The 37th Ryder Cup Preview and Picks

Tournament: The 37th Ryder Cup
Dates: Sept. 19-21. 2008
Location: Valhalla Golf Club – Louisville, Kentucky
Televised: ESPN/NBC

by Matt of

The PGA is on the second week of it’s two week Playoff break. The first was for players to gain some much needed rest as the season winds down, but this week’s break is to accommodate the Ryder Cup. Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky is the host for the team competition that pits the U.S. versus Europe and Great Britain. The Euros have dominated the Americans recently, winning five of the last six biannual competitions, including the last two by record nine point margins. The U.S. team will have it’s work cut out to make up for the absence of Tiger Woods, but will have the home crowd on their side in the effort to regain the title. All three days of play can be seen starting at 8am EST with ESPN carrying the day one matches and NBC picking up the final two.

The Ryder Cup is unlike any other event in that team play is heavily featured and all points are decided by match play rules. Fourball matches pair two members from each team against two from the other in what is known as best ball competition here in the U.S. The lowest score by either member of the team counts for the whole team and a full point is awarded for a victory with teams sharing a point for a halved or tied match.

Foursome matches feature similar two member teams, but these matches follow an alternate shot format with teammates playing the same ball, switching off until the ball is holed out. Again, a point is awarded for a victory and a half point given for a halve. There are four fourball and four foursome matches each on day one and day two for a total of 16 available points.

Day three can be the most thrilling day in golf with all twelve members from each team competing in singles matches. Twelve points are available, leaving room for the trailing team to make up big ground, as the American did in 1999, eventually taking the team victory. The winning team will need at least 14 and 1/2 points to win and with 28 total points available, the Ryder Cup can end in a tie at 14 a piece.

Although the Americans have home course advantage, the Euros are favored to take the Cup again this year. That can be attributed to Tiger’s absence as well as a less than stellar record for the Americans in recent years, but mostly due to the European team’s fantastic ability to excel in team play. European golf has multiple team competitions such as the Dunhill and World Cup, as well as the Seve and Royal Trophy events. This experience breeds fire and cooperation amongst the international players that has been difficult to match by the U.S. Many are calling for another Euro blowout, but look for the Americans to rally to each others aid without a clear cut leader and use the crowd to make this one a match.

With the pairings left to the team captain’s discretion, the bookies forgo the head to head lines and focus on setting odds for the full competition as well as individual player propositions. We’ll take a look at some bets as well as breakdown the members of each team.

Captain: Paul Azinger
Even money to win

Phil Mickelson
Mickelson becomes the show pony with Tiger out and is also the most experienced Ryder Cupper for the U.S. Phil is competing in his 7th Cup and has an overall mark of 9-8-3, with a 3-2 record in singles. Lefty hasn’t had his best year on Tour this year, mostly due to a quiet Major season, but did log two wins and was a fixture in the top-20. Mickelson may go up against Sergio Garcia more than once, and will look to improve on a 0-3 mark against the Spaniard.

Stewart Cink
This will be Cink’s 3rd Cup appearance with his previous record standing at 3-5-4, 1-2 in singles play. Cink has rounded his game to be among the best on Tour and consistently uses superior shot-making to notch solid finishes. A more than good week will probably be needed out of Stu if the Americans are to contend. Cink has a singles win over Garcia, a 4 and 3 decision in ’06.

Kenny Perry
No one is looking forward to this week as much as Perry. The Kentucky native made his schedule to optimize his chances of making this team and competing at this venue. He even turned down the opportunity to play in the Open to cement his position on the points list. Perry played brilliantly through the summer and easily made the team on points and now looks to be the heart of the American team. This is Perry’s second appearance, he has an 0-2 Ryder Cup record.

Jim Furyk
Furyk is a veteran making his 6th Ryder Cup, but has a rather spotty 6-12-2 overall record. Furyk has not made the winner’s circle this year on Tour, but has played better of late and has played well in difficult events. Experience is certainly on Furyk’s side and there is nothing he hasn’t seen in this style of play. Furyk was paired with Tiger in four matches in ’06, so a different team dynamic may shake him into some wins this year. Furyk does own a solid 3-1-1 singles record.

Anthony Kim
Kim is making his Ryder debut, and will be leaned on heavier than most first timers. Kim should be up to the task as evidenced by his two PGA victories in ’08 and could very well possess the strongest skill set of any of the U.S. members. Look for Kim to be the team MVP if the youngster can keep the nerves at bay and let his natural ability take over.

Justin Leonard
Justin Leonard surely owns the greatest shot in U.S. Ryder Cup history. The 50-footer he canned in ’99 propelled the Americans to an unlikely comeback victory and provided drama that is only possible in the Ryder Cup. Outside that particular shot, Leonard has posted a winless 0-3-5 career Ryder Cup mark. Justin has been returning to form this year and will need to continue his high accuracy brand of play to provide stability to the team.

Ben Curtis
Curtis is another who is making his debut, the three time Tour champ made the team after his runner-up finish at the ’08 PGA Championship. Curtis is the ’03 British Open champ, so he knows how to handle Euros in their own backyard, let’s see what he has for them in Kentucky?

Boo Weekley
Weekley is here partly due to Tiger’s knee injury as the last automatic qualifier. He would have likely been a Captain’s pick had Woods been healthy, so no free pass needed for the two time defending Horizon Heritage winner. Weekley is an easy root for the crowd with his easy going style and exciting game. A contribution out of Boo in his first Cup will likely be required for American contention.

