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  • 10 Apr
    TROON, Scotland -- If the tense battle between Swede?Henrik Stenson and American Phil Mickelson at The Open on Sunday didnt get you in the mood for the Ryder Cup, nothing will.Stenson fended off Mickelson in a tense game of cat and mouse at Royal Troon, eventually claiming the Claret Jug for his first major title by three shots, also equalling the lowest winning score at a major by posting 20-under.Now, with a little more than two months until Darren Clarkes European squad heads to Hazeltine in a bid to win a fourth straight Ryder Cup -- unprecedented since the biennial contest was expanded to include the whole continent -- the team that will defend the title is really starting to take shape.Here, ESPN UK runs down those boarding the plane, those waiting in the departure lounge, and those who should be getting ready to watch on TV. But first ...The historyThe Open at Royal Troon has been an American stronghold since Arnold Palmer lifted the Claret Jug here in 1962. Since then, six of the past seven winners have come from stateside until Stensons victory on Sunday.But if recent golfing history tells us anything, its that U.S. success at Troon doesnt necessarily translate into Ryder Cup glory later in the year. While Americans won here in 1997 and 2004 (the Ryder Cup switched to even years after the cancellation of the 2001 event), Europe went on to claim the team event in each of those years.In fact, Justin Leonard and Todd Hamilton -- the respective champion golfers in 1997 and 2004 -- were of little use to their Ryder Cup captains Tom Kite and Hal Sutton. Leonard claimed just a single point as part of the American challenge at Valderrama. Thats more than can be said for the rank-outsider Hamilton, who was not even part of the team at Oakland Hills after coming from nowhere to win at Troon.Theres still an awful lot of golf to play before the 2016 Ryder Cup gets underway in September, and the results of tournaments played over a decade ago will have little bearing on this years event. But Clarke can afford a little smile, however meaningless, knowing that America has never won a post-Troon team trophy.Now, the European team-elect ...The definitesStenson went out on Sunday effectively engaged in a match play scenario with Mickelson for the Claret Jug. The Swede held a one-shot advantage over his American rival and,?despite ceding the lead with a bogey on the first hole, he fought back and then accelerated away from the 2013 champion with 10 birdies. Its a result that should set him in good stead for the pressures of genuine match play in September.It was, however, a mixed week for Europes other big guns. Masters champion Danny Willett sunk without trace after failing to record a single round under par, while world No. 4 Rory McIlroy?didnt find his form until Sunday. He shot a final-round 67 to tie for fifth, but that was still 16 shots off the lead, and the return of the Northern Irishmans putting yips is cause for concern.The probablesJustin Rose endured a nightmarish Friday, shooting a 6-over 77 in the wild conditions, while Sergio Garcia was his usual top-10-but-never-going-to-win-one self to tie for fifth overall with McIlroy. Garcias fellow Spaniard?Rafael Cabrera Bello, who sits fifth on the world points list, finished in a tie for 39th. In truth, none of the established names really threatened?to join Stenson at the top of the leaderboard on Sunday.?The possiblesThe gaggle of Englishmen flirting with Ryder Cup qualification did little to light up the often dreary Troon skies.Chris Wood, third overall in the European points list, withdrew with a neck injury after 12 holes on Thursday, and Clarke promptly warned he would be unlikely Wood if he misses the looming PGA Championship and slips down the pecking order.Andy Sullivan, many pundits outside pick for this years Claret Jug, sprayed it all over Troon, carding a 4-under 67 on Thursday followed by a 5-over 76 on Friday. He sits fourth on the European points list, with the young?Matthew Fitzpatrick?breathing down his neck. The less said about Fitzpatricks missed cut -- 11-over for two rounds -- the better.The wildcardsIts in this department that Europes Ryder Cup will be won or lost. With so many Ryder Cup rookies currently occupying the automatic qualification spots, Clarke has indicated hes likely to use his picks to add some much-needed experience to the European side: I said at the start it would be very difficult for me to pick a rookie, he said. I