Ben Coley previews a long-awaited Ryder Cup, where expected USA dominance doesn't mean a home player will necessarily top-score. Get his best bets.
1pt USA to beat Europe 17-11 at 14/1 (William Hill, bet365)
1pt USA to beat Europe 16.5-11.5 at 14/1 (Sky Bet)
At last the Ryder Cup is upon us, but while a one-year delay might've helped the spectacle, it could be against Europe. For starters, ongoing travel restrictions mean there will be very few away fans at Whistling Straits. Secondly, the emergence of Collin Morikawa is now complete, and Jordan Spieth is in the side. He almost certainly would not have been had the event taken place on schedule.
The impact on Europe, from a playing perspective, is harder to assess. It's possible Bernd Wiesberger would not have featured whereas perhaps Victor Perez or Danny Willett would; Padraig Harrington would've still had to decide which of his elder statesmen to leave out, though it's fair to speculate Justin Rose may have made the side perhaps at Ian Poulter or Shane Lowry's expense.
The positive of course is that in Jon Rahm they have the sport's best player. I'm just not sure it'll be enough.
All of this is hypothetical but the absence of meaningful support really is a worry. Yes, their Solheim Cup counterparts overcame it and will serve as inspiration, but it's still a factor in favour of the hosts in a competition which is already tilted in that direction. The USA have not won on European soil since 1993. Europe's apparent dominance meanwhile is not necessarily reflected overseas, where they lost in 2008 and 2016, and should've lost in 2012.
The Miracle at Medinah will probably never be surpassed in terms of the scale of the comeback and the drama it created. But level-headed analysis confirms the USA, derided for their inability to adapt to Paris, for their egos and their fallouts, have bossed things in the main when in more comfortable surroundings. It took a superhuman effort from arguably the competition's best ever player to turn the tide in 2012, but for which USA might be defending a lengthy unbeaten run of their own.
It's of some significance that those two USA victories came without Tiger Woods. For so many of his generation, being in the same team room with Woods was problematic enough; to play with him almost impossible. Imagine sharing a ball, being asked to play alternate shots with someone so superior, so iconic, so closed off even to his teammates.
It was absent of Woods that Paul Azinger's pods thrashed Europe in 2008, and without him that Davis Love III gained a measure of redemption in 2016, winning 16.5-11.5 and 17-11 respectively. I happen to believe that this new breed would be far better equipped to cope with Woods as a partner, far more likely to rise to the occasion, but it's a volatile imponderable they do not have to combat.
With problem Patrick Reed also out, not even Brooks Koepka's single-mindedness and ongoing feud with Bryson DeChambeau should be enough to derail them. 'This might be the strongest US side in history' has been said and written too many times to carry genuine meaning now, but there can be no doubt all 12 are world-class, none of them have serious scar tissue (DJ probably doesn't remember Medinah), and they are worthy favourites with every player arriving in good form.
Europe meanwhile have to be concerned over Tyrrell Hatton, Matt Fitzpatrick and Lee Westwood in particular. Tommy Fleetwood has by his own admission had a poor year on the PGA Tour and even some of the star names have not exactly been threatening to win lately, as the USA swept the board from The Open onwards.
That being said I doubt many readers, overwhelmingly European, are inclined to back a 1/2 shot they'd rather see lose. Therein lies the real truth of the Ryder Cup as far as I'm concerned: the outright market seldom appeals this close to the event. Those who believe Europe are simply better at this will perhaps want a piece of the standout 5/2, but the real winners here are likely to be those who backed the favourites at 8/11 a couple of months ago.
My tentative suggestion therefore is a couple of small bets on the correct score. USA 17-11 and USA 16.5-11.5 are both 14/1 shots, which makes for 13/2 combined, and a wide-margin victory for the home side is considered a strong possibility. While this event has delivered close finishes many times, runaway wins are relatively common and the last three have not been at all close. Those wanting further cover could add a scoreline on either side of those recommended.
Matters are complicated by what happens if the match is over early, and perhaps European players will be more inclined to fight for pride. Without fans, and against a strong side who can ensure Whistling Straits is set up in the way they want it, I don't think it'll be enough to keep this particularly close, not even with a couple of potential stars lurking behind Rahm, not even with Padraig Harrington at the helm.
Just this once, I hope I'm totally wrong.
4pts Jon Rahm to be the top combined points scorer at 8/1 (General)
1pt Xander Schauffele to be the top combined points scorer at 18/1 (Paddy Power, Betfair)
It would be easy to think that to find the top combined points scorer at a Ryder Cup, first you have to decide who will win it. But that isn't necessarily the case: several individuals have produced leading performances on losing teams. In 2016, rookie Thomas Pieters scored four points from five, more than any American, despite a runaway win for the hosts. Five of the last 10 players to win this market outright did so despite being beaten.
