Ryder Cup Preview

The biennial competition started by Samuel Ryder in 1927 was, for so many years, an afterthought.  The United States vs. Great Britain & Ireland wasn’t, in most years, a fair match in the game of golf.  But in 1979, at the suggestion of an American, Jack Nicklaus, all of continental Europe was eligible for the team, and once the Europeans ended a 28-year drought by winning in 1985, and then won on American soil for the first time ever in 1987, the rivalry, pageantry, and intensity of arguably golf’s greatest event had been born.

For the 40th matches, the Cup is in Scotland for the first time since it was at Muirfield in 1973.  Europe has won two matches in a row, and seven out of the last nine since an American win in 1993.  That US win at The Belfry was also the last American win on European soil.  That team was captained by Tom Watson, so the PGA brought Watson back, becoming the oldest captain in history.  Considering that the US hasn’t won in Europe in my lifetime, they certainly have the odds stacked against them.

The first transcontinental match, which was played after 12 Americans came “across the pond” to play in The Open Championship, took place at Gleneagles in 1921, and was a forerunner to the modern Ryder Cup, which began in 1927.  This year, 93 years later, the Ryder Cup is being staged on the same property (although it is a different course), on the PGA Centenary course.  Rather than having a links design, like so many well-known Scottish courses, the Centenary was built in 1993 (very contemporary by golf standards), designed in an American style by Jack Nicklaus.  The course does, however, still feature beautiful sightlines of the Scottish hills, and there are a few rolling hills on the eighteen holes themselves.

As mentioned, Tom Watson is captain of the American side for the second time, after leading them to victory 21 years ago.  In four appearances as a player in the matches between 1977 and 1989, Watson was 10-4-1.  The Europeans turn to Irishman Paul McGinley to continue their winning streak.  The 47-year old McGinley was 2-2-5 in three appearances from 2002-06, including clinching the winning putt at The Belfry in 2002.  McGinley was an assistant captain in 2010 under Colin Mongomerie and 2012 under Jose Maria Olazabal.

European Team
Overall Record (69-42-18)
Team Fourball Record (25-15-8)
Team Foursomes Record (27-15-8)
Team Singles Record (17-12-2)
Veterans: Thomas Bjorn (3-2-1, 3rd appearance), Sergio Garcia (16-8-4, 7th appearance), Martin Kaymer (3-2-1, 3rd appearance), Graeme McDowell (5-5-2, 4th appearance), Rory McIlroy (4-3-2, 3rd appearance), Ian Poulter (12-3-0, 5th appearance, captain’s pick), Justin Rose (6-3-0, 3rd appearance), Henrik Stenson (2-3-2, 3rd appearance), Lee Westwood (18-13-6, 9th appearance, captain’s pick)
Rookies: Jamie Donaldson, Victor Dubuisson, Stephen Gallacher (captain’s pick)
Fourball: Bjorn is undefeated in fourball, although it is in only two matches.  Garcia (6-2-3), Poulter (4-2-0), and Westwood (8-4-2) are all very strong in the format.  No one on the European team has a fourball record worse than one match under .500, so there isn’t really a weak link.  No individual fourball pairing for the Europeans has more than two matches experience, with one exception (Garcia/Westwood are 2-1-1, but haven’t paired since 2004), with teams of Poulter/Rose, McDowell/Poulter, Westwood/Kaymer, Kaymer/Poulter, and McIlroy/Poulter all 1-0-0 historically.
Foursomes: Garcia (8-2-1), Poulter (4-1-0), Rose (3-1-0), and Westwood (7-4-4) carry the team in this format, and there is only one player (Bjorn, 0-2-0) with a losing career record in the format.  Poulter/Rose (3-1-0) and McDowell/McIlroy (2-2-0) have had some success as partners in the format, as have Garcia/Westwood (2-0-0, but back in 2002)
Singles: Poulter (4-0-0), Rose (2-0-0), McIlroy (1-0-1), and Bjorn (1-0-1) have all never lost a singles match.  While Garcia (2-4-0) and Westwood (3-5-0) are, surprisingly, weak links on an otherwise very solid European squad in the format.

