Stat attack!: Ryder Cup preview

By John AntoniniSeptember 23, 2014, 4:05 pm

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. 

If you haven't already done so, please follow me on Twitter at @johnantoninigc

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Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 8:41 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Four players have an opportunity to overtake Dustin Johnson for world No. 1 this week.

According to Golf Channel world-rankings guru Alan Robinson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm each can grab the top spot in the world ranking.

Thomas’ path is the easiest. He would return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finishing worse than solo third, or even a solo runner-up finish as long as Johnson finishes worse than 49th.

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Twenty years after his auspicious performance in The Open, Rose can get to No. 1 for the first time with a victory and Johnson finishing worse than a two-way tie for third.

Kopeka can rise to No. 1 if he wins consecutive majors, assuming that his good friend posts worse than a three-way tie for third.

And Rahm can claim the top spot with a win this week, a Johnson missed cut and a Thomas finish of worse than solo second.   

Johnson’s 15-month reign as world No. 1 ended after The Players. He wasn’t behind Thomas for long, however: After a tie for eighth at the Memorial, Johnson blew away the field in Memphis and then finished third at the U.S. Open to solidify his position at the top.

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Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

The Monday morning headline will be …

REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.

Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.

Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.

What will be the winning score?

HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

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McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.