Lowdown:
This week the 39th Ryder Cup matches between the USA and Europe will be decided at Medinah Country Club in Illinois. Europe defends the trophy but the US team starts as narrow favourite.

At 7.20am CST on Friday morning, that’s 1.20pm here, the first shot of the 2012 Ryder Cup will be struck at Medinah Country Club. It’s the first time since 1971 that a US Ryder Cup will be held outside of the Eastern time zone.

Proceedings will kick off with a morning foursomes session, before the afternoon fourballs take place. Saturday will see that format repeated. Then, all 12 team members will go out on the Sunday to contest the crucial singles games.

Both teams have been showing excellent form coming into this event so it promises to be one of the most thrilling Ryder Cups to date. The Europeans are looking to win for a fifth time this century and a seventh time in the last nine Cups.

But the US will be tough to beat on their home soil. Not only is the Chicago crowd likely to be fairly biased, but the American team is also playing superbly well at the moment.

Tour Championship and FedEx Cup winner Brandt Snedeker comes into the week full of confidence, while the likes of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Jim Furyk have all been displaying good form of late.

Woods has an excellent record at Medinah. He’s won the last two USPGA Championships held over the course, in 1999 and 2006. He also comes into the event on the back of a solid season that has featured three victories. In the past he’s been accused of not giving his all in the Ryder Cup. He’ll have the bit between his teeth this week to ensure there are no such accusations flying around after this Sunday.

Having said this, the European team is still extremely strong. Rory McIlroy is tough to beat when he’s on his game, and match play specialists like Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia and Paul Lawrie will give a great deal of strength in depth to the European side.

First contested officially in 1927, the Ryder Cup rose to prominence, largely because of the efforts of a 68-year-old seed merchant called Samuel Ryder. A former mayor of St Albans, Ryder took it upon himself to develop a team competition between professional golfers from Britain and America. He commissioned Mappin & Webb of Mayfair to build a trophy, the cost of which was split: Ryder paid £100, Golf Illustrated paid £100 and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club put in £50. 19 inches high and solid gold, the figure on top is modelled on Ryder’s instructor Abe Mitchell.

The US won the first contest at Worcester Country Club in Massachusetts and, despite recent European successes in the event, the men from across the pond still hold a significant advantage on the all-time record. The US has won 25 of the 38 matches contested to date.

Medinah Country Club is one of the USA’s most historic golfing venues. Founded in 1924, Medinah has played host to the US Open on three occasions – 1949, 1975 and 1990 as well as the USPGA Championships of 1999 and 2006. The 1999 USPGA was won by Tiger Woods but the enduring image of that contest was Sergio Garcia’s miraculous escape from behind an oak tree to the right side of the 16th fairway. The 19-year-old finished runner-up to Tiger in that event.

Venue: Medinah Country Club, Illinois, USA
Date: September 28-30
Course stats: par 72, 7,658 yards
Defending Champions: Europe (14.5-13.5)

TV Coverage:
Thursday 27 – Opening ceremony live on Sky Sports 1 from 9pm
Friday 28 – Live on Sky Sports 1 from 12.30pm
Saturday 29 – Live on Sky Sports 1 from 12.30pm
Sunday 30 – Live on Sky Sports 1 from 4pm

Player Watch:
It’s a team event of course, but which men on each side might shine in this most intense of match play contests?

Europe
Ian Poulter – No man currently playing in this contest raises his game for the Ryder Cup as well as Ian Poulter. Look for him to show no mercy, play with total confidence and pick up a fistful of points.

Sergio Garcia – He missed out on the team in 2010 and is delighted to be back in the side this time round. He has a phenomenal record in the foursomes and fourball matches – He’s never lost in the former and ha lost only twice in the latter. His singles record isn’t so hot, but he’ll be desperate to start rectifying that with a solid win this time.

USA
Brandt Snedeker – Riding the crest of a wave after picking up over $11 million last week at East Lake. Few will now doubt his selection by Davis Love III and, given his awesome putting skills, he could be an inspired pick.

Tiger Woods – Yes this is an obvious one, but he does have an excellent record at Medinah. Despite criticism around his Ryder Cup performances, he actually has a decent record in the event. He’s won 13 matches and has only ever lost once in the singles – to Constantino Rocca at Valderrama in 1997.

Key hole:
17th. A par 3 of 193 yards, this tee shot will be a highly nerve-wracking one when a point on the line. The tee is elevated meaning the hole will play slightly shorter than its yardage, but water waits just short of the putting surface to catch anything not struck perfectly or just drifting off line. Swirling winds off the lake add to the difficulty here.

Skills required: Handling the pressure. When it comes down to the wire on Sunday afternoon, the weight of expectation will be huge. Last time at Celtic Manor, Graeme McDowell held his nerve supremely well while Hunter Mahan crumbled to allow the Northern Irishman to secure the singles victory and the trophy for Europe.

Where next?
Golf Monthly –
2012 Ryder Cup microsite