American Team
Overall Record (43-52-18)
Team Fourball Record (17-19-6)
Team Foursomes Record (16-15-9)
Team Singles Record (10-16-3)
Veterans: Keegan Bradley (3-1-0, 2nd appearance, captain’s pick), Jim Furyk (9-17-4, 9th appearance), Rickie Fowler (0-1-2, 2nd appearance), Zach Johnson (6-4-1, 4th appearance), Matt Kuchar (3-2-2, 3rd appearance), Hunter Mahan (3-2-3, 3rd appearance, captain’s pick), Phil Mickelson (14-18-6, 10th appearance), Webb Simpson (2-2-0, 2nd appearance, captain’s pick), Bubba Watson (3-5-0, 3rd appearance)
Rookies: Patrick Reed, Jordan Spieth, Jimmy Walker
Fourball: Five of the nine veterans actually have a winning record in the format, although the team as a whole has a losing record.  Among the best are Simpson (2-0-0) and Watson (3-1-0), while Mickelson (6-8-2), and particularly Furyk (1-8-1) struggle in the format.  Mickelson seemed to find his perfect partner in 2012 in Bradley, and they were perfect in this format (1-0-0) and will play a fourball match in session one Friday morning, as will Simpson and Watson (2-0-0), who will play the opening match.
Foursomes: While Bradley (2-0-0) was strong in 2012 at Medinah in foursomes, no one else really has a radical record, either good or bad.  This is the only format in which the team members, as a whole, have a winning record.  Furyk (4-6-1) and Mickelson (4-5-0) have the most experience.  The Mickelson/Bradley pairing was also good in this format (2-0-0), and Johnson and Mahan (1-1-0) played a pair of foursomes matches together in 2010 in Wales.  Simpson and Watson (0-1-0) don’t appear as good in alternate shot as they are in fourball.
Singles: The best American player in singles is Tiger Woods, who is nearly impossible to beat, but in his absence, good records are hard to come by, with the best belonging to Johnson (2-1-0) and Furyk (4-3-1).  Bradley (0-1-0), Kuchar (0-2-0), Mahan (0-1-1), Simpson (0-1-0), and Watson (0-2-0) are winless in singles, as is Fowler (0-0-1), although Fowler showed his grit by birdieing the last three holes in his 2010 singles match for a huge half.

Who’s Missing?
Tiger Woods and Jason Dufner are both not playing for the US side with injuries, and Dustin Johnson remains on a leave of absense.  Billy Horschel won the FedEx Cup, but he got hot only after the teams were finalized.  Tom Watson, in reference to him missing the team before winning the $10 million dollar prize, said “You’re a day late, but not a dollar short.”  Luke Donald and Miguel Angel Jimenez are the most notable Europeans who failed to make the team.

Session One (Fourball)
While we don’t know the pairings for the entire week, we do know how the matches will start on Friday morning (in the wee hours for those of us in America).
Match 1: Watson/Simpson (USA) vs Rose/Stenson (EUR)
Match 2: Fowler/Walker (USA) vs Kaymer/Bjorn (EUR)
Match 3: Spieth/Reed (USA) vs Gallacher/Poulter (EUR)
Match 4: Bradley/Mickelson (USA) vs McIlroy/Garcia (EUR)
That last match will certainly set the tone for Friday, as will the opener.  Sitting out for the US will be Furyk, Johnson, Kuchar, and Mahan, while the Europeans will sit Donaldson, Dubuisson, McDowell, and Westwood.

It’s really tough to pick who is going to win these matches.  Most are heavily favoring Europe, but the American team is still very solid.  Europe does have a home-course advantage, and also has the advantage of winning the last matches, as that means that they would retain the cup in the event of a tie.  That makes the difference.
Europe will keep the cup, winning a narrow victory.




Ryder Cup Matches

1927:  United States 9.5, Great Britain 2.5
1929:  Great Britain 7, United States 5
1931:  United States 9, Great Britain 3
1933:  Great Britain 6.5, United States 5.5
1935:  United States 9, Great Britain 3
1937:  United States 8, Great Britain 4
1939-45:  no matches due to World War II
1947:  United States 11, Great Britain 1
1949:  United States 7, Great Britain 5
1951:  United States 9.5, Great Britain 2.5
1953:  United States 6.5, Great Britain 5.5
1955:  United States 8, Great Britain 4
1957:  Great Britain 7.5, United States 4.5
1959:  United States 8.5, Great Britain 3.5
1961:  United States 14.5, Great Britain 9.5
1963:  United States 23, Great Britain 9
1965:  United States 19.5, Great Britain 12.5
1967:  United States 23.5, Great Britain 8.5
1969:  United States 16, Great Britain 16 (U.S. retains the Cup)
1971:  United States 18.5, Great Britain 13.5
1973:  United States 19, Great Britain & Ireland 13
1975:  United States 21, Great Britain & Ireland 11
1977:  United States 12.5, Great Britain & Ireland 7.5
1979:  United States 17, Europe 11
1981:  United States 18.5, Europe 9.5
1983:  United States 14.5, Europe 13.5
1985:  Europe 16.5, United States 11.5
1987:  Europe 15, United States 13
1989:  Europe 14, United States 14 (Europe retains the Cup)
1991:  United States 14.5, Europe 13.5
1993:  United States 15, Europe 13
1995:  Europe 14.5, United States 13.5
1997:  Europe 14.5, United States 13.5
1999:  United States 14.5, Europe 13.5
2001:  matches postponed due to 9/11 attacks
2002:  Europe 15.5, United States 12.5
2004:  Europe 18.5, United States 9.5
2006:  Europe 18.5, United States 9.5
2008:  United States 16.5, Europe 11.5
2010:  Europe 14.5, United States 13.5
2012:  Europe 14.5, United States 13.5
2014:  Europe 16.5, United States 11.5


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