still stand by that opinion. But we shall see how the team works out. Well blend out the team. Should that be experience, should that be guys who I think are going to bring the team in, then thats what will happen.That could, however, present a problem. Ian Poulter is out -- we know that -- while the other usual suspects have hardly forced their way into the captains thinking with their play at Troon. Lee Westwood, a veteran of eight Ryder Cups, finished 1-over for the week but is a great mate of Clarkes, while Graeme McDowell was miles off the pace at 10-over-par.?Luke Donald is another candidate having missed out on being one of Paul McGinleys picks for Gleneagles. And the former world No. 1 has never made it a secret he wants back in. Every round, every shot is an opportunity, he said. Ive been a little bit stagnant the last couple of months. Youve just got to keep digging and grinding on every round and every shot.Chuck experience out the window, though, and youre left with an obvious pick from the field at Troon.?Andrew Johnston?-- the man we call Beef --?had the crowd chanting his nickname all weekend as he swished his?way to a 3-under finish and a standalone eighth place. Hes a magnetic character who could add some unique spirit to the European team, giving their fans a figurehead to cheer for in what is likely to be a hostile American crowd.But, Beef admits, hes not really thinking about the Ryder Cup: I just go from day to day, and I find thats the best way for me to be.Elsewhere,?Shane Lowry?is surprisingly far down the qualification list. Will he regret not playing the Open de France, where double Ryder Cup points were on offer? Or did Clarke?have a word with his fellow Irishman and tell him hes already in line for a spot? His missed cut at Troon following his U.S. Open collapse will concern the captain, though.The verdictWith Stensons victory, Europeans now hold two of the three majors contested this year, while an American holds the other. The final major of the year, the PGA Championship at Baltusrol, is just 10 days away and Clarke will be licking his lips at the prospect of his team holding a 3-1 advantage over the U.S. if one of his own can lift that trophy.However, Americans are likely to mount a strong challenge in New Jersey, while Australias defending champion Jason Day will also be in the mix. Stensons win goes some way to mask a disappointing home effort at Troon, but this years Ryder Cup is likely to be the closest in some time.As for the team, Stenson, McIlroy and Willett can dig out their passports, as can Rose and Garcia. Then its a straight shootout between Cabrera Bello, Wood, Sullivan and Fitzpatrick.Clarke is unlikely to pick more than one wildcard, so these guys need to buckle down in the next two months. For our money, Wood and Sullivan are going, while Fitzpatrick will have to watch from his front room.Westwood, Lowry, and Johnston get the wildcards.Oh, and Europe go on to win, of course ...? Wholeslae Football Jerseys . Mickelson barely made the cut but had the best round of the day with nine birdies and an eagle coupled with two bogeys to sit two shots behind leader Craig Lee of Scotland. Lee shot a 69 for a 12-under 204 total. "I just love the fact I am in contention and have an opportunity in my first tournament of the year here in Abu Dhabi," Mickelson said. Wholesale College Jerseys . - Oakland Raiders running back Rashad Jennings was speaking to a group of local high school students earlier this week when the conversation turned to the importance of being prepared when opportunities in life arise. http://www.nfljerseyswholesaleusa.com/ . -- Golden State Warriors coach Mark Jackson asked his players a simple question during Fridays morning shootaround: How many of them had ever been on a team 14 games over . Authentic Stitched Jerseys . Woodson said during a radio interview Thursday that the Knicks Carmelo Anthony doesnt get the same calls as other superstars. Wholesale Jerseys USA . The judges scored it 48-47, 48-47, 49-46 for Jones (19-1). It was the champions closest call. Despite the loss, it was a remarkable show by the confident Swedish challenger, who had the best of the early rounds and then hung on in the fourth and fifth. Heres our weekly look at the fortunes of some of the games brightest young stars. Behold, the latest under-24 player rankings.HotRyan Johansen, C, Nashville PredatorsThe Predators -- who have gone 8-3-0 in their past 11 games and moved into a tie for third in the Central Division -- are becoming the team