The Ryder Cup: Comprehensive Preview

Golfer lines up iron shot

Damien Kayat takes an in-depth look at the 42nd edition of the Ryder Cup which takes place between 28 and 30 September. Click here to bet now!

There’s always a journalistic tendency to elevate the present moment. That’s why every year’s edition of the English Premier League is touted as the most exciting in recent memory; somebody has got to be fibbing. But there are no such fears of hyperbolic pronouncements heading into the 42nd edition of golf’s biennial slugfest.

The 42nd Ryder Cup
28 September - 30 September
Albatros Course of Le Golf National

The re-emergence of Tiger Woods into the winner’s circle has reenergized the game in a way that only Tiger could. This will be his first Ryder Cup since 2012 and he will astonishingly be aiming to win his first Ryder Cup on European soil. In fact, the States have failed to capture a Ryder Cup away from home in 25 years.

This year, however, they perhaps boast the strongest side in the history of the competition. They have 11 of the top 17 players in the current World Rankings, and the other guy is Phil Mickelson. While there is much fanfare regarding the superstar composition of the American side, the European team boasts an array of in-form players and is comprised of six of the world’s top 20 ranked players. Justin Rose’s FedEx Cup victory will come as a welcome boost for a side looking to debunk the general impression that they are huge underdogs this week.

The Course 
Designed by Hubert Chesneau and Robert Von Hagge- in collaboration with Pierre Thevenin- Le Golf National only debuted as recently as 1990. Le Golf National is a course that certainly stands in stark contrast to the benign beast that was Hazeltine. Hazeltine was long, with wide fairways and criminally simple pin placements.

It understandably- played into the hands of the US side with their focus on target golf. The Albatros course at Le Golf National is a far shorter, narrow track that demands efficacy off the tee. Players will be forced to use woods and hybrids, while raided greens and undulating fairways give the course a distinctly links-style feel. It is believed that Bjorn may ask for the bentgrass greens to be watered heavily to slow the greens, which should be an advantage with the Americans accustomed to lightning fast greens.

Water is in play on many holes, often cutting off the option to just bomb away with the heavy artillery. The closing holes are stunning and should provide a grand vaudeville befitting the occasion. Holes 15, 16 and 18 cut across a lake and are enveloped by a dramatic amphitheatre. The 18th, in particular, has a reputation for being a brute that could unman any of the competitors. There is trouble right and water on the left, while the approach shot to an island green will render World Ranking points meaningless.

Team Europe
Captain: Thomas Bjorn
Vice Captain’s: Robert Karlsson (Swe), Luke Donald (Eng), Padraig Harrington (Ire), Graeme McDowell (NIR), Lee Westwood (Eng)

(W-L-H)
Francisco Molinari (Ita) (0-3-2)
Justin Rose (Eng) (11-6-2)
Tyrell Hatton (Eng) Debut
Tommy Fleetwood (Eng) Debut
Jon Rahm (Spa) Debut
Rory McIlroy (NIR) (9-6-4)
Alex Noren (Swe) Debut
Thorbjorn Olesen (Den) Debut

Captain’s Picks
Paul Casey (Eng) (3-2-4)
Sergio Garcia (Spa) (19-11-7)
Ian Poulter (Eng) (12-4-2)
Henrik Stenson (Swe) (7-7-2)

Impressions

Thomas Bjorn has come in for some stinging criticism for his captain’s picks. Talismanic figure Ian Poulter was always going to play while Paul Casey has been a bastion of consistency for some time. But Major Champions Henrik Stenson and- in particular- Sergio Garcia, have little or no form to speak of heading to Le Golf National. He was probably forced into that decision due to the relative inexperience of his side. He has no fewer than five debutants in comparison with USA’s three. The experience of Hazeltine still stings the memory of European fans and Bjorn couldn’t afford to draw that kind of ire. He has the current FedEx Cup Champion Justin Rose as well as the current Open Champion Francisco Molinari. One can’t underestimate the importance of Molinari’s Open Championship victory at Carnoustie. It broke an American hegemony of Major Championship victories that dated back to Garcia’s 2016 Masters Victory.

