After a thrilling Solheim Cup, Europe and USA clash on the golf course once again as the Ryder Cup gets underway. Paul Higham is here to look ahead to the showcase event.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) September 22, 2021
We’ve had to wait an extra 12 months but the 43rd Ryder Cup is upon us and the excitement is at fever pitch as Europe and the USA renew hostilities after a three-year absence.
The eyes of the golfing, and sporting, world will be on Whistling Straits golf course in Wisconsin, on the shores of Lake Michigan, as one of the highlights of the sporting calendar resumes after its extended break.
As is seemingly always the case, the USA go into the event as favourites and with the better team on paper – although as Rory McIlroy astutely points out: “This tournament isn’t played on paper, it’s played on grass.”
Rory’s right, and having the best-ranked players in this team format is no guarantee of success – in fact in recent times it’s been a distinct negative and in the battle between top-ranked individuals and a lower-ranked team, the European togetherness has largely come out on top.
"The Americans play for their country, we play for each other!"
— Sky Sports News (@SkySportsNews) September 23, 2021
It’s not exactly true that the USA are always the favourites either. They may be heavily fancied 1/2 shots here but Europe have in fact been the favourites going into four of the last seven Ryder Cups and the betting favourite has won just five of the last 10.
The world rankings can tell some of the story, of course players at the top of the game will generally be better, but this is about as far removed from a 72-hole strokeplay event as you can get – it’s golf but not as they know it on the PGA Tour.
The nuances of matchplay, playing for your country and continent, being part of a team, these are things that are largely alien to the professional golfer at the top of the game, and how they operate under those distinct pressures, how they interact, forge a team spirit and make partnerships are all the imponderables, are all the immeasurables that Europe have used to their advantage.
Time and again Europe have harnessed that team spirit and togetherness that Team USA have only fleeting captured with Paul Azinger’s pod system in 2008. Eye-catchingly Europe actually had the ‘better’ team on paper according to the rankings for that victory at Valhalla – but it remains just one of two for the Stars and Stripes in the last nine contests.
So captain Steve Stricker has a big job to do but, much like the world rankings, those results are just on paper – and things just seem different this time around….
Format And Timings
Captain Stricker has chosen to change it up and gone with the alternate shot foursomes, the more difficult format, to start the event, with fourballs taking place in the afternoon sessions.
The first tee shot is due to be struck at 1.05pm UK time with the same format on Saturday, with the all-important Sunday singles getting underway at 5.04pm UK time.
Friday: 1.05pm four foursomes matches; 6.10pm four fourballs matches
Saturday: 1.05pm four foursomes matches; 6.10pm four fourballs matches
Sunday: 12 singles matches starting ay 5.04pm
American Home Advantage
OK, so the rankings don’t mean an awful lot, but there is a pretty decisive gap between the two teams this time around, with the Americans’ average of just nine being their lowest ever – it may be a gap even a team like Europe find hard to bridge.
More importantly though, despite having six rookies in the side this American team are packed full of confident, talented young men and three of those rookies include double major winner Collin Morikawa, FedEx Cup champion Patrick Cantlay and Olympic champion Xander Schauffele.
They don’t make Ryder Cup rookies like they used to!
There are eight under the age of 30 and a lot of them have grown up together on the PGA Tour, have good solid friendships and seem much more likely to thrive in that team environment.
The burning question is of course what to do with Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka – but there’s more than a hint of the pantomime about their feud now and even if there’s still some bad blood you can stash Bryson away in the fourballs and play Brooks in the foursomes so they’ll hardly have to spend any time together.
And this American team is so loaded that Stricker can give them plenty of rest and not have to lean on the same core of players to get the job done.
💪 Thomas and Spieth
️⛳️ Cantlay and Schauffele
😲 DeChambeau and Koepka
— Sky Sports Ryder Cup (@SkySportsGolf) September 23, 2021
Not having Tiger Woods in the team especially, but also Phil Mickelson, is a real plus point for this younger breed as well. Great players, yes, but they never really got to grips with team golf and they were such larger than life players and personalities that the aura surrounding them may well have seen younger players slip into their shells a bit.
Not having ‘Captain America’ Patrick Reed in the team may also be a surprise bonus. We love the emotion, we love the playing to the crowd, but in this team you’ve got the likes of Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Tony Finau, Cantlay, Morikawa, Schauffele…all more reserved, calmer individuals who can keep a cool head when it’s needed most.
It’s a passing of the torch – and it comes at a great time with the biggest plus point for America being home advantage, which seems to be much more of a factor these days with captains able to set up their course to suit their teams.
Golf National in Paris three years ago was almost tailormade for the European team. The Americans were either unable or unwilling to adapt their games to that particular challenge and it cost them another heavy defeat.
Whistling Straits will be set up for the Americans – the weather looks like playing a huge part too but the wind may not be the big European plus many think it will be. Length off the tee could still count and that’s advantage USA all the way.
Then there’s the small matter of 40,000 American sports fans each day, with almost no Europeans allowed to attend, to contend with. A home crowd, on a home course against the best-ranked group of Americans ever is one tough assignment.
European Experience Could Be Key
Winning is a habit, and Europe have this ability to keep on winning Ryder Cups yet keep classing themselves as the underdogs. They’ve won seven out of nine since the turn of the century and ever since it became Team Europe in 1979 they lead the outright head-to-head contest 11-8.
