The 2023 Ryder Cup may be the closest such competition in more than a decade as the United States and Europe have traded the cup back-and-forth with substantial scoring differences since 2014. A surging European side is filled with stars such as Rory McIlroy, FedEx Cup champion Viktor Hovland and Masters champion Jon Rahm. Once presumed to be the heavy underdog just a few months months ago, the Europeans have pulled even with the heavyweight Americans that reigned supreme, 19-9, in 2021.
Fine margins are expected at Marco Simone Golf and Country Club in Rome, meaning an unlikely hero is likely to emerge. Sure, it could be McIlroy or Hovland for the home team or Scottie Scheffler or Patrick Cantlay putting together a spotless record for the visiting United States, but it could also be an unheralded rookie or a controversial captain's pick.
Before we get to those sleepers, CBS Sports has taken an in-depth look at this weekend's international event with a full slate offor everything from team MVPs to breakout candidates and an overall winner. You can also check out the complete plans for all three days of action.
We have seen it before and not too long ago, either. Despite the lopsided result, it was the presumed 12th man on the U.S. team, Scheffler, who caught the eyes of many by week's end. Dismantling then-world No. 1 Rahm in Sunday singles and starring alongside Bryson DeChambeau, Scheffler garnered a 2-0-1 record at Whistling Straits in 2021, using his performance as a launch pad to become the top-ranked player in the sport.
Scheffler is now a key player on the U.S. team just like Tommy Fleetwood is for the Europeans. Fairway Jesus was the guy in 2018 alongside Francesco Molinari as the duo known as "Moliwood" brushed aside any U.S. partnership thrown in their direction to collect a perfect 4-0-0 record across first two days.
These two players no longer enjoy the luxury of sneaking up on fans and prognosticators alike, but here are a few players from each team that could play that role and tilt the Ryder Cup in their side's favor.
United States sleepers
Brooks Koepka (15-1 as top points scorer): It is insulting to consider Koepka an unlikely hero given his résumé, but the hangover has been head-throbbing since his victory at the 2023 PGA Championship. There isn't a ton of noise surrounding his name heading into the Ryder Cup, and that may be conducive for a notable performance. Making his fourth Ryder Cup appearance, Koepka has collected a 6-5-1 record with a 2-0-1 mark coming in Sunday singles. Uncertainty arises when deciding with whom to pair him and in which formats to play him; however, a foursomes date with Brian Harman could spark fireworks. The U.S. side will need his attitude to rub off on his teammates, and if major Brooks shows up and snags 3+ points, the three-decade drought for the Americans in Europe may turn into a deluge of champagne by week's end.
Max Homa (20-1 as top points scorer): Every Ryder Cup seems to serve as a catalyst for someone's career. Most recently it was Scheffler, and despite being world No. 7 and a six-time winner, Homa is a prime candidate in my eyes. Fresh off his first top-10 major finish at The Open, Homa has since rattled off results of T6, T5, T9 and T7. As such, he rolls into Rome with some serious momentum. It would be putting it mildly to say he thrived at the 2022 Presidents Cup with a perfect 4-0-0 record in his U.S. team debut, and that may just be the beginning of his love affair for this type of stage.
Brian Harman (65-1 as top points scorer): The 36-year-old is making his U.S. team debut and possesses two skills fundamental for success in match play: driving accuracy and putting. Harman is the top-ranked putter in this field over the last three months and trails only four players in terms of driving accuracy during that same frame. Phrases such as "he's got that dog in him" and "he's got a chip bigger than him on his shoulder" will be used to described Homa ad nauseam. The thing is both are true, and it may lead to a deciding debut for the rookie.
Ludvig Aberg (16-1 as top points scorer): He's the hottest name in the street, and the veterans may clamor to take him under their wings. Since winning four of his last seven collegiate starts, Aberg has not missed a beat at the professional level. Contending at the John Deere Classic, the young Swede was challenged to show European captain Luke Donald a little more with selections looming. He did just that rattling off a T4 at the Czech Masters and a breakthrough victory at the European Masters on the eve of captain's picks. He has since gone onto to hold a two-stroke 54-hole lead at the BMW PGA Championship that included two straight days of besting McIlroy and Hovland. Aberg and his Scandinavian brother got the better of Fleetwood and McIlroy in their scouting trip to Marco Simone and may be a sign of things to come not only this week but for the next two decades.
Nick Dougherty of Golf Channel said he talked to Euro Ryder Cup captain Luke Donald about Ludvig.— Kyle Porter (@KylePorterCBS) July 1, 2023
"He told me there have only been a few [players] that he's played with for the very first time that have the 'wow' factor. One of them is Rory. That was back in 2008 at the Dunhill…
Justin Rose (22-1 as top points scorer): It is hard to fathom 11 years have passed since the Miracle at Medinah and Rose's come-from-behind victory over Phil Mickelson in Sunday singles. The 43-year-old returns for his sixth Ryder Cup after missing the proceedings in 2021 and will be the oldest competitor at Marco Simone. With Europe trotting out zero prior pairings in foursomes, Rose's experience in this format specifically will be crucial to their success. The Englishman has a career Ryder Cup record of 13-8-2 with a 7-2-1 performance in foursomes. His iron play has been sturdy -- he ranks 11th in strokes gained approach among the 24 players over the last three months -- and it wouldn't be shocking if he poses as a problem for the Americans.
Sepp Straka (30-1 as top points scorer): No player on either team has a wider range of potential outcomes than Straka. The big Austrian -- who voices a southern accent and dons a Georgia Bulldogs jersey while slugging Diet Coke on Saturdays -- may well be a thorn in the side of the Americans. He flashed his upside with a near-59 en route to victory at the John Deere Classic and a runner-up finish at The Open. Straka ranks third in driving accuracy and 12th in strokes gained approach over the last three months.