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Ryder Cup preview

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It is Ryder Cup week! Every two years this special event takes place and we are back on American soil this time around. The last time we were State-Side for the Ryder Cup was in Medinah in 2012. All European fans will remember that one very fondly, the Americans… Not so much!

Davis Love III is once again Captain of the American side as he was for that week in Medinah, four years ago. Given the strength of his team this year, he will be hoping for a very different outcome.

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Darren Clarke on the other hand will be looking to build on his successes as a player and a Vice-Captain in previous Ryder Cup’s and become a winning Captain to.

Recent Ryder Cup history

The Americans were 10-6 up after day three in 2012, but a valiant effort in the Singles match-ups on the Sunday sealed a European victory. Martin Kaymer, a man completely out of form in the lead up to the event holed the magnificent putt that secured a half, before Tiger Woods conceded the last hole to Francesco Molinari to give Team Europe he victory.

2014 was very different. The Americans never got going at Gleneagles, and Team Europe had it all their own way to retain the title. Like it has over the past few renewals, the American side looks much stronger on paper. As we have seen however, it doesn’t seem to matter how strong the American side is, Europe’s team chemistry seems to triumph on the week. It would be naive to write off the European’s again, even if the odds are stacked against them.

Europe have won 8 of the last 10 Ryder Cups and are still a 19/10 underdog, which highlights the strength of Team USA this year.

With his last wildcard pick, Davis Love opted for Ryan Moore. Moore lost out in a play-off to Rory McIlroy at the Tour Championship this past Sunday. The inclusion of Moore in the team means there is no room for World No.7, Bubba Watson. This confirms the strength in depth of the US side, having the luxury of leaving out a player of Watson’s calibre. Watson has joined up with the team as a Vice-Captain.

On the other side, the surprise exclusion for Team Europe was Russell Knox. Knox made a case with two big wins this year but instead Clarke opted for the experienced Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer, as well as another rookie in the shape of Thomas Pieters.

The teams in full
Team Europe

Captain: Darren Clarke

Vice-Captains: Ian Poulter, Padraig Harrington, Paul Lawrie, Sam Torrance and Thomas Bjorn

Players in order of World Ranking:

Rory McIlroy (#3), Henrik Stenson(#5), Danny Willett (#10), Justin Rose (#11), Sergio Garcia (#12), Rafael Cabrera Bello (#30), Chris Wood (#32), Thomas Pieters (#42), Matthew Fitzpatrick (#44), Lee Westwood (#46), Martin Kaymer (50), Andy Sullivan (#53)

Team USA

Captain: Davis Love III

Vice-Captains: Tom Lehman, Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker, Tiger Woods and Bubba Watson

Players in order of World Ranking:

Dustin Johnson (#2), Jordan Spieth (#4), Patrick Reed (#8), Rickie Fowler (#9), Phil Mickelson (#15), Jimmy Walker (#16), Matt Kuchar (#17), J.B Holmes (#21), Brooks Koepka (#22), Brandt Snedeker (#23), Zach Johnson (#28), Ryan Moore (#31)

Hazeltine National Golf Club

7,628 yards, Par 72

Hazeltine is the host venue for this battle of two continents. This course joins Pinehurst No.2 as only the second course to have hosted every major USGA and PGA of America championship. Notable majors here include the 2002 and 2009 PGA Championships. Tiger Woods came 2nd at both of these events, which makes him even more valuable as Vice-Captain.

Re-routing has taken place at Hazeltine since the 2009 PGA Championship to enhance the spectator experience this week. A detailed list of the changes can be found here.

It is a long course, which USA will hope will work in their favour. Three of the four par-5’s are 606 yards or longer, meaning two big blows will be required to reach in two.

There are narrow fairways as well as small and fast greens, so it will be a true test of each player’s game. The rough will be cut short however, so stray tee shots shouldn’t be severely punished, something the Americans see as an advantage.

Positive and Negatives for each side
Team Europe

Positives

  • The team consists of this year’s Masters Champion, Olympic Champion, Open Champion and FedEx Cup winner.
  • Recent record – It cannot be ignored how well Europe have performed in the last 10 Ryder Cups.
  • Less pressure – Whilst there is pressure on both sides there is significantly more on the opponents. Europe are not expected to win on American soil and also won more than their fair share in recent years.
  • Winning experience – Each of the six players who have played in previous Ryder Cup’s have an experience of winning one. These players will be relied on the provide support for the six rookies.

Negatives

  • It’s an away game – This cannot be overlooked. Yes Europe won in Medinah, but as it is aptly named that was nothing short of a miracle. Whilst Europe have won three of last five Ryder Cup’s State-Side, it is always more difficult to win in the opponent’s territory.
  • America are the better team – Simply put, on paper Team USA are much stronger. We know the game isn’t played on paper but America can’t continue having the stronger side each year and still fail to win.
  • Dustin Johnson – Johnson is arguably the best player in the World right now. He is having a career year and is also playing a course that should suit. Gulp.
Team USA

Positives

  • Stronger side – There is no getting away from this, they are the stronger side. Moore is the lowest ranked player in the side (#32) however 8/12 rank inside the top-20. In contrast 5/12 Europeans are inside the top-20, with 6 of the players ranked lower than Moore.
  • Home game – Whilst this brings more pressure it also brings more support. The home crowd will look to dominate the course, cheering on their side.
  • Experience – Only Brooks Koepka and Ryan Moore are playing in their first Ryder Cup. The team has played in 36 Ryder Cups between them (Mickelson is responsible for 11 of those). Whilst their record in recent years is dismal, 10/12 players have experienced at least one Ryder Cup week.

Negatives

  • Added pressure – Due to their lacklustre efforts in recent renewals this could be Team USA’s most important Ryder Cup in the history of the event. With Captain Love’s comments of “the best team ever assembled” the pressure only mounts.
  • Losing experience – Whilst they are an experienced side, Mickelson and Holmes are the only members to have been on winning Ryder Cup teams.
  • Current form –  9/12 of Team USA played at the Tour Championship last week, only two of them (Johnson and Moore) finished higher than T15. Mickelson, Reed, Holmes and Walker occupied four of the bottom eight spots. Moore, Johnson and Kuchar were a combined -20, however the rest of the team were a combined +17. Zach Johnson, Koepka and Fowler all failed to make East Lake and played poorly. Fowler finished 7th at the Barclays but after that the three failed to finish higher than Koepka’s T32 at the BMW.
The bets

It wouldn’t be Ryder Cup week without a bet, so here is one I like before the start of the event. I will add more in-play.

Top combined points scorer – Dustin Johnson @ 15/2 (Betfair)

Johnson is unbeaten in Ryder Cup singles (2-0) defeating Martin Kaymer 6&4 in 2010 and Nicholas Colsaerts 3&2 in 2012. Given the form he is in, he is going to be hard to beat again this Sunday. The course looks ideal for him and the Americans will be hoping his form this season carries over.

Prior to his singles win over Colsaerts, Johnson played in two fourball matches at Medinah, winning both. As a result he finished the week a perfect 3-0.

Desperate to add his record after missing the 2014 Ryder Cup, he looks set for a big week. Now the most important player in the team, Johnson will look to lead by example this week and finish as top points scorer. The World No.2 may well be expected to play in five matches, giving him plenty of chance to accumulate points.

Rory McIlroy is the join favourite in this market, but this may be the best way to side with the favourites this week. If Team USA end the week victorious, Johnson should be a big part of that.

Whilst he is the favourite, I still think the 11/2 is worth betting.