Strengths 

Course Familiarity- Le Golf National is clearly not the type of course that is regularly paraded by the USGA for their Major Championships. It is a tight tricky, course that really plays into the hands of the European side. All of the players have experience on this course, with Alex Noren the current Open de France Champion. Tommy Fleetwood won the event last season while Francisco Molinari is a three-time runner-up in the event.

A Certain Englishness- Much like Frankenstein’s monster, the European side often has to struggle with a complex intermingling of elements that often undermines the whole. Chants of USA-USA-USA, jingoistic and somewhat crass as they sometimes may sound, do much to elevate the American side and create unity. The presence of no fewer than five English players will help instil a sense of unity and character within this side.

Conquering America- Justin Rose’s victory in the ‘oh so American’ FedEx Cup Playoffs will no doubt galvanize this European side. For a European player to go there and win this season- giving the depth of the current crop of American talent- is fairly sensational. Rose’s victory could have reverberating effects throughout the contours of this side.

Key Players

Francisco Molinari- The three-time runner-up at Le Golf National is the current Open Champion and his game is tailor made for the intricacies of this course. Look to him to greatly improve on a less than stellar Ryder Cup record.

Ian Poulter- The talisman of the European Ryder Cup side won in Houston earlier this season and is the one player on the European side who seems to thrive in the often antagonistic atmosphere of the Ryder Cup.

Rory McIlroy- Coming off the back of a strange season, McIlroy is the one man in the European side who commands a semblance of the razzmatazz that comes so effortlessly to Woods. In order for Europe to win, McIlroy will need to play well.

Weaknesses

Inexperience- As I mentioned earlier, there will be five debutants on this European side. The cauldron that is competing in the Ryder Cup was too much for many debutants at Hazeltine.

Intimidation- Is there a possibility that this European side- talented as it is- could be overawed by an American side boasting such a plethora of stars?

A Weak Link- Sergio Garcia- I know that Bjorn has much faith in the Spaniard, but I just have my doubts. Looking for three points to eclipse Nick Faldo’s Ryder Cup points tally of 25, I just haven’t seen anything near enough from Garcia to suggest that he will rise to the occasion this week. I feel like Thomas Pieters would have been a bolder choice, particularly looking at his exertions around Hazeltine.

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Team USA
Captain: Jim Furyk
Vice Captain’s: Davis Love III, Steve Stricker, David Duval, Matt Kuchar, Zach Johnson

(W-L-H)
Brooks Koepka (3-1-0)
Dustin Johnson (6-5-0)
Justin Thomas- Debut
Patrick Reed (6-1-2)
Bubba Watson (3-8-0)
Jordan Spieth (4-3-2)
Ricky Fowler (2-4-5)
Webb Simpson (2-3-1)
Captain’s Picks
Bryson DeChambeau- Debut
Tony Finau- Debut
Tiger Woods (13-17-3)
Phil Mickelson (18-20-7)

Impressions

This is a phenomenally impressive American side that Jim Furyk has at his disposal. Let’s face it, Tiger and Phil were always going to be captain’s picks, so players were really vying for two spots outside the automatic qualification spots. Furyk wisely looked to form in the choice of two-time FedEx Cup Playoff winner Bryson DeChambeau and big hitting Tony Finau. Despite a very youthful look outside of Tiger and Phil, this side boasts considerable Ryder Cup experience. Dustin Johnson just reclaimed the World Number One spot and Brooks Koepka has won three out of six Majors that he has participated in. Johnson, Watson, Thomas and DeChambeau have all claimed three victories apiece on this year’s PGA Tour. And then you have Masters Champion Patrick Reed, who will rile up the crowds and help facilitate the combative atmosphere the Americans love. Belligerent and occasionally boorish, one can’t deny that Reed is a uniquely American proposition capable of remarkable golf.

