By Tony Jimenez
(Reuters) - Former world number one Nick Faldo believes the first 14-14 Ryder Cup tie in 23 years could be on the cards when holders Europe meet United States in Illinois at the end of this month.
The biennial event has not ended in stalemate since the European team captained by Tony Jacklin tied with Ray Floyd's U.S. side at The Belfry in 1989 and Faldo said the September 28-30 match at the Medinah Country Club was again too close to call.
"You've got 12 guys on both teams playing really well," the beaten 2008 Ryder Cup captain in Valhalla told Reuters in an interview. "On paper I think it's incredibly evenly matched.
"Half-jokingly I said at the beginning of the season that we haven't had a tie for quite a while but suddenly now that notion doesn't seem so far off. Maybe a tie could be the result this year."
The Americans were the Ryder Cup favorites earlier in the campaign after Bubba Watson triumphed at the U.S. Masters and Webb Simpson won the U.S. Open.
Europe, who won the 2010 edition of the team event 14 1/2-13 1/2 in Wales, then restored some pride in the majors thanks to Rory McIlroy's eight-shot victory at the U.S. PGA Championship last month.
McIlroy's win took him to the top of the world rankings and since then he has registered two back-to-back victories in the U.S. Tour's FedExCup playoff series.
"We have definitely turned it around," said the Ryder Cup's record points scorer as he took a break from watching the young competitors at his Faldo Series event at the Lough Erne Resort in Northern Ireland.
"Lee Westwood has found some form again recently and I like our dark horses too - people like Paul Lawrie and Nicolas Colsaerts," added Faldo.
"The Americans will set up the course for long hitters and we've got Rory, Westwood and Colsaerts as our long hitters so, as I say, everyone looks evenly matched."
McIlroy and women's world number one Yani Tseng of Taiwan are former graduates of the Faldo Series which was established in 1996 and now features more than 7,000 up-and-coming young golfers competing in 28 countries.
"It's pretty darn cool that Rory and Yani are now number one in the world," said Faldo.
The six-times major winner is proud at the way McIlroy has developed since he was a teenager and said the 23-year-old Northern Irishman had now replaced Tiger Woods as the man to beat.
"Rory is on a roll now, it's all been very impressive," said the 55-year-old Englishman, who featured in 11 Ryder Cups as a player. "Whenever he is in the field the other guys look to him as the one who is setting the pace.
"That's obviously changed considerably in recent times because it was Tiger who previously dominated for a decade or so."
Faldo, who now spends most of his time as a television commentator in the U.S., said McIlroy was good enough to stay at the top for the next 10 or 15 years.
"My advice would be that his career is his priority, he's got an awful long time to chill after it's over," said Faldo.
"He will be done as an athlete sometime in his 40s so for this window he must give 100 percent.
"Your career must rule because you don't want any regrets when it is over. You don't want to look back and think, 'I wish I could have given it a bit more or I could have done this or could have done that'.
"As a golfer you've got to do what you think is right to get yourself physically, mentally and technically prepared for the majors," added Faldo.
(Editing by Mark Meadows)