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Darren Gough: Return of Tiger Woods only adds to lure of Ryder Cup

HOLDERS: The United States regained the Ryder Cup for the first time since 2008 with a convincing 17-11 victory over Europe at Hazeltine. Picture: David Davies/PA.
HOLDERS: The United States regained the Ryder Cup for the first time since 2008 with a convincing 17-11 victory over Europe at Hazeltine. Picture: David Davies/PA.
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PEOPLE always seem to have a debate about whether golf is losing popularity in Europe and America, but I still believe the Ryder Cup is one of the biggest sporting events around.

I think what makes this latest one more even more interesting is that Tiger Woods is back.

The last event in Hazeltine two years ago produced an absolutely amazing atmosphere with ridiculous numbers watching. Around 50,000 people attended daily and it had a huge worldwide audience of over 500 million – and people try and tell us that golf is in decline.

For me, the Ryder Cup widens the appeal of golf all around the world. It creates terrific memories with some unbelievable golf played. Even for non-golf fans, it creates interest and the coverage is getting better and better. Even though some would argue about it not being on terrestrial TV, people will somehow still be glued to it.

It is an event which people still manage to watch and follow and there are not many of those in sport any more, especially with all the different sports around the world and things to do.

Ryder Cup weekend is special. I am sure it will be awesome in Paris next week.

Regarding the teams, the USA will play the patriotic card and Team Europe will be built around team spirit. Both play it slightly differently and I believe Europe have picked people like Ian Poulter and Sergio Garcia – even though they have been criticised – for their hardened experience.

Since Garcia won the Masters in 2017, he has missed every major cut and had poor form. But when you have a player who has played in eight Ryder Cups and got 22-and-a-half points and you see that experience, passion and motivation, you can see why Sergio has been picked. If I was captain, he would have been one of my picks.

Europe have got eight majors between them, have five rookies and have played 30 Ryder Cups. I still think it is quite an experienced line-up with the likes of Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose, Poulter, Garcia and Rory McIlroy.

But then you look at the USA team and they have 31 majors between them. Obviously, the difference is Tiger having 14 of them and they only have three rookies. Yet they have 36 Ryder Cup appearances between them.

USA's Tiger Woods: Has fought his way back.

USA's Tiger Woods: Has fought his way back.

I find it very hard to split the teams, but believe the US start as slight favourites. As holders, they need 14 points to successfully defend it. Yes, they have not won on European soil since 1993 at the Belfry (15-13), but I just believe this time that the USA’s putting skill around the greens might just favour them.

They have some unbelievable putters. You look at form and three of the majors this year were won by Americans and the other by Francesco Molinari. You also look at the World Championships where Americans dominated with Phil Mickleson, Bubba Watson and Justin Thomas.

The Americans have dominated the main tournaments so much that I have got to go for the US to win it.

Everyone has their own Ryder Cup memories. I always remember Boo Weekley with his ‘horse celebration’ when he was playing with Patrick Reed in Valhalla in 2008. He may have only played in one Ryder Cup, but what a character.

I find it very hard to split the teams, but believe the US start as slight favourites. As holders, they need 14 points to successfully defend it. Yes, they have not won on European soil since 1993 at the Belfry (15-13), but I just believe this time that the USA’s putting skill around the greens might just favour them.

Darren Gough

A sense of how big it is comes in the fact that you can forget how many players are desperate to qualify for it. Look at Tiger, who was going to be a vice-captain. But he was that determined to qualify as a player and he’s made it.

It means so much for the players. There are also those who miss out on playing who are still part of it such as Zac Johnson and Matt Kuchar, who are vice-captains. They could easily have been wild-card picks. Another good pro in Steve Stricker is a vice-captain, too.

It is the same with Europe with Thomas Bjorn getting Lee Westwood, Padraig Harrington, Luke Donald and Graeme McDowell involved.

Many in Yorkshire will be disappointed that Matt Fitzpatrick was not picked and the one who I felt was really unlucky to miss out was Rafa Cabrera-Bello. Thomas Pieters also missed out and yet he has won all three games he has played with Rory McIlroy, a record for a rookie in getting four points in five matches in 2016.

The quality on view is underlined by Matt Wallace missing out, despite having won three European events in six months this year.

Further proof of the event’s allure comes from my good friend Dominic Bott, the caddie of Thorbjorn Olesen.

Europe vice captain Ian Poulter speaks with a fans after they heckled Europe's Danny Willett at Hazeltine in 2016. Picture: Peter Byrne/PA

Europe vice captain Ian Poulter speaks with a fans after they heckled Europe's Danny Willett at Hazeltine in 2016. Picture: Peter Byrne/PA

This is his first Ryder Cup and he said he’d happily pack in after it because his whole aim as a caddy has been to work at a Ryder Cup. He’s achieved it and cannot believe he will be in Paris. That is how much it means to the caddies, never mind the players.