With Tiger Woods’ win at the Tour Championship, it feels like golf is currently front and centre of the world’s sporting consciousness and that will only be reinforced by this week’s Ryder Cup.
The vociferous crowds which greeted Tiger’s first victory in five years at East Lake, are likely to be matched for noise by the 65,000 fans who have got tickets at the sold-out Le Golf National, host venue for this week’s festivities, as Europe looks to wrestle back the Cup it lost at Hazeltine in 2016.
The Albatross Course, host annually for the European Tour’s Open de France, is 20 miles from Paris and has a classic UK feel to it.
The tight, tree-lined fairways feature bunkers at traditional landing spots for drives, leading players to often club down off the tee, and are bordered by thick fescue rough to penalise any errant tee shots, whilst water hazards guard a large number of greens so the emphasis is very much on accuracy and precision tee-to-green.
Being that it is a matchplay event in various formats, strategy does very much play into how players will attack approach shots but there is no room for error in what promises to be a tight match.
Aside from the weather-affected event at Celtic Manor in 2010, the format of the event has been the same for every Ryder Cup since the event switched from US vs GB&I to USA vs Europe in 1979 – 8 pairs games on the first day, split equally between foursomes and fourballs, the same on the second day, then 12 singles matches on the final day. A total of 28 points are available, therefore, with the USA retaining the Cup if they finish all square by virtue of being defending champs.
On paper, the visitors’ squad appears strongest, with an average world ranking of 11.2 making it the best Ryder Cup team ever assembled if you were focussing purely on that metric. It features just three rookies in Bryson DeChambeau, Tony Finau and Justin Thomas – albeit the latter is already an 8 time Tour winner and major champion – and they were able to add a further 123 PGA Tour victories and 18 Ryder Cup appearances with their Captain’s Picks in the form of Tiger and Phil Mickelson. On top of this they have the current holders of three of the four majors and have only three members of their squad without a major championship to their name.
In spite of this, there are question marks.
Only Thomas has previously teed it up at Le Golf National, hitting driver just seven times all week en route to an 8th place finish back in April, meaning the course will be alien to the vast majority of the squad and could negate some of the advantages that a number would ordinarily enjoy off the tee. There is also a question of form.
At the recent Tour Championship, four of the squad – Koepka, Reed, Watson, Mickelson – occupied the bottom four positions on the leaderboard whilst Jordan Spieth didn’t even qualify. Excluding Koepka, the aforementioned four have just two top 10s between them since June so clearly, aren’t coming into the event in their best form.
More widely, the US team’s record as the away side is abysmal, having been defeated six straight times stretching back to 1993. Analysing the teams from those events, there was only once (2006) when the US team was the weaker team by OGWR so there is a trend there, albeit over a small sample.
Another element that captain Jim Furyk has to contend with is how to keep all the big names happy.
There is huge competition for starts in the US team and it’s tough to see anyone playing all five matches, even a fit and firing Tiger Woods. This is worth bearing in mind when assessing top scorer markets but it might also play into the hands of the European squad if Furyk decides to sit a hot hand in favour of trying to retain team unity.
Spieth – Reed
Woods – DeChambeau
Koepka – Finau
Mickelson – Fowler
Watson – Simpson
Johnson – Thomas
For the second Ryder Cup in a row, there were some real decisions for the European captain to have to make when it came down to his picks, and Thomas Bjorn ultimately decided to go for tried and tested – Paul Casey, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter and Henrik Stenson – to supplement the five rookies who qualified by right. The most contentious of those picks was Sergio Garcia, though the veteran of eight Ryder Cups looks to have run into some form with a fast-finishing tie for 7th last time out in Portugal. Matt Wallace and Rafa Cabrera-Bello will feel hard done by but I’ve no doubt their time will come and they’ll have plenty of appearances by the end of their careers.
Whilst the team doesn’t look as strong on paper, with just five major winners amongst its ranks, there is a lot to like about their chances.
The Europeans’ primary advantage this week, other than the winning pedigree they’ve established in Ryder Cups over the last decade or so, is the competitive experience built up at Le Golf National via appearances at the Open de France previously.
Rookies Torbjorn Olesen, Tommy Fleetwood and Alex Noren will all have good memories of the course – the latter two having been champions in each of the past two years and the former having multiple podium finishes at the track – whilst Francisco Molinari will be another who will enjoy the venue, having been a three-time runner-up at the event this decade.
Alongside these good vibes, Jon Rahm has described the course as one of his favourites anywhere in the world and Justin Rose will be on a high having just won the FedEx Cup and the loot that goes with it. Add in Paul Casey and Ian Poulter returning to playing roles after missing the loss in the US last time out and I think there will be a very confident feel in the locker room.
The experience of the vice-captains is also something that is worth considering, with the European Team featuring perennial Ryder Cup winners in the shape of Lee Westwood, Graeme McDowell, Luke Donald and Padraig Harrington.
These are chaps that have seen it all in the matchplay competition and will know how to give Bjorn the best steer, whilst I’m not sure the same can be said of David Duval, Matt Kuchar, Steve Stricker and Zach Johnson on the US side.
Molinari – Olesen
McIlroy – Fleetwood
Rahm – Garcia
Poulter – Rose
Stenson – Noren
Hatton – Casey
As you’ll be able to tell from the write up above, I have veered towards team Europe at the prices – where for a long time I thought the US was the likely winner.
However, with home advantage, some declining recent form in the US team and a more experienced support staff alongside captain Bjorn, at the prices, Europe are the bet for me, though I expect a close run thing.
As such, I like a bet in the winning margin market on Europe by 1-3 points at 4.7, which is a small bit of value if you dutch the currently available correct score prices.
There are a couple of other bets I like in the individual player markets too. In these markets, you are always looking for which players are going to play the most games as a starting point and it you look at the top Englishman market I think Justin Rose is a stand-out favourite who should be shorter. In the 2016, four men player all five games for Europe, in 2014, just two men played all five games, with the same two men playing all five games in 2012. Those players were Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose.
In the top Englishman market, Rose is up against two captain’s picks – Casey and Poulter (who despite his pedigree has only played all games once in his five appearances – and two rookies in Fleetwood and Hatton.
Historically, neither rookies or captain’s pick get the nod on every occasion whilst I think Rose – who just won the FedEx Cup and got to world number one – is almost a shoe-in to do so. I think he should be significantly shorter than the 3.1 currently available and will be having a chunky bet.
For the same reason, I like McIlroy (13.0) and Tiger Woods (16.0) at the prices in the most overall points market. McIlroy has played every match in each of the past four Ryder Cups and is highly likely to do so again in my opinion, whilst Jim Furyk would be very brave to bench Woods after his recent resurgence.
It is well documented that Tiger has struggled in team competitions in the past but this latest version of Tiger seems to have a more laid back demeanour and he appears to be ‘one of the guys’ more than he was in the past.
Given only the out of form Reed and Spieth played every game last time around, with just Rickie Fowler doing so in 2014 and no-one doing so in 2012, I think it’s a decent value bet in a market where a few can probably be quite easily discounted.
- Europe to win by 1-3 points, 2 points @ 4.7
- Justin Rose to be top Englishman, 5 points @ 3.1
- Rory McIlroy to be top point scorer, 1 point @ 13.0
- Tiger Woods to be top point scorer, 1 point @ 16.0