Instead, the key is to be able to predict who will play in all five sessions. Back in 1981, three US players won four from four and topped the combined scorer charts as a result. Since then, every player to have done so played in all five (or four at Celtic Manor) with the exception of one. Remarkably, Ian Poulter was left out of the Friday afternoon fourballs at Medinah, one which went badly for Europe. It goes to show how fine the margins are between being considered a great captain, and one who made a fatal mistake, because Jose Maria Olazabal's recall of a fresh and motivated Poulter to inspire Europe on Saturday looks retrospectively like a stroke of genius.
Poulter is an outlier in every sense when it comes to the Ryder Cup, so it's likely that the winner of this market plays every session and certainly the first one. That means we should be able to narrow the field down to 16 come the announcement of those first four pairings on either side, but maybe we can go as far as eight. No American has won it on their own since 1995, and two of the three to share it did so in a rain-affected renewal which featured just four sessions.
To a large extent this can be explained by European dominance, but four Europeans shared top billing with Hal Sutton despite losing in 1999, and the leading scorers in 2008 and 2016 came from badly-beaten visiting teams. If you believe the United States will win, as I do, that does not necessarily weaken the case for a top scorer from Europe. You could even argue a lack of depth strengthens it.
In the cases of both Pieters (2016) and Poulter (2008), strong American sides, absent of Tiger Woods, featured just a couple of players who were asked to play every session, and as every member of this one is inside the world's top 25, it's a scenario which could play out again. Yes, six of them are rookies, but among those is a two-time major winner, plus Daniel Berger, Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele, all of whom have played in the Presidents Cup. Only Harris English and Scottie Scheffler feel like they fit the description.
The equation might also have been simplified by the struggles of several European players lately. Matt Fitzpatrick, Tyrrell Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood and Lee Westwood all have form questions to answer and the first three would have appeared likely to play prominent roles if we rewind a few months. Now, the visitors' reliance on JON RAHM, Rory McIlroy and even Viktor Hovland appears set to be particularly strong.
Rahm has come a long way since playing a bit-part in 2018 and will surely be involved in every session unless he asks not to be, assuming as I'm prepared to that last week's minor stomach bug is nothing to worry about. The question is with whom, and I can only guess, which is not a comfortable position to be in. Most likely is that Rahm does not have a permanent partner, whatever happens; that he perhaps gets a run-out with someone like Paul Casey or Poulter, but maybe with Fleetwood or even Hovland, albeit surely not with Sergio Garcia.
Whoever he's with, Rahm can be relied upon to deliver and I quite like his controversial decision to play on the PGA Tour the week before, something nobody else has chosen to do. It not only means he should be sharp, but that he has something to keep his mind away from next Friday and that leading role he'll be expected to perform. That he didn't perform as he has been may not be by accident; either way it's not worth dwelling upon.
Clearly the best player in the world, prices of 8/1 that he outscores everyone else look good because he has two distinct advantages: he is playing at a consistently higher level than each and every one of them, and will have more opportunities to collect points than most of them, including some of the most obvious American threats.
Granted, favourites haven't done well in this market lately, but they've had the platform. McIlroy would've shared top honours with Pieters had he won his singles match at Hazeltine, for instance, and while Molinari wasn't favourite in 2018, he was among the form picks for Europe. If we go a bit further back, Seve Ballesteros, Colin Montgomerie, Garcia, Poulter and Westwood have all led the way. Rahm is now the star man on this team and can do the same.
Despite the record of US players in this market, I can't resist taking the pick of the prices about XANDER SCHAUFFELE and he goes in as the saver at 16/1 and upwards.
Schauffele bagged three points from five at the Presidents Cup and now makes his Ryder Cup debut, where he'll surely tee off with his friend and Presidents Cup partner, Patrick Cantlay.
If that's the case, I struggle to understand how you reach prices of 10/1 Cantlay and 18/1 Schauffele, as Paddy Power have done. They're very similar, remarkably so in fact, and sit next to each other in the world rankings. Cantlay has more wins lately, but Schauffele has performed much better in majors, and took Olympics gold in Tokyo.
Yes, Cantlay won the FedEx Cup, but Schauffele pipped him by a shot in the final event. Before that, Cantlay won the BMW Championship courtesy of a brilliant putting display and serious grit, but while that might give him a form edge it is paper thin, particularly after Schauffele's performance at a more suitable course in East Lake.
