Consider this a pivotal day at the 44th Ryder Cup.
Everyone has assembled. The European Team has even posed for their ceremonial picture at Marco Simone Golf & Country Club. Each player is growing more familiar with the host course – and yet the start of the competition is still three days away.
There’s only so much that can be said, especially in daily doses from Captains Zach Johnson and Luke Donald. But as we have begun to hear from players in earnest, the week is starting to take shape.
The general odds market continues to narrow. The Americans retain a slight edge in the two-way “to lift the trophy” market, given they have a leg up on the Europeans as defending champions and will keep the trophy in the event of a tie, the three-way market is tightening by the day. Oddsmakers at BetMGM Sportsbook now have both teams on even footing, with the U.S. and European sides each priced at +105 to win and a 14-14 tie listed at +1100.
With two more days of practice (and speculation) still to come, here are two areas where my thoughts drifted during my first spin around the property:
The Foursomes equation
European Captain Luke Donald isn’t pulling any punches, putting the more difficult Foursomes format out first Friday morning. It’s no secret that the Europeans have feasted on the more difficult format in recent years, particularly on home soil, winning 22.5 out of 32 possible points across 2006, 2010, 2014 and 2018. But those gains have been made after lunch: This is the first time that Foursomes will be used in the morning session since 1993 – ironically, the last time that the Americans won in Europe.
The home team controls which format goes where across the first two days of competition, so this is a calculated move from Donald.
“It’s really just a deep dive into statistics of the team,” Donald said. “Within our team, we feel like we have some very strong Foursomes pairings, potential pairings. We feel like we are just slightly stronger statistically in Foursomes to Four-ball.”
Those strong pairings will likely lean on the veteran trio of Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Viktor Hovland, three of the top four players in the world who’ll likely have a significant workload this week at Marco Simone. Donald’s four rookies – Ludvig Aberg, Nicolai Hojgaard, Sepp Straka and Robert MacIntyre – will likely have a chance to ease into things before an afternoon tee time as opposed to hitting one of the first few nervy shots.
Donald shared that he’s in search of a fast start, hoping to put the home crowd to his team’s advantage. But it’s a bit of a gamble from the Englishman: A slow start, or even a 2-2 split, could be compounded by facing an afternoon Four-ball slate that could favor the Americans.
Previously, the Europeans have been able to lean on their stronger format as a backstop – case in point is 2018, when the Americans got out to a 3-1 lead and the Euros promptly swept the afternoon Foursomes matches to regain an edge they would not relinquish. His plans will also likely bring out strong pairings from Johnson to counter.
Despite the European advantage in Foursomes, oddsmakers at BetMGM list the Americans as (narrow) favorites to win the opening session: +138 to +140, with a +300 price on the opening session ending in a 2-2 tie.
The Ryder Cup can’t be won on Friday, but it can be lost if the tide turns significantly in one direction. Donald’s decision to lead with strength could prove integral to what the scoreboard looks like heading into the weekend. It’s an understandable strategy as he looks to manage a quartet of rookies, but it’s not without risk.
(Attempted) pairings previews
One of the more popular exercises in anticipation of Friday’s opening tee shot is to read the proverbial tea leaves to see who will be paired with whom. The smallest hint of a potential matchup, from a practice-round tee time to a press conference comment, can spin into outright conjecture.
Within the betting realm, it can be a useful tool when evaluating Top Scorer markets. The Euros are expected to lean heavily on McIlroy, Rahm and Hovland, potentially leaving only a few lineup spots for the new blood across the first two days. The Americans seemingly have two pairings on sure footing, with Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay expected to rekindle their partnership, as are Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas.
But as Spieth mentioned on Tuesday, those pairings aren’t exactly etched in stone.
“In a Foursomes format, you’re trying to figure things out, and so it makes sense for (practice times) to just be groups of four. I believe our (groups) will get mixed and matched,” Spieth said. “I don’t think we’ll play in the same group we did today.”
There’s recent precedent to back up Spieth’s claim. Cantlay and Thomas actually paired for a Four-ball match two years ago at Whistling Straits, while Spieth played once alongside Brooks Koepka. They collectively went 0-1-1 in those matches. Even if the pieces get moved around, though, there’s a strong sense that those four – along with world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler – could form a core around which U.S. Captain Johnson will build.
But could Thomas prove to be an extra variable? He was open in his pre-tournament comments about the lows his game reached over the summer, stating that he “came to terms” with the notion he might miss these matches after he failed to qualify for the FedExCup Playoffs. He provides an undeniable jolt of energy and emotion in this event, but what if the game doesn’t match? Could Johnson have Thomas on a short leash based on early performance – which in turn could impact how Spieth is managed?
It’s a fair consideration, and one that has me leaning toward Cantlay and Schauffele, priced at +600 and +650 for top American point scorer, respectively. I believe those two have a stronger likelihood to play all four team sessions, thereby unlocking a greater chance to max out their point totals. The fact that Spieth (+1000) and Thomas (+1200) are priced last among the Americans in that market also bolsters that line of thought.
Source : PGA Tour