied to prevail, given the relative levels of experience in each team.

Team Europe, led by Darren Clarke, features six rookies, untested in the heat of this kind of battle and under pressure to acclimatise quickly.

USA captain Davis Love III boasts a selection of players who are collectively far more familiar with this duel, a fact inextricably tied to their status as favourites. 

But on the hilly, narrow fairways and diminutive greens of Hazeltine, it will be the coolest heads - not the oldest or most experienced - that triumph.

Langer was competing at his sixth Ryder Cup when he fluffed his putt to ensure the USA emerged victorious from the War on the Shore; it was a 42-year-old Jim Furyk who - having prematurely celebrated a putt that ultimately did not drop, but would have put him two up with two to play against Sergio Garcia - went on to lose his singles match to the Spaniard at Medinah; and of course the Ryder Cup's oldest captain, Tom Watson, oversaw a crushing defeat at Gleneagles two years ago.

Those tales from Ryder Cups past stand testament to the competition's enduring capacity to play with our emotions, to present stark failure and stunning achievement side by side and allow us - Americans, Europeans or just fascinated observers - to revel in both.  

By the end of the week, the 2016 Ryder Cup will have its own chapter in the weighty tome that recounts this glorious event's history, but nobody can say now just how it will conclude. That is why we watch.