Ryder Cup thriller in store
Our expert Dave Tindall is expecting USA and Europe to play out a thrilling Ryder Cup at Medinah in Chicago this week.
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It's easy to make a pretty strong case for either side to win the 39th Ryder Cup.
Eight of the previously capped European team can boast winning records in the tournament - i.e. their win percentage is over 50 percent - and even the three who can't (Rory McIlroy, Peter Hanson and Francesco Molinari) all contributed to Europe's victory at Celtic Manor.
By contrast, not one single American can beat that 50 percent mark. Tiger is at 48, Mickelson at 41, while there is also the hard-to-believe stat that Jim Furyk (37) has lost eight of his 10 Ryder Cup fourballs.
Davis Love tried to play down the lousy stats of his team by saying: "I think if you're .500 (50%) in Ryder Cup, you're pretty dang good. If you're above .500, like Seve and Jose, you've had an incredible run."
Well, by that reckoning he must think this current European team are sensational given that eight of them are above 50 percent.
On the plus-side for Love and the Americans is the fact that six of the last seven Ryder Cups have been won by the hosts.
That's a pretty compelling stat and Love, who has definitely paid close attention to how Paul Azinger won at Valhalla in 2008, is doing everything he can to add to the home dominance.
The most obvious - and totally legal method, of course - is his manipulation of the course. To aid the bombers on his side, Love has asked for the rough to become virtually a non-factor. There is now 20 yards of a very light first cut on either side of the fairway, thus creating 40 extra yards of hitting space.
"He certainly accomplished that goal," said Martin Kaymer when asked if Love had got his wish to create the environment for lots of birdies and even eagles.
However, when you look back on Ryder Cups, the losing captain will almost always say, "they holed more putts than us."
Kaymer agrees that taking the numerous birdie chances holds the key so let's see where the two sides sit on the PGA Tour's Birdie or Better Conversation percentage stats:
1st Rory McIlroy, 3rd Brandt Snedeker, 4th Phil Mickelson, 6th Webb Simpson, 9th Zach Johnson, 10th Keegan Bradley, 14th Tiger Woods, 19th Jason Dufner, 22nd Graeme McDowell, 24th Dustin Johnson, 29th Bubba Watson, 32nd Lee Westwood, 39th Steve Stricker, 53rd Ian Poulter, 61st Sergio Garcia, 62nd Matt Kuchar, 74th Luke Donald, 91st Justin Rose, 169th Furyk.
With five in the top 10, that's pretty compelling evidence that the US are a very strong putting outfit.
As for the Europeans, five of their 12 don't have permanent membership of the PGA Tour but that in itself could be a negative as, in general, they'll be more used to playing on the slower greens in Europe.
Obviously, there's a big element of how well you putt under pressure and, in the Ryder Cup, Colin Montgomerie somehow turned himself into a demon putter despite the flatstick holding him back in majors.
But I think that if you were to give the teams a collective mark out of 10 for putting, the Americans would be a stronger unit.
Somehow, though, getting too stats-obsessed removes the 'X' factor of what makes a great team. Clearly the Europeans bond superbly and there's a feeling that the Americans have to whip themselves into some mad frenzy to achieve what comes naturally to the Europeans.
Overall, the fors and againsts seem to equal each other out though so I'm drawn to what my gut told me in the first place - this will be desperately close.
Five of the last 10 Ryder Cups have been won by a single point while two of the last 21 have ended in ties so history is certainly with us.
On first glance, the idea that Tiger Woods is a lesser force in team golf is backed up by his Ryder Cup record. It shows more losses than wins (14 v 13) and an overall win record of 48 percent.
Therefore it seems that he's 5/1 to be top US points scorer basically because he's Tiger Woods.
However, Tiger's losing record is due to his poor early performances in the Ryder Cup.
In the last two (he was out injured in 2008), he was top US points scorer at the K Club in 2006 while he shared that distinction with Steve Stricker at Celtic Manor in 2010.
When you add in the fact that he top scored with five points out of five in the 2009 Presidents Cup it's clear that Tiger is much better at this team lark than many think!
He's a virtual lock to play all five games (Davis Love doesn't strike you as the type to do something controversial and drop him) and that can't really be said that about many or indeed any of Tiger's teammates.
Even if you get cute and try and back Tiger's likely partners (Steve Stricker the most likely), Woods is by far the most reliable to then go on and win his singles match.
The 14-time major winner has won four, halved one (a forced handshake in 2002) and lost just one of his six singles ties.
And, as a clincher, what about Tiger's sensational record here? He won both of the recent USPGAs (1999 and 2006) held at Medinah and, for good measure, has a brilliant record at nearby Cog Hill with five wins.
The more you dig the more that 5/1 about him being top US points scorer makes a lot of sense. Get on!
It may also pay off to take a fairly straightforward approach with the top European points market.
Luke Donald has been pretty sensational in his three Ryder Cups so far. In total he's played 11 matches, won eight, halved one and lost just two. That's a winning percentage of 77.27.
His matchplay prowess also extends to the WGC and Volvo events where in in 29 matches across the two events he's won 21 and lost eight.
The other big reason to side with Donald is that he lives just 30 minutes from Medinah and has played the course much more than any other European. And he showed the advantage of that local knowledge when placing third in the USPGA held there in 2006.
At the time it was the longest course ever used in a major championship so that allays any lack of length fears which might hang over Donald.
Luke is a brilliant foursomes player (he's won six out of six in Ryder Cups) and seems to have struck up a superb partnership with Lee Westwood. They thrashed so-called dream ticket Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker 6&5 in the final foursomes at Celtic Manor two years ago and teamed up in Tuesday's practice to shoot a better-ball 59!
Hopefully Jose Maria Olazabal will use him in the fourballs too and if Westwood doesn't click, Olazabal knows that Donald also plays superbly with Sergio Garcia.
Back him at 6/1 to top score for Europe and also have some each-way at 14s that he's the top combined scorer and outscores his teammates and all the Americans.