Neither of them have played here competitively but the point is this: they are almost certain to begin the event together, and maintaining their partnership is the only route I see to winning this market. If that's to be the case, a six- or even eight-point price discrepancy has to be wrong, because we neither know their singles opponents, nor are really able to say which of them is the better player right now. There's just nothing in it. Schauffele, for what it's worth, faced the tougher Presidents Cup singles match and won it to equal his friend's total.
Perhaps Cantlay is too short, but so likely it is that they are in that first session, 18/1 Schauffele looks very generous. Win it and they'll surely have the opportunity to go two-from-two on Friday afternoon, however strong this side looks. Splitting two friends with compatible games after they've won you a point is not an easy thing to do and, as shown by 'Moliwood' in Paris, it may not be the right thing to do, either.
4pts Justin Thomas to be the top USA scorer at 7/1 (888sport, Coral, Ladbrokes)
1pt Collin Morikawa to be the top USA scorer at 10/1 (Sky Bet)
Jordan Spieth and JUSTIN THOMAS played all four pairs sessions in Paris and the latter went on to win his singles match. They will surely go again at Whistling Straits, and despite the strength of the US team if they do keep winning, I find it hard to imagine they'll be reined in. That happened to Spieth alongside Patrick Reed at Gleneagles and was clearly a mistake on Tom Watson's part.
If they're beaten in that first session there's still a good chance they're given a second bite of the cherry in a different format. Either way something will have to go badly wrong for Thomas to play fewer than four matches and a winning start on Friday, which these two will be odds-on to produce, can set him up for another huge week in which he dances every dance.
Plenty can still go wrong but Thomas is worth a bet at the prices, having not only top-scored for the US in Paris, but in Australia at the 2019 Presidents Cup, too. In fact he's played three professional team events for his country, hasn't yet missed a session, and has scored a minimum of three-and-a-half points in each of them. Of the 33 players he's lined up alongside, only Dustin Johnson has outscored him, and that was in 2017 when Thomas was a rookie.
It's an outstanding return for the real Captain America and he's key to their chances.
Those seeking a second pick should strongly consider Schauffele, but he's essentially the same price as Cantlay here and not considered especially good value.
COLLIN MORIKAWA, who is 10/1 in a place and yet alongside Schauffele in the combined betting, is more tempting, and surely the Open champion is sent out on Friday morning. At the time of writing he is a big enough price to go in as a saver, but not at anything shorter than 9/1.
4pts Jon Rahm to be the top European points scorer at 7/2 (General)
1pt Shane Lowry to be the top European points scorer at 12/1 (General)
The case for Rahm has been made already and 7/2 that he's the pick of the Europeans gives us a nice safety net if this does prove to be one-sided in favour of the hosts. In that scenario, Rahm will surely have played five sessions as his captain relies on the world's best player, and three points from them may well be enough for a return. And remember, Pieters top-scored in a heavy European defeat five years ago.
Regular readers will know that siding with favourites is not my first instinct, but Rahm was virtually the same price to win a full-field event on the PGA Tour a week prior to this. Winning three or more points from five matches in a Ryder Cup isn't easy, but it's far easier than winning a 72-hole tournament against 155 rivals, and given that McIlroy is yet to miss a session, I don't see why Rahm should be expected to now.
Another factor here is that there are four 40-somethings in the European side. Paul Casey is particularly fit but even he might struggle to play five matches, and we're talking about one of Europe's standout performers in 2021. That furthers my belief that the big guns will have to go to battle again and again, and perhaps SHANE LOWRY will prove to be one of them.
Those two beaten Europeans who top-scored, Pieters and Poulter, were both wildcards, and Pieters was a rookie. Lowry, already a major and WGC winner, thoroughly deserves his place in the team and is a big-time performer who won't fear anybody. His form this year makes him a key man for Padraig Harrington, too.
For those reasons I think he'll go out in the first session, possibly with McIlroy, and if that's the case I'd rather take a chance on Lowry enjoying a dream debut. It was alongside McIlroy that Pieters starred before winning his singles match, and the former has been a bit disappointing in that format lately. He's also less than half the price of his Olympics teammate.
With Hatton and Fitzpatrick struggling, Bernd Wiesberger probably not a key part of Harrington's long-term plans and those veterans needing to be correctly handled, this market should be won by either Rahm, Hovland, McIlroy, Fleetwood or Lowry. Go with the two who have won majors since the last Ryder Cup, and look made for the format.
Posted at 1200 BST on 17/09/21
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