- Associated Press - Thursday, September 27, 2012

MEDINAH, ILL. (AP) - The question used to come up every other year when the Americans began looking ahead to the Ryder Cup.

“Who’s their Peter Baker?”

Europe always had at least one player the Americans didn’t know anything about until losing to him. Baker played in only one Ryder Cup, going 3-1 in 1993 and winning a singles match against Corey Pavin, one of the toughest guys to beat in match play.

Those days are gone. As golf has expanded its borders, the Ryder Cup no longer has any mystery guests.

Eight of the Europeans have joint membership on the PGA Tour, and all eight have homes in Florida. Luke Donald of England, who has the best winning percentage of anyone at Medinah, lives about 45 minutes away on the north side of Chicago. The only Ryder Cup rookie for Europe is Nicolas Colsaerts, the big hitter from Belgium. With the majors and World Golf Championships, he already has played eight times in America this year, and has been invited to play in a PGA Tour event in two weeks in California.

There are no surprises in this Ryder Cup, only stars.

“Both teams are pretty much even and it’s going to be a close match,” European captain Jose Maria Olazabal said. “I don’t see any favorites.”

When the matches get under way Friday at Medinah, they will feature the two strongest teams in the 85-year history of the Ryder Cup. The entire 12-man team for the United States was part of the 30-man field at the Tour Championship last week in Atlanta, joined by five of the seven Europeans who were eligible.

For the first time, the 24 players from both sides are among the top 35 in the world ranking.

Europe has four major champions and four players who have been No. 1 in the world. Three of the four rookies for the U.S. team have won majors in the last 13 months _ Keegan Bradley, Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson. The Americans have experience at the top _ Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk collectively have played in 21 Ryder Cups and 90 matches. The Europeans have experience where it matters _ winning.

It all starts to unfold Friday morning before a raucous crowd in the Chicago suburbs with a Ryder Cup that has all the trappings of a heavyweight prize fight.

Olazabal fought back tears at the mention of his mentor, the late Seve Ballesteros, during the opening ceremony. And while he won’t be the same kind of captain as Ballesteros in 1997 at Valderrama, he seems to be following the same principles.

“Just play hard, play with passion and win the damn points,” Olazabal said.

He sent out two of his best teams for the opening session of foursomes _ Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell (Furyk and Brandt Snedeker), followed by Donald and Sergio Garcia, a tandem that has never been beaten in four alternate-shot matches. They will face Mickelson and Bradley.

So strong are the teams that among the four players U.S. captain Davis Love III sat Friday morning were two of the four major champions this year _ Watson and Simpson.

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