many thought theyd be before the season. Goalie?Pekka Rinne is a key part of that: The veteran has been stellar for the past month or so. But also impressive has been the play of Johansen, a franchise center who is approaching his one-year anniversary in Nashville. The 23-year-old had just one goal in his first 18 games, but has scored four, along with three assists, in his past four games. And three of those goals were game winners.?Leon Draisaitl, C, Edmonton OilersEveryone knows that captain and NHL scoring leader Connor McDavid is driving the Oilers bus. He has 15 points in his past seven games, which has kept Edmonton in first place in the Pacific Division. But this teams ability to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2006 will depend as much on its depth, and that is starting to shine through, most notably in the form of Draisaitl. The big 21-year-old was the third overall pick in 2014. He has five goals -- including four on the power play -- and five assists in the past seven games. The Oilers went 4-2-1 during that stretch.Dougie Hamilton, D, Calgary FlamesI rarely tire of Flames president Brian Burke when he gets a bee in his bonnet, and this week the bees buzzing around Burke and the Flames were trade rumors involving Hamilton, a 23-year-old who has struggled to find his way since coming to Calgary from the?Boston Bruins?in a much-heralded 2015 draft-weekend trade. Burke said that unless some team is coming to the table with 20 first-round picks, the Flames are not interested in moving Hamilton. Credit Hamilton, however, with pushing all this to the side as he collected six assists in his past eight games, including a three-assist performance against the?Detroit Red Wings.?The ninth-overall pick in 2011 has averaged north of 20 minutes a night of ice time in six of his past seven games as he and the Flames tried to claw back into the playoff discussion in the Pacific Division after a miserable start.NotAustin Czarnik, RW, Boston BruinsI love Czarnik. Hes undersized but has significant heart. The undrafted 23-year-old Washington, Michigan, native has forced the Bruins to open up a roster spot for him with his diligence and skills. But if hes going to stick around long-term, Czarnik will have to find ways to contribute for Boston, which has found scoring a difficult proposition on a nightly basis.dddddddddddd(The Bruins are tied for 24th in goals per game and are tied for 21st on the power play.) Czarnik continues to get man-advantage time but has scored just one goal in his past 11 games and one assist in his past 10 games for a team that would be in the playoffs if the regular season ended today, but is by no means considered a lock.Connor Hellebuyck, G, Winnipeg JetsThe Jets are floundering again and until they get their goaltending situation sorted out, its hard to imagine them as a legitimate playoff contender in spite of its impressive offensive arsenal. Its clear head coach Paul Maurice has little confidence in backup Michael Hutchinson, given that Hutchinson has started just eight games and has just two wins. But starter Hellebuyck, 23, has also struggled, losing five of seven and allowing 20 goals in those five losses -- including giving up a six-spot Thursday night in a 6-3 home loss against the Oilers. Overall, Hellebuyck -- a member of Team North America at the World Cup of Hockey -- has a mediocre 2.76 goals-against average and a .908 save percentage.Joonas Donskoi, RW, San Jose SharksLast spring, Donskoi, 24, emerged as a key contributor for the Sharks, who advanced to their first Stanley Cup finals. He chipped in six goals and six assists, including an overtime winner during the finals. San Jose is poised for a return to the playoffs -- and perhaps another deep run -- but Donskoi, the 99th pick in the 2010 draft, has struggled so far. He has just two goals in 24 games and has not scored since Oct. 29.?Young guns showdownRickard Rakell, RW, Anaheim Ducks versus?Connor McDavid, C, Edmonton OilersThis is a nice, juicy contest between two Pacific Division foes. The Ducks are starting to get their act together -- thanks, in part, to the arrival of young restricted free agents?Hampus Lindholm and Rakell, who didnt sign until Oct. 14. Rakell has been aces, scoring nine goals in his first 15 games and adding four assists. McDavid, of course, is on a tear and has opened up a six-point lead in the NHL scoring race over the?Tampa Bay Lightnings?Nikita Kucherov?through Thursday. Can the Ducks slow down the NHLs most dynamic player? Stay tuned. ' ' '