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Momentum the key at the Ryder Cup

Kevin Currie, Golf Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - As with any round of golf, finding and maintaining momentum will be the key for the winner of this week's Ryder Cup.

Quite often in team events, you will see one team get the early lead, and the rest of the team will follow suit. But when the tide turns, and things start to go awry, you'll see the real mettle of the team tested.

Carrying momentum into the Ryder Cup is equally important as achieving it once you get there.

The European team had a stretch in which one of its team members won five straight tournaments in August and early September, the type of head of steam you want entering the event. A pessimist might wonder, however, whether the group peaked too early.

The foursome who posted those five wins -- led by Martin Kaymer who won twice -- are among five European Ryder Cup team members that have won since July.

The PGA has also had five winners since July and a sixth, Bubba Watson, won in late June.

So which team has the greatest momentum entering the weekend at Celtic Manor? Answering the question requires looking at more than just winners.

The European side has 27 top-10 finishes dating to the Scottish Open in early July. The Americans, meanwhile, have 23 top-10s in the same time period.

The European team might have the hottest two individual players, but three of the last four winners on the PGA Tour are playing this week for the American side - Matt Kuchar, Dustin Johnson and Jim Furyk.

Germany's Kaymer won the PGA Championship in a playoff in August and has started once since, and won the KLM Open by four strokes. His teammate, and fellow Ryder Cup rookie, Edoardo Molinari has two wins and four top-three finishes in his previous seven events.

Kaymer and Molinari are both Ryder Cup rookies, and it will be interesting to see if the team concept affects their recent play. Molinari will likely adapt quicker as he won the World Cup last year along with his brother, and teammate this week, Francesco.

Kuchar has had a breakout season that included six top-11 finishes in his last eight starts. Johnson lost leads at the U.S. Open and PGA Championship, but has five top-15s in his last seven starts.

Furyk was the biggest winner of them all last week. He got up and down for par on the 72nd hole to win the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup. That par- saver to win over $11 million will make any pressure this week look like nothing.

On the other side of the coin, both teams have players that are struggling. Irishman Padraig Harrington, who is making his sixth Ryder Cup appearance, has as many missed cuts -- three -- as top-10s in his last seven starts.

The Europeans' top Tweeter, Ian Poulter, hasn't finished better than a tie for 13th since the British Open, and the squad's most experienced player, Lee Westwood, is battling an injury that has kept him out of all but one event since the British Open.

First injured in June, Westwood managed to play through the pain at the U.S. and British Opens, but the injury worsened and he had to withdraw after two rounds at the WGC - Bridgestone Invitational. This is his first event since.

There are even more question marks for the Americans, and they start with the No. 1 player in the world.

Tiger Woods has finalized his divorce, parted ways with his old swing coach, Hank Haney, and hasn't won an event all year for the first time as a pro. At times earlier in the year, Woods look lost and frustrated, but is rounding into form with three straight top-15 finishes.

Five-time team member Stewart Cink posted his last top-10 at the Memorial in June, but has finished inside the top-25 in each of his last five starts.

The aforementioned Watson won in June and lost to Kaymer at the PGA Championship for his only top-15 finishes since June, and he has missed a pair of cuts in that time too.

Another American rookie, Jeff Overton, had three top-11 finishes in a row ending at the Bridgestone, but hasn't been in the top-25 since.

Finally, Rickie Fowler, a surprise pick to some, finished second at the Memorial, but has more missed cuts (three) than top-15s (two) since.

The Americans have some hot and cold players representing their country at Celtic Manor, while the European team has more steady players on its squad. Running hot and cold is what it's all about this week. Whatever team keeps its players hotter the longest will take home the cup.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR RACE BREAKDOWN

The Player of the Year races on the PGA, LPGA and Champions Tours are a pretty messy picture, with no definitive winner.

Of the three tours, the most muddled picture is on the PGA Tour. Jim Furyk's win at the Tour Championship last week was his third of the year. Five other players have two wins, yet Matt Kuchar is atop the money list thanks in part to 11 top-10 finishes this year.

None of the six players with multiple wins have won a major this season. The two biggest wins in the group belong to Furyk (Tour Championship) and Hunter Mahan (WGC - Bridgestone Invitational).

My vote at this point would go to Furyk, unless someone wins multiple Fall Series events to up their win total to three or more for the season.

The LPGA's Player of the Year race is down to four players. Jiyai Shin tops the money list thanks in part to a win at the lucrative Evian Masters and Cristie Kerr's win at the LPGA Championship helped her to sixth on the money list.

Those two would be third and fourth on the ballot behind Yani Tseng and Ai Miyazato. Tseng has two majors -- Kraft Nabisco and Women's British Open -- among her three wins. Miyazato has won five times, but is third on money list.

At this point, Tseng and her two major titles gets the nod.

The Champions Tour race has the most clarity. Russ Cochran and Nick Price have won twice, and are third and fourth on the money list. Nice players having nice years, but neither has had the season of Bernhard Langer or Fred Couples.

Langer had tallied five victories, including back-to-back major championships titles at the Senior British and U.S. Senior Opens. Couples has ended second at two majors, has three wins and 10 top-five finishes.

As much as I'd love to side with Couples, Langer gets the vote. If Couples can take the season's final major and the Charles Schwab Cup Championship, the vote might change.

MINI-TIDBITS

- I'll reiterate what Ryder Cup guru Jim Brighters said in his column earlier this week, it is a disgrace that NBC isn't carrying live action of the Ryder Cup on Saturday. The network schedules golf around Notre Dame football, but can't bump a few infomercials and re-runs to carry live golf? Weak.

- I do like the change Paul Azinger brought about before the last Ryder Cup, which gives the captain four picks for the American team. I think the European Tour needs to tweak its process. Currently, the captain's three picks are made the same day as players finalize the top-nine spots on the team. Give the captain another week to make his choices and don't announce those picks while possible team members are on the course on either the PGA or European Tour.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Kevin Currie at kcurrie@sportsnetwork.com.

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