Let me first say that I will be previewing all of the PGA Tour’s Fall Series tournaments and any other relevant big golf tournaments through the winter, but to the casual golf fan and bettor the season ends this weekend with the 39th Ryder Cup. The biennial competition between players from the United States and Europe visits Medinah Country Club outside Chicago for the first time.
Is this event as big as one of golf’s four majors? Probably depends who you ask, but this is the one chance to represent your country in the most prestigious team event in the game. The Presidents’ Cup, held biennially in odd years, features USA vs. the rest of the world minus European and has nowhere near the stature of the Ryder Cup (this event was in odd years but moved to even after the 2001 competition was postponed a year due to 9/11). It will be interesting to see if adding golf to the 2016 Olympics changes things in terms of patriotism for the Ryder Cup, since starting in Brazil golfers will be able to win gold for their country.
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Europe has dominated this competition, winning four of the past five Ryder Cups and six of eight starting in 1995 at Oak Hill. The event was mostly dominated by Team USA prior to that, so much so that European countries outside of Great Britain & Ireland were added for the 1979 competition.
Team USA’s two victories in the past eight Ryder Cups have come on American soil – 2008 at Valhalla and 1999 at Brookline – and perhaps that’s why the U.S. is the -155 favorite this week on WagerWeb. Europe is +125 and a draw at +1000. Since the current format was added where 14.5 points out of 28 wins the competition, a draw happened once: 1989. Should there be a draw this year, Europe would keep the Cup.
It does appear that Europe is more top-heavy in terms of players but that the Americans are deeper. For example, four of the world’s Top-5 players are on Team Europe: No. 1 Rory McIlroy, No. 3 Luke Donald, No. 4 Lee Westwood and No. 5 Justin Rose. Tiger is the only Top-5 American player. But from No. 6-18 in the world rankings, all are Americans other than two players who aren’t eligible for Team Europe (Australia’s Adam Scott and South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen).
There are a total of 28 matches played in three forms of match play. The schedule for this week features 18-hole foursomes in the morning and 18-hole fourballs in the afternoon on both Friday and Saturday. Fourballs is best ball -- each player plays his own ball and the lowest score on the hole for each side will be the team’s score -- and foursomes are alternate shot. Four players from each 12-man squad will have to sit out each of the foursomes and fourballs matches. On Sunday, all 12 from each team face off in 18-hole singles. A tie (halve) in any match results in a half-point for both sides.
Determining the pairings and matchups are key to a winning strategy. For example, Team Europe captain Jose Maria Olazabal used to be nearly invincible in the Ryder Cup while paired with fellow Spaniard and the late Seve Ballesteros – the Ryder Cup isn’t what it is today without Seve; as this is the first competition since he died, Team Europe’s players will honor him with a silhouette of Seve on their bags. Olazabal may have hinted at his pairings this time by sending out players grouped by nationality during practices where possible. So the four English players could make up two teams and McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, both from Northern Ireland, another.
Meanwhile, expect Tiger and Steve Stricker to be paired together on Team USA. At the last Ryder Cup in Wales, they teamed to go 2-1 (rain changed that schedule from five total matches to four). They are 6-2 overall as partners in team events (includes Presidents’ Cup).
Ryder Cup Picks
I do like Europe to retain the Cup because they have players with terrific Ryder Cup records such as Donald (8-2-1), Westwood (16-11-6), Ian Poulter (8-3-0) and especially Sergio Garcia (14-6-4). Team USA can’t match those four. Europe also has just one Ryder Cup rookie, Nicolas Colsaerts, while the Americans have four: Jason Dufner, Webb Simpson, Keegan Bradley and Tour Championship/FedEx Cup winner Brandt Snedeker.
There are literally too many props to deal with in this space. But let’s take a look at a few major ones.
It’s hard to glean much from the No. 3 course at Medinah as it has gone a major renovation since hosting the 2006 PGA Championship. But, by all accounts, it will play like a major and favor big hitters. USA captain Davis Love III said the limited rough and quick greens should benefit his team. For the top American scorer, Tiger is the +500 favorite but I like Dustin Johnson at +700. This is Johnson’s second Ryder Cup and he was 1-3-0 two years ago, but the long course would seem to fit him. D.J. also is playing well with four straight Top-10 finishes on Tour. Woods, by the way, is only 13-14-2 all-time in the Ryder Cup.
As the top European, McIlroy is the +500 favorite, but I like Donald at +600. Donald (6-0 all-time in foursomes) is an Englishman, but might as well be called a Chicagoan as he lives there and went to Northwestern. Therefore, he should know Medinah well. He comes off a solid T3 at the Tour Championship.
For top Ryder Cup rookie, it’s hard to go against Snedeker at +300 after his win last week in Atlanta. He’s simply playing better of late than any of the other three American first-timers or European rookie Colsaerts. Finally, you can bet on the final score. Five of the past 10 Ryder Cups have ended 14.5-13.5, so you have to take that result. The USA is +850 at that score with Europe at +1000. Since I mentioned I like the Europeans to win, go there.
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