The Ryder Cup starts on Friday in Scotland, where the European team will look to win for the sixth time in the past seven matches. Here’s what you need to know before watching.
This U.S. team is a huge underdog. According to most betting outlets, the Europe squad has about a 2-to-1 edge in the probability of winning. That spread is the widest it’s been in more than a decade, meaning a Europe win (and a U.S. loss) this year would be the least surprising outcome. Conversely, a U.S. win would be the biggest surprise of any result in the past six cups. (If the teams tie, Europe retains the cup.) The spread, already wide last week, has only grown in the past several days.
The absence of Tiger Woods may benefit the Americans … Despite his reputation and great career in tournaments, Woods’s record in the Ryder Cup is poor. He’s won only 44 percent of his matches, putting him third-worst among the 14 most experienced players in U.S. history. It’s important to note the only time the U.S. team has won since 2000 was in 2008—when Woods didn’t play.
… But don’t count on Jim Furyk. The highest-ranked American player on this squad is Furyk, who is fourth overall in the world. But if the U.S. team relies on him to deliver a trophy, they are in trouble. Though Woods’s Ryder Cup record is the third-worst in history among the 14 most experienced U.S. players, Furyk wins even less often: just 37 percent of his matches.
Europe has more star power, but the U.S. is deeper. At the top end of the world rankings, the Europeans far outshine the Americans, but the U.S. team has the better overall ranking when comparing team averages. Similarly, the U.S. has an overall younger squad, despite having the oldest individual players.
The lowest-ranked players tend to perform better. Each team has three captain’s picks—players whose performance during the year wasn’t good enough to qualify them automatically. But those players could still play pivotal roles. The worse-ranked players have a higher winning percentage in the Ryder Cup. They are especially good on the European side: Captain’s picks have provided 25 match wins since 2000—a higher proportion of wins than their numbers on the team.
Ian Poulter is the best Ryder Cup performer in history. Poulter is ranked 38th in the world, the second-lowest of any player on either side and worse than anybody on the U.S. team. However, Poulter has won 80 percent of his career Ryder Cup matches. For players with a minimum of 15 matches, Poulter’s record is the best of any player in Ryder Cup history. He might not be the best guy in normal tournaments during the season, but Poulter consistently gets the job done in these special forms of match play—note his win rate is double those of Woods and Furyk. Poulter was instrumental in the European comeback two years ago, and all eyes will be on him to see if he can lead the Europeans to victory again.
Expect a close score. The online betting community has the most likely outcome as either 15-13 or 14.5-13.5, suggesting narrow wins for the European side. Remember in 2012, Europe won 14.5-13.5—but only after dominating the final day 8.5-3.5, storming back in miraculous fashion.