Chad Campbell, J.B. Holmes, Hunter Mahan, Steve Stricker
This foursome makes up Zinger’s Captain’s picks. Only Campbell has seen previous Ryder Cup play, going 1-3-2 in two appearances. J.B. Holmes is the longest hitter on Tour and his brand of “bomber” play could pay huge dividends in fourball matches. Look for a possible Perry/Holmes pairing to double up on local Kentucky knowledge. Mahan has a ’07 Travelers victory on his resume and has President’s Cup experience. Stricker is on the team to see if his putter can heat up and carry a pairing to some points. Stricker is also fond of match play, he won the ’01 Accenture Match Play Championship.

The American team is well-rounded in skill as well as experience, but someone will need to step up and lead. Mickelson and Kim are most likely to rack up points with dazzling play, with Perry and Furyk pacing the team with a more methodical style. Holmes could be the sparkplug of this unit and Chad Campbell could surprise and be the guy to come out of nowhere and take three or more points.

Captain: Nick Faldo
8/11 to win

Sergio Garcia
Garcia has given the Americans fits over the years, compiling a 14-4-2 record in 4 previous Ryder Cups. Garcia is the ultimate team player in this format, mixing amazing play along with emotional leadership. Sergio is the clear cut heart and soul of this team and the demons that keep him from cashing in a Major have never shown in the Ryder Cup. The only hiccup on the record is a 1-3 mark in singles play.

Lee Westwood
Westwood brings his 14-8-3 mark to his 6th Cup and is among the most accomplished of any international player, owning 29 total wins around the world. Lee is on a two year win streak in terms of Ryder Cup singles matches and will provide a tough test in any format for one of the top dog teams from the U.S.

Padraig Harrington
Harrington has had a few iffy weeks since his back to back Major victories at the British and PGA, but don’t look for that trend to continue. Harrington is entering his 5th Ryder Cup and sports a 7-8-2 mark overall with a 3-1 singles tally. Paddy struggled a bit in ’06 with an 0-4-1 mark, but that was before his ascension to the near top of the World Rankings. Three Majors wins could spook a few of the American first timers.

Miguel Angel Jimenez
Jimenez will be making his third Ryder Cup and has compiled a 2-5-2 mark with an 0-2 singles record. Jimenez is the equivalent to Furyk in that there is no circumstance that will rattle his cage. Miguel Angel should provide a nice safety blanket to one of the Euro first timers and is sneaky pick to lead the overall point standings should the big fish cancel each other out.

Robert Karlsson
Karlsson has one Ryder Cup under his belt, going 0-1-2 in ’06 with the loss a singles defeat at the hands of Tiger. Karlsson has made noise in the Majors in the last few years, but an inability to hold it all together has kept him from victory. Karlsson is another who should lend stability to a younger team with his solid all around game.

Justin Rose
Rose is making his first Ryder Cup after blitzing the EPGA fields to the tune of four victories. Captain Faldo has to be excited to have a talent of this caliber on the team and will look to Rose to hit the ground running as a rookie. Rose won the Order of Merit this year with a win, no less.

Graeme McDowell
McDowell made his first Ryder Cup team on the strength of seven EPGA top-10’s including two victories. Those results have him among the hottest of any player on either team and could pay huge dividends should he steal some points away from a more experienced American like Leonard or Stricker.

Henrik Stenson
Stenson is a match play veteran, capturing the ’07 Accenture Match Play over Geoff Ogilvy. Stenson went 1-1-1 is his previous Ryder Cup play, including a singles victory. Stenson will likely be charged with taking out an upper player on the U.S. side, and don’t be suprised he pulls it off.

Soren Hansen, Oliver Wilson, Paul Casey, Ian Poulter
The European team picks only two members via Captain’s selection with Casey and Poulter getting the nod from Faldo. Hansen and Wilson would be the equivilent of spots nine and ten in the American qualification system. Poulter and Casey are Ryder vets with a 4-2-0 combined record. Casey is a steady pro and Poulter provides plenty of flair to the team. Hansen and Wilson are first timers, both with extensive World Cup experience, along with solid year’s on the EPGA Tour that earned their exemptions.

You may recognize more of the American names, but make no mistake, the Euros are favored not only for their passionate play and team spirit, but for raw talent as well. All members have nearly flawless overall games that will translate well to Valhalla. Will the fire that led them to victories in years past be present as heavy favorites?

The offshore sportsbooks will have a field day with unique betting opportunities presented by this style of competition. Check your favorite to see what is on the board and check back after they post the singles pairings for some head to heads. Here are a few bets that will give you an idea of what is out there along with our picks.

To win (USA 1/1, Europe 8/11, tie 11/1)
Call it contrarian, but I like the American to rally back in the singles and sneak out the win. (Take out the tie and the U.S. moves to +110 and Europe to -150)

Exact score
A lot of options to bet here, from 22-6 either way at 300/1 to 14-14 at 5 to 1. I like the Americans at 15.5 to 12.5 at 12/1.

First full point (USA 1/1, Europe -138)
Its a gut pick either way without knowing what pairings go off in what order. Look for Azinger to get points with a Cadillac pairing, take the USA at EVEN.

You can also find lines on the individual players to lead the overall point titles as well as the point counts for their individual teams. A “middle” player he is often a good bet as the top players will most likely be matched against each other and make wins difficult. A Curtis or Campbell for the Americans or Jimenez/Karlsson players can pay pretty well in the 15 to 20 to 1 range.

The Ryder Cup is great theater, and it only comes every other year, so enjoy and Good Luck!