One could be fooled into thinking the Ryder Cup commences on Friday. In theory, you’d be right – the golf does indeed tee off in just three days’ time. But the real action, the real rivalry, that fuse was set alight in the remnants of sun which lit Rory McIlroy’s phenomenal win at the TOUR Championship just two days ago.
That victory has brought the competition alive in a way no sound bite, no sarcastic quip ever could. McIlroy, three behind leader Kevin Chappell before he pounded a 320 yard drive down the middle of 16, holed his wedge shot in spectacular fashion before a brave, brute strength birdie on 18, tied him for the lead and forced a play-off.
Before you even took into account the subtext that America still had a wildcard pick left, the action was truly memorable, Tiger-in-his-pomp memorable. If next Sunday is half the spectacle of McIlroy defeating Ryan Moore and Chappell over those four holes, we are in for a spectacular sporting treat this long weekend.
Rory McIlroy! One back with two holes to go.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) September 25, 2016
With his smash and grab win, McIlroy – the only European member of the team in that tournament – has surely sparked a new sense of belief within his continental ranks. The best finish from the American team was Moore, but he was only picked after the conclusion of the final round. The best the rest could muster was 6th, and that fact comes with it’s own caveat in that Dustin Johnson crumbled under the Sunday pressure. After that, the majority failed to perform on the big stage all week. Patrick Reed, Jimmy Walker and JB Holmes all finished in the bottom five whilst Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson and Matt Kuchar never really threatened on their way to mid-table obscurity. Mickelson’s Sunday 66 and Spieth’s exquisite putting exhibition on Thursday were the only real highlights from that imaginary three ball.
It all throws into question the dominance which is so, one supposes, expected over Team Europe. Not that the men in blue don’t have issues. Whilst Andy Sullivan has shown glimpses of brilliance this season, he has been largely disappointing and made the team off of his impressive 2015 points haul. Chris Wood’s BMW PGA win at Wentworth catapulted him into the automatic places but in his last six events he hasn’t cashed a cheque for more than €31,680. Walker, by contrast, just picked up close to $140,000 for coming second last at East Lake. There are more causes for concern. Stenson has been battling a knee injury which saw him miss the majority of the playoffs whilst Lee Westwood seems to have been picked not on form – which is distinctly lacking – but Ryder Cup experience.
The course probably plays into the hands of the home side too. We saw DJ dominate the lengthy Crooked Stick track at the BMW Championship just a couple of weeks ago but Hazeltine stretches to 7,678 yards – 100 more than the one Johnson dismantled. In addition to Holmes, Reed, Koepka and even the sneakily long Fowler, whose few weeks off would have served him well, I wouldn’t be surprised if DJ plays all four matches. When you combine the long game of those guys with the potentially hot putting of players like Spieth, Moore, Snedeker and Zach Johnson – you really have a recipe for low scores on a course which will present plenty of birdie opportunities. Europe’s long hitters don’t quite match up but still consist of McIlroy, Stenson (if he’s fully fit) and Thomas Pieters. Rose is admittedly long but probably lacks natural, raw power and Sullivan has averaged 300 off the tee during the last couple of seasons.
Taking a mix of recent form, home advantage and likelihood of game raising, Poulter style performances from either side my gut feeling still says it will be close going into Sunday. Unfortunately for European fans that means the U.S. will probably have enough to get over the line with a 2 or 3 point winning margin. Having said that, 8/13 for a USA victory does seem a little short and I’ll certainly be hedging a U.S. loss with a European victory at 2/1. It means the margin is a bit narrower but I think the real money to be made this week is going to be on the individual matches, and a win in the overall market is a bonus.
Check back later in the week for a full break down on tips within selected available markets.
Selected bets – £5
USA 15.5 – 12.5 Europe – £1
USA 15 – 13 Europe – £1
USA 16 – 12 Europe – £1
Europe (to win) – £2