Strengths

Team Unity- In Ryder Cups past- particularly in the nineties and noughties- the Americans often tended to resemble insulated superstars, slightly uneasy with the team ethos that Seve and co helped to foster with Europe. But the changing demographics of this USA side see many former college classmates playing on this Ryder Cup side. The likes of Thomas, Spieth and Fowler are best friends, which will help the side on enemy terrain.

Power- Yes, I know that I have stated on various occasions that Le Golf National is not a course that favours brute strength. But the fact that they have so much power hitting in their ranks- see Johnson, Finau, Thomas, Koepka- means that they may be afforded the opportunity in various matches- particularly fourballs- to go for broke at one end of the spectrum.

You can’t beat winning- This USA Side has an accumulated Major count of 31 as opposed to Europe’s 8. They have four three-time winners on the PGA Tour this year. They have three of the Major Championships under their belt as well as the reigning Player’s Champion: Webb Simpson. This is a side that is addicted to winning and will be going to Paris full of confidence.

Key Players

Patrick Reed- Few will ever forget that brilliant match-play that defined Hazeltine between Reed and McIlroy. As I mentioned earlier, Reed is a player who thrives in this pressure cooker situation and has the Poulter-esque ability to galvanize the side.

Brooks Koepka- Koepka can perhaps feel rightfully aggrieved that Woods’ resurgence has overshadowed his massive achievements in the last few years. Koepka has won three out of six Majors he has entered. More importantly for this week, Koepka cut his teeth on the European Tour. He also had an excellent Ryder Cup debut in Hazeltine.

Tiger Woods- This one can go either way. It’s no secret that Tiger’s presence has hardly been conducive to the greater team effort over the years. But his unbelievable return to competitive golf could add that intimidation factor to proceedings- especially against the likes of Garcia. The proposed partnership with DeChambeau could prove ideal for the megawatt persona of Woods. Expect DeChambeau to receive some stick for exceptionally unsportsmanlike behaviour when competing in the European Open earlier this season.

Weaknessess

Course unfamiliarity- Only six of the US players had played Le Golf National prior to this week’s practice sessions. And- to flog a dead horse- the course lends itself more towards course-craft than to power. The likes of Johnson and Finau may not find it fits their games. One wonders whether a man like Vice-captain Zach Johnson may have been an intriguing curveball pick that really focused on the demands of the course.

Burnout- With practically all the American players involved last week at East Lake, there is an argument to be made that this European side should have the wind in their sails this week. Though he won so awesomely last week, Tiger looked absolutely finished towards the end of the final round. Though the Americans boast significant youthful exuberance, the Europeans should be going into this with a touch more gas in the tank.

The Spieth Factor- The poor recent form of Jordan Spieth has been a worry, particularly when you look at just how critical putting could prove this week. The normally lethal putting of Spieth has completely abandoned him this season. The Texan has been quite inconsistent at previous Ryder Cups and will likely form a partnership with buddy Justin Thomas this week. The effervescent Spieth may feel becalmed with Thomas at his side though only time will tell.

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Quick Refresher of State of Play

Thursday- Opening Ceremony
Friday- Four Fourball (Better-Ball) Matches and Four Foursomes (Alternate Shot) Matches
Saturday- Four Fourball Matches and Four Foursome Matches
Sunday- Twelve Single’s Matches

With 28 points on offer, the goal is to reach 14 and a half points to win the Ryder Cup. Should the teams finish 14-14, the USA will retain the trophy they won in Hazeltine.

Verdict Europe to win Ryder Cup outright 5/4
I actually truly believe that this European side has what it takes to reclaim the Ryder Cup. They seem to have a more nuanced balance that should be perfectly suited to this course. The power of Rose, McIlroy and Rahm is contrasted with the nuance of Molinari and Fleetwood. Additionally, the spectacle within a spectacle that is Tiger Woods may become a distraction to Furyk’s side. 

Other Bets

Top American Point Scorer- Patrick Reed at 12/1

Top European Point Scorer- Francisco Molinari at 10/1

Top English Point Scorer- Tommy Fleetwood at 3/1

Written by Damien Kayat for @Hollywoodbets.net

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