Ryder Cup 2018 Preview
The defining biennial event in team golf makes its debut in France this year, on the Albatros Course at Le Golf National, Paris.
Team USA are hunting for their first win on European soil since they triumphed 15-13 at The Belfry back in 1993 - a quarter of a century ago.
On paper alone, it has the potential to be an exciting renewal and it has been talked up as possibly one for the ages. The US bring what looks like the strongest team they have ever had at their disposal with an average world ranking of 11.16 versus Europe’s 19.08.
However, in the last 10 Ryder Cups, the team with the lowest average world ranking has won on only three occasions.
A look at the current outright market for this year’s tournament favours the visitors, with odds around the 1.95 mark indicating a 51% chance of victory against Europe (2.42 / 41%) - a tie, of course, would see the US retain the Cup and is about 7% (14.0).
In the last 10 contests, a European has won or tied in the top scorer market every time. Ian Poulter has won outright twice as well as tieing with teammate Luke Donald and two Americans. Sergio Garcia tied twice with Lee Westwood as well as tying with three of his teammates and American Hal Sutton back in 1999. Justin Rose was top overall scorer in 2014.
When you look at each of these individual European players’ overall record in the Ryder Cup it’s not hard to see why. Garcia, with eight appearances, has amassed a total of 22.5 points from 37 matches. Poulter, who has played in five renewals so far and seemingly thrives on the dynamics of the team event, has scored 13 points from a total of 18 matches, while Rose with four appearances so far has an impressive 12 points from 19 matches.
These numbers suggest that all three thrive on the Ryder Cup stage. The flip side to this is that Poulter and Garcia, who has been especially off-form in recent months, have been brought in as wildcard picks by captain Thomas Bjorn seemingly based on their past records.
It could be dangerous to jump to the conclusion that blindly backing a European to be top overall scorer is the way to go, so let's look at both teams in more detail.
When looking at this market it is important to factor in who is likely to play the most matches. Top of the list for playing all five sessions will undoubtedly be Rory McIlroy, who has featured in every session since his debut.
Rose would almost certainly be added to that list were it not for the fact he has just won the FedEx Cup worth $10 million with his fourth-place finish at the Tour Championship, behind the man who injuries aside has dominated golf for the best part of two decades, Tiger Woods.
Rose has had a gruelling season and it would not be at all surprising if he missed a morning or afternoon session due to fatigue.
To be in with a chance of being top scorer you realistically need to be featuring in at least four of the five sessions.
Reigning Open champion Francesco Molinari has a Ryder Cup record of one point from six matches, courtesy of two halves, while Paul Casey has a decent five points from nine matches and did put up a respectable performance at the Tour Championship, finishing tied-11th - a decent prep for this week considering his form nosedived after a second-place finish at the Travelers Championship in June. He is, however, one of Bjorn’s wildcard picks and expecting to see him in four sessions might be a stretch.
Europe also has five rookies experiencing the raucous Ryder Cup for the first time. Leading the debutant pack is world number eight Jon Rahm and while his form has been extreme on the PGA Tour, with four missed cuts interspersed with a fourth at the Masters and tied fourth the PGA Championship, he seems one of the more likely rookies to be given an early shot at putting down a marker on Friday morning. A good showing and the young Spaniard could well feature in four or even all five sessions.
Tommy Fleetwood would seem another one of the more likely rookies to have the chance to feature in at least four sessions. The Southport man has been extremely consistent throughout the season following an early victory in Abu Dhabi. He has finished second in the US Open with solid displays in the FedEx Cup playoff events before a tied 11th at the Tour Championship to set him up for nicely his Ryder Cup debut.
Alex Noren was in superb form in the first half of the year on the PGA Tour but he hasn’t been as strong since, although he did win the European Tour’s Open de France tournament at Le National in July -- the 2017 winner being fellow rookie Fleetwood.
Of the other two newbies, Tyrrell Hatton has a third-place finish at the Dubai Desert Classic as well as tied 6th at the US Open, but outside of that, his form has been average. Thorbjorn Olesen won the Italian Open back in June and has been fairly consistent since then with four top 10s on the European Tour and one top 10 on the PGA Tour. The 28-year-old Dane would also seem one of the likelier rookies to be given the chance to put down a marker on Friday for playing in as many sessions as possible.
