Stat attack!: Ryder Cup preview


Pundits from Ladbrokes to Las Vegas are pegging the European Team as a solid favorite in this week’s Ryder Cup at Gleneagles in Scotland, and have offered several reasons for such a proclamation. The U.S. doesn’t have Tiger Woods. The Europeans have Ian Poulter. The Europeans are playing at home. Half of the American team has appeared in one or fewer Ryder Cups.

They’re all solid reasons for a broad statement on who will win, but which team is really the stronger team? Let’s try to find out.

Tale of the tape 1: World ranking

 U.S.   Europe
 4 Players in top 10 in world ranking 4
 9 Players in top 25 in world ranking 8
 16.33 Average world ranking  19.92
 196 Cumulative world ranking  239
 2,337.88 Cumulative ranking points in 2014 2,158.48

The U.S. team as a whole ranks slightly better than their counterparts. The Americans have an average rank of 16.33, with no player lower than 33rd (Webb Simpson). The Europeans, meanwhile, have an average rank of 19.92 as three players (Stephen Gallacher-34, Ian Poulter-38 and Lee Westwood-44) rank lower than the lowest-ranked American.

The American team has gained slightly more points on the world ranking in 2014 (a number that’s weighted with recent events carrying more value).

Most world ranking points gained in 2014 among Ryder Cup players

 Player Team Points gained
 Rory McIlroy Europe 521.80
 Bubba Watson U.S. 321.71
 Sergio Garcia Europe 281.00
 Jim Furyk U.S. 280.17
 Rickie Fowler U.S. 267.89
 Martin Kaymer U.S. 231.51

Fewest world ranking points gained in 2014 among Ryder Cup players

 Player Team Points gained
 Ian Poulter Europe 45.99
 Thomas Bjorn Europe 87.21
 Webb Simpson U.S. 95.69
 Lee Westwood Europe 95.80
 Victor Dubuisson Europe 111.71
 Jamie Donaldson Europe 124.27

Tale of the tape 2: 2014 victories and major performance

 U.S.   Europe
9 Combined worldwide wins in 2014 12
1 Combined major wins in 2014 3
15 Combined top-10s in majors in 2014 12

The Europeans outdistance the Americans in total wins in 2014, 12-9, a number that’s directly attributable to Rory McIlroy’s four victories. However, a closer look at the American tally show there hasn’t been many of recent vintage. Hunter Mahan is the only U.S. player with a victory in the last five months.

Wins in 2014 by U.S. Ryder Cup members

 Player Victories
 Zach Johnson Hyundai Tournament of Champions
 Matt Kuchar RBC Heritage
 Hunter Mahan The Barclays
 Patrick Reed Humana Challenge, WGC-Cadillac Championship
 Jimmy Walker Sony Open, AT&T Pebble Beach
 Bubba Watson Northern Trust Open, Masters

Only two of the Europe's 12 wins came before the Masters, with McIlroy, Justin Rose, Martin  Kaymer and Graeme McDowell combining for nine wins since the Players. Overall, eight Europeans and six Americans have victories in 2014.

This is the first time since 1999 that all four reigning major champions (Bubba Watson, Martin Kaymer and Rory McIlroy) will appear in that year’s Ryder Cup. The 1999 group included Jose Maria Olazabal, Payne Stewart, Paul Lawrie and Tiger Woods.

Tale of the tape 3: Ryder Cup history

 U.S.   Europe
 29   31
 43-52-18   69-42-18
 17-19-6   25-15-8
 16-17-9   27-15-8
 10-16-3   17-12-2

In individual matches, the Europeans have the edge in every game. Although the U.S. record in fourball and foursomes isn’t horrendous, this group of Europeans is above average in both specialties. In singles, it’s not even close. Only three American players (Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk and Zach Johnson) have a singles victory. Every European player who has previously appeared in the Ryder Cup has won a singles match.

Mickelson and Furyk have combined for 17 of the American’s 29 previous appearances. They’ve only won twice each, as part of the U.S. wins at Brookline in 1999 and Valhalla in 2008. Neither played in 1993, the last time the American’s won in Europe, when the Tom Watson-captained team took a 15-13 win at The Belfry.

However, if you remove Mickelson and Furyk, the American combined match record is a very respectable 20-17-8. They’re likely to play well in the team matches. Will they stumble on Sunday, as they did in 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2012? That’s the million-dollar question.

The U.S. Ryder Cup team


He was 3-0 while teamed with Mickelson in 2012
He beat Poulter and Garcia en route to a third-place finish in the 2014 WGC-Match Play
In seven Ryder Cups, the only time Furyk had a winning record was 2008 (2-1-1)
At 6-4-1, he’s the only U.S. player with a winning Cup record in at least 10 matches since 2002
He’s unbeaten in fourball (2-0-2), but he’s never teamed with a member of the current U.S. squad
Mahan’s 17-6 mark in the WGC-Match Play includes a 3-3 record against players on Europe’s Ryder Cup team
Since 2002, he’s 6-5-3 when teamed with a Cup rookie, 1-5-1 in other team matches
Brash and confident as his “top-five player” comment attests, he’d make a good foil for the equally cocky Poulter
He Mutt-and-Jeff’ed with Watson for a pair of fourball wins in 2012 at Medinah
He was 6-0-0 in two Junior Ryder Cups and 2-0-1 in the 2011 Walker Cup
He’d make a nice team with Fowler, the only players with top 10s in all three U.S. majors in 2014
He’s 5-2 overall with Simpson, including a 3-1 mark in last year’s Presidents Cup

The European Ryder Cup team

He’s making his return to the Cup for the first time since 2002. Garcia, Westwood and Captain McGinley were among his teammates
He enters the Ryder Cup on a high note, with a T-4 at last week’s Handa Wales Open
His incredible WGC-Match Play run included a 1-up win over Watson in the third round
At 39, he’s the oldest rookie in the matches, about one year older than the 38-year-old Donaldson
He’s 8-2-1 in foursomes, but only 2-4-0 in singles. Plus, he’s lost to Fowler and Kuchar in the last two WGC-Match Play’s
Since 1990, the only players to win the U.S. Open and a Ryder Cup single match in the same year are McDowell (2010) and Pavin (1995) 
His only partner in 2010 and 2012 was McIlroy. They have a 2-3-1 overall record
As the reigning PGA champ in 2012 he beat 2011 PGA winner Keegan Bradley in singles
His 12-3-0 record gives him the best winning percentage (80%) in European history (minimum three matches)
He’s 2-0 in singles, with both wins coming over Mickelson (1 up in 2012, 3 and 2 in 2008)
He returns to the Cup for the first time since 2008. He clinched the 2006 Cup for Europe with a win over Vaughn Taylor
With 21 points won, he’s fifth on Europe’s all-time list behind Faldo, Langer, Monty and Ballesteros

One final thought: Perhaps Europe’s biggest secret weapon is its captain. Paul McGinley has represented Europe or GB&I in a professional team competition 12 times as a captain, assistant captain or player. His team has a record of 11-1 in those events. The only loss came at the 2009 Royal Trophy. Europe won all three Ryder Cup’s in which McGinley appeared. He was an assistant captain in 2010 and 2012, both won by Europe. 

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