Padraig Harrington plans to emulate 2018 captain Thomas Bjorn by getting a tattoo if his side upset the odds on Sunday night…
Losing leaves its own scar#RyderCup
— Eurosport UK (@Eurosport_UK) September 23, 2021
They also tied the 1989 event at The Belfry but retained the Ryder Cup as holders.
America have 13 major wins to Europe’s seven and the rankings advantage, but Europe do have the world’s best player in Jon Rahm, the best Ryder Cup player of a generation in Ian Poulter and the Ryder Cup record points scorer in Sergio Garcia.
Garcia has 25.5 Ryder Cup points to his name – the same as the entire USA team combined. Between Garcia (nine) and Lee Westwood (10) they have far more Ryder Cup appearances than the entire USA team combined (12).
Europe have four 40-somethings in their team though, so will experience count or will they be made to look a bit like Dad’s Army against the fit, big-hitting American young guns?
Experience can really pay off in matchplay, but this is where Padraig Harrington really has to earn his money as Whistling Straits in windy conditions will be a hell of a walk so he needs to manage his veteran players to ensure they can go the distance.
Rookie Viktor Hovland could be the ace up Harrington’s sleeve and could even have the same impact as Thomas Pieters when he top scored as a rookie at Hazeltine in 2016. Shane Lowry is also expected to make a big impact as a first-timer.
Rahm, Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood will need to step-up into leadership roles with question marks over Tyrrell Hatton’s form and Matt Fitzpatrick’s mentality after he had a little bit of the rabbit in the headlights look at Hazeltine.
Can Poulter keep on pumping out that same energy at 45? That’s a huge question to answer as we know the spirit will be there, we know the experience is there, but does this team have what it takes to topple the Americans on home turf once again?
— Ryder Cup Europe (@RyderCupEurope) September 22, 2021
It’s another head-versus-heart situation as it always is at the Ryder Cup, but the overwhelming feeling is that Americans should have enough to get the cup back in Wisconsin.
Europe could again prove too good as a team, but there’s just too many positives for the home side and that home field advantage being the major one, with the hosting team being dominant in the more recent events as captains really tune up the courses to suit and crowds become bigger and more partisan.
Six of the last seven Ryder Cups have been won by the home side, and it needed the Miracle of Medinah to break that trend. An event named a miracle, an inspired Poulter and a comeback perhaps driven by the spirit of Seve was needed to stop another home landslide victory.
Eight of the last 10 Ryder Cups have been home wins, and they’ve not even been that close in recent times, with the last three settled by seven, six and five points, suggesting that when a team gets ahead, they more often than not will likely pull away.
USA have enjoyed five and six-point wins either side of their Medinah collapse, and although I think Europe will have more fight in them, and they could actually pull this off, you have to favour the hosts.
Backing them at 1/2 won’t make you rich so a punt on the scorelines is the preferred overall angle and I like the group score bets that give you a few options to get a return.
America’s last two wins have been 16.5-11.5 and 17-11, and you can get those two scores grouped with 17.5-10.5 at 7/2. However, I think it’ll be closer so I’ll be taking a group of USA wins of 15.5-12.5, 16-12 and 16.5-11.5 at 100/30.
Top overall point scorer
Five of the last 10 top scorers have been on the losing side so don’t let any feelings of the overall Ryder Cup winner cloud your judgement for betting on the top points scorers. You need someone who’s going to play four or possibly all five matches – and ideally like Francesco Molinari win all five like in 2018!
Molinari, Fleetwood and McIlroy played all five in Paris – switch in Rahm for Molinari and those three could well play all five again, but that will depend on how Fleetwood gets on without his BFF alongside him.
The USA had Johnson, Thomas and Spieth play all five and that could well be the case again, but Stricker has such an abundance of talent that he may only need to play, say, Spieth and Thomas for all five sessions.
At Hazeltine Spieth and Reed played all five while every player played at least three matches and every one got at least one point – that’s a format Stricker would be wise to follow. Europe’s weakness in that same event saw them lean on five players to play in every session, and none of the three players to just play once before Sunday got anything from their singles.
Rahm is favourite here at 7/1 and there’s no reason why he can’t deliver on that, with a combination of his undoubted talent and likely workload. After all, he beat Tiger Woods in singles last time out and will feel unbeatable coming here as the world number one.
Top USA point scorer
This could be a tight one with points and appearances shared around more, but again for me the favourite Justin Thomas is worth backing as he’ll see plenty of action and had a superb rookie outing in Paris, going 4-1 and beating Rory McIlroy in the Sunday singles as the first man out.
He could lead the way again on Sunday and should be able to collect enough points along the way to finish as America’s top dog.
Top USA rookie
A nice market this with six to pick from and it’s a quality field when you look at the silverware (and prize money) these guys bring to the table. Going on who will play more then it’s down to Collin Morikawa, Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele.
They’re all stone-cold killers in terms of temperament so Stricker won’t be put off playing any of them in any format or in any position – but the bookies favour Olympic champion Schauffele to come out on top.
Preference here goes to Cantlay though, who had that flying end to the season and doesn’t really have a weakness in his game – this one will be close but the way he’s playing he’ll be a tough man to beat in all formats.
Top European rookie
It’s an odds-on shot for the Norwegian in a three-runner race but Harrington has been glowing in his praise for Viktor Hovland and you can see him being a plug-in and play for Europe right away.
I can see him starting in the opening session and being put straight back out again if he gets a decent result. I was close to putting him up for top overall rookie but it’s a lot to ask to topple the Americans in that market but up against Lowry and Wiesberger than it’s his to lose.