Davis Love III and Darren Clarke are focused on their games this week and taking in the experience of what could be their final Masters Tournament appearances.
But they also have this fall’s Ryder Cup on their minds.
Love is the captain of the U.S. team for the second time, and Clarke is a first-time captain heading up the European squad, which has won six of the past seven cups.
At age 51, Love is playing in his 20th Masters. He earned a spot in the field – his first since 2011 – by winning the Wyndham Championship in August. It was his 21st PGA Tour victory.
Clarke, 47, is playing in his 14th Masters. This is the final year of his five-year exemption for winning the 2011 British Open, the last of his 18 worldwide victories.
Love has a better Masters record than his Ryder Cup rival. He has finished twice as a runner-up, and Clarke has one top-10 finish – an eighth-place finish in his debut in 1998.
Love and Clarke are keeping an eye this week on their prospective team players for the matches, which will be held at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn.
“I pay attention how they’re doing every week,” Clarke said Tuesday. “It doesn’t make any difference what tournament we’re at, but obviously the Masters is always special.”
The hottest European player is Spain’s Rafael Cabrera-Bello, who lost in the semifinals of the WGC-Match Play two weeks ago and finished fourth in last week’s Shell Houston Open. That moved him up to seventh on Europe’s Ryder Cup points list.
“We’re looking pretty good,” Clarke said. “A long way to go just yet. They’re doing good.”
In the Match Play – the format used in the Ryder Cup singles – the Europeans fared better than the Americans. Cabrera-Bello and Rory McIlroy made it to the semis. No Americans made it past the quarterfinals.
“I think it was good to get experience just playing match play,” Love told the PGA of America’s rydercup.com. “There aren’t many of those tournaments in the world at this level. The Ryder Cup is a long way off, but they at least got a little taste of match play. I’m not too hung up on results at the Match Play. I think the U.S. players are looking good going into the majors.”
Indeed, going into the Masters – the first major of the year – there are five Americans in the top 10 of the world golf ranking, compared with three Europeans. The other two players are Australians.
Though former Augusta State University star Patrick Reed, who is ranked No. 10 in the world, was knocked out in the Round of 16 at the Match Play, he did beat Phil Mickelson 5 and 4 in the second round. Reed went 3-0-1 in his Ryder Cup debut in 2014.
“I think Patrick is just so passionate and so determined, he’s a lot like our Ian Poulter – get him in a one-on-one battle, or two-on-two, and he seems to relish it and get fired up,” Love told
rydercup.com. “That’s what we’ve seen in the matches he’s played. He likes match play and the heat of the battle. You can see it when he’s in the hunt in a regular tournament, too, that fire. …
“Patrick also reminds me of Jordan Spieth in the sense that he’s built a team around him. He has a game plan with a team of people there to help him execute. I think because of that he’s a perfect ‘team’ guy.”
Love has always had a strong connection to the Masters. He was born April 13, 1964, the day after the final round of that year’s Masters, in which his father finished in a tie for 34th place. Davis Love Jr. died in a plane crash in 1988.
Love hasn’t enjoyed missing the past five Masters.
“I always said at the beginning of the week that I’m not going to watch the Masters,” he said. “Then on Sunday afternoon I’m always watching it. … It’s a big thrill to get to go back.”