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It's U.S. power against Europe's savvy in Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits

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From left, Team Europe's Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, captain Padraig Harrington, Rory McIlroy and Paul Casey all don cheese head hats during a practice round prior to the 43rd Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits on Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021, in Kohler, Wis..

From left, Team Europe's Lee Westwood (England), Ian Poulter (England), captain Padraig Harrington (Ireland), Rory McIlroy (Northern Ireland) and Paul Casey (England) all don cheese head hats during a practice round prior to the 43rd Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits on Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021, in Kohler, Wis. (Andrew Redington/Getty Images/TNS)

HAVEN, Wis. — When U.S. captain Steve Stricker made his six wild-card picks for this week's Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits, he chose power and youth for a linksy-looking course beside Lake Michigan that nonetheless must be attacked through the air.

Two of Padraig Harrington three captain's picks for Europe were players he just couldn't do without, 40-somethings Ian Poulter and Sergio Garcia.

"I certainly had my heart set on Ian and Sergio being the heart of the team, the soul of a Ryder Cup team," Harrington said. "They have shown it and proved it in the past."

That "it" is something Poulter calls "magic sauce."

At 26, Jon Rahm is the Europe's best player and ranked No. 1 in the world. At 32, Rory McIlroy is its emotional leader against a 12-man American side that has eight players in their 20s. Dustin Johnson, at 37, is the oldest U.S. player by five years.

Add previously qualified Lee Westwood and Paul Casey and Europe has four players in their 40s. Three own impressive Ryder Cup records and fiery unforgettable moments in a competition their team has dominated since Westwood's first in 1997.

They've done so not just because, as Johnson said, "they've played better," but because they — particularly Garcia and Poulter — have putted better.

Cam Rogers joins and mentions what he expects from Patrick Cantlay at the Ryder Cup next weekend.

Younger Europe teammate Viktor Hovland recently watched Ryder Cup highlights on YouTube featuring Westwood, Garcia and Poulter.

"It was just so cool to see all the clutch moments they've had and how they handled everything because it's big pressure," Hovland said.

Garcia is the Ryder Cup's career points leader with 25.5. He played his first at age 19 and now plays his 10th.

Harrington praised Garcia's presence in Europe's team room this week.

"It's never been a goal of mine," Garcia said. "Don't get me wrong, I'm very proud of it and it's something I'm going to have the rest of my life. But once you step on that first tee, it not about you. It's about the team."

Poulter has won three times on the PGA Tour in his 26-year career. But much like Garcia, many of the defining moments in his career have come at Ryder Cups, where he has been brash and successful.

He's 14-6-2 in six of them. The only blemish on a 5-0-1 singles record is a draw with Webb Simpson in 2014 at Gleneagles in Scotland.

"I'm sure I've annoyed plenty," Poulter said. "My [winning] percentage has been really nice for me and not for the guys I've played against. … I enjoy holing putts and winning matches. It has been a great ride. I'm never going to apologize for it. It's how match play should be played."

Hovland celebrated his 24th birthday on Saturday. That's half Westwood's 48 years. It's also the same age at which Westwood played is his first of now 11 Ryder Cups with partner Nick Faldo, who played his last of 11 that week in 1997.

"It makes me proud of my longevity, really," Westwood said. "Week in, week out, I play with somebody that's the same age as my son now. I'm pretty much used to that."

Westwood credits Faldo for teaching him to be a dependable and low-maintenance partner, mostly with Garcia and Darren Clarke.

When asked what makes him such a successful Ryder Cup player, Westwood simply said, "I'm a pretty good golfer. Always helps, doesn't it?"

So, too, were Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. Didn't help. Neither has a winning Ryder Cup record.

This is also is the first time since 1993 that a U.S. team will play without one or the other.

Meanwhile, Westwood, Garcia and Poulter play on.

"They bring so much history into this event," Hovland said. "A couple of the guys are the reason why this tournament is what it is because they've brought so much passion and blood, sweat and tears into this event. It makes it so much more special to be on the same team as them."


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