The table below has a breakdown of all 12 players representing team Europe this year and how they have performed in each format of the Ryder Cup.
Again, when assessing this market it is important to try to determine who is likely to feature most, thus giving any chosen player the opportunity to score as many points as possible.
As a starting point, it is probably easier to identify the players less likely to feature in as many as four sessions. Current active player on the PGA Tour with most Ryder Cup appearances, Phil Mickelson finished an unsighted last of 30 at the Tour Championship with a final score of +13. This is hardly the form to bring in this week and as one of Jim Furyk’s captain’s picks, it seems he will be there for his experience more than anything.
Another of Furyk’s picks, Tony Finau will be making his Ryder Cup debut and while he is known for his aggression on the golf course, he has only one PGA Tour win to his name and with no team golf experience to draw on it seems likely he won’t figure as prominently as some of the other members of Team USA, which is full of Major winners.
Current world number one Dustin Johnson has a perfect three points in Sunday singles at the Ryder Cup, but his foursome and fourballs scores are a lot less inspiring. Enigmatic to say the least, Johnson can look unbeatable when in complete control of a golf course, but for no discernible reason, his level of play can dip to the point of looking average.
It is likely he will get out early on Friday but a poor showing and Furyk could have a tough choice to sit the top-ranked player on the bench for a session or two. There is a fair chance that good friend Brooks Koepka could partner Johnson.
Although they lost their only Ryder Cup match together at Hazeltine two years ago, they were unbeaten together at last year’s President’s Cup. If they pair up for the first fourballs on Friday morning, a lot will depend on who performs best and it is entirely possible reigning US Open and US PGA Champion Koepka could outshine Johnson and feature in a different pairing, to keep him on the field for the afternoon foursomes and into the weekend too.
In the team on merit with three wins in 2018, Bubba Watson has still had an up and down year. Since winning the Travelers Championship in June he has one top-10 finish in nine events, including three missed cuts. Added to that is his less than inspiring Ryder Cup record and he seems another member of the US Team to feature less prominently.
Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth are two of the most likely candidates to feature in at least four sessions. A formidable partnership was struck up between the two in 2014 when both were Ryder Cup rookies at Gleaneagles. That partnership continued two years ago at Hazeltine and again last year at the President’s Cup, where they went unbeaten. Spieth has had a disappointing year by his high standards and while Reed’s form has dipped since his stellar performance to win The Masters, don’t be at all surprised to see both players feature in all five sessions.
If reports are to be believed, it seems certain that Woods will partner rookie Bryson DeChambeau. The latter just missed out on an automatic spot but then proceeded to win the two events ahead of Furyk’s wildcard picks, leaving him with no choice but to select the in-form 25-year-old. Like DeChambeau, Woods was one of Furyk’s picks but is entirely there on merit based on his last two months of form, which culminated in his first PGA Tour win in five years at the Tour Championship.
The buzz and furore that has rippled through the sport has been infectious since Woods's triumph and it will be a big surprise if the 14-time Major winner doesn’t feature in the Friday morning session along with his likely playing partner. A young, fit and in-form DeChambeau could easily play all five sessions, with Woods potentially sitting one out if his back and recent exertions take a toll.
Justin Thomas, the third and final rookie on the team, is a 10-time tournament winner as well as a Major champion and performed very well on his President’s Cup debut last year, featuring in all five sessions where he and Rickie Fowler paired up to win 2.5 points from three matches. Fowler, playing in his fourth Ryder Cup, has an arguably poor return for a player of his ability. But, as highlighted, if these two players combine as they did at the President’s Cup there are arguments for expecting to see them in at least four sessions, which as previously stated is really a minimum to be hoping to be a top points scorer.
Given the strength in depth of this year’s US team - there is genuinely seven or eight players, including rookies DeChambeau and Thomas who could potentially play in at least four sessions - it's an extremely difficult market to find an angle into.
In contrast to Team Europe, trying to trim down the number of players who will play four or more sessions for Team USA seems a lot more difficult, considering the team is arguably one of the strongest since the official world rankings began.