Yesterday I got to have that sinking feeling you get when a contradiction of epic proportions makes things seem not so simple. When a sports writer you respect goes off the rails, there’s nothing to do but take comfort in misanthropia.
John Feinstein is an accomplished golf and football writer who works for the Washington Post and writes books on the side. His latest weekend column argues that a proud gridiron team (I won’t say who, since this is a golf post) should not be playing in such a tough conference – a conference in which it has enjoyed many triumphs already – and should adopt an easy schedule “formula” for perpetual postseason bids.
One word can describe reading it – ugh. Thank you very much if I tune your ignorant editorials out for the rest of the autumn, sir.
But later in the day, the assignment to cover the Ryder Cup, and I couldn’t help but smile thinking of the stories Feinstein has told about it. Then I hated myself for smiling, because of the trash he had just written in WaPo.
Handicappers are taught to ask themselves about golfers’ nerves all the time. But there’s rarely a golf gallery – and culture – that in itself changes the play on the links, and that’s what is unique about the Ryder Cup.
Ryder Cup Matches: Swerves, Nerves, and Learning Curves
Feinstein’s 1993 book A Good Walk Spoiled is mostly standard links fare, except for a few brilliant chapters on the Ryder Cup. The author peeks at the fanatical culture and crowd heat that soaks the very grounds of the golf course in tension and anticipation, ramping up pressure on the players.
PGA Tour pros can think to themselves that The Masters is more important than the Ryder Cup. But the day they’re standing over a 4-footer with 500 kids holding Yankee flags in the front row and a hushed mass of praying zealots, they realize nothing could be more important than sinking that knee-knocker.
The Ryder Cup is an exhibition between a team of American golfers and a team of Europeans. But it’s also the Army-Navy Game, the Olympic Gold Medal, the Summit Series wrapped up in one. Heck’s, it’s the FIFA World Cup…or the closest that The Gentleman’s (and Gentlelady’s) Game comes to it.
Feinstein’s book notes that in the 1993 Ryder Cup at The Belfry in England, one American golfer (who we also won’t name here) was so scared to tee off first that he made up a strategy issue out of thin air, trying to talk his partner into hitting away.
Even if nerves don’t get the best of them, the format can. In a foursomes (alternate shot) match in 1993, Tom Kite hit a wonderful fairway wood shot to 12 feet on a Par 5, leaping into the air to celebrate. But he couldn’t capitalize on his own momentum – it was his partner Davis Love III’s turn to play the ball. Love missed the eagle putt, the hole was “halved” (or drawn) and a Seve Ballesteros-led pairing beat them 2 holes and 1.
It’s not the subtleties of strategy and momentum casting a shadow on golf betting sites this week, however. Instead, it’s a big, fat, whoppin’ trend line – the United States has not won a Ryder Cup overseas since the 1993 event at The Belfry.
The USA has lost 5 Ryder Cups in a row held in Europe.
Ryder Cup Betting: Handicapping the Teams
Betting odds are not yet released for Friday’s morning and afternoon matches. In fact, we don’t even know what the pairings will be.
When the information is announced, we’ll report it here…along with our picks for the matches.
UPDATE – The Friday morning pairings are out and the odds are active, courtesy of our pals at Sportsbetting.ag. Here are my quick picks on the star-studded fourballs matches:
Justin Rose and Jon Rahm (-148) vs Brooks Koepka and Tony Finau – Furyk makes an interesting choice, pairing the steady hand with a less-accomplished player.
Pick: Rose and Rahm (-148)
Rory McIlroy and Dane Thorbjorn Olesen vs Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler (-130) – Odds are not nearly short enough on the powerhouse American pair to win with length, though D.J. might have to wait for Fowler in the trees once or twice.
Pick: Johnson and Fowler (-130)
Paul Casey and Tyrrell Hatton vs Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas (-160) – Casey and Hatton are a smart English duo and Spieth/Thomas may be too competitive with each other to focus on beating the Brits.
Pick: Casey and Hatton (+140)
Francisco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood vs Tiger Woods and Patrick Reed (-116) – I felt that Tiger was over-priced in Vegas to begin the season and under-priced to end the season. Now he’s priced just about right…for a winner.
Pick: Woods and Reed (-116)
DAY 2 UPDATE: The Americans, trailing 5-3, have gone with identical pairings for the next day’s round of fourballs matches. Meanwhile, the Europeans have juggled their lineup considerably. The promised odds for Saturday’s late foursomes will be published in a brief window by the sportsbook once the pairings are set. For now, here are the betting lines for the morning matches, some of which look suspiciously like Thursday’s markets.
LegitGamblingSites.com’s picks are in bold below the match capsules.
Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia (-110) vs Brooks Koepka and Tony Finau – Tight odds on a pair of icons against 2 oft-overlooked American aces.
Pick: McIlroy and Garcia
Paul Casey and Tyrrell Hatton vs Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler (-165) – I still think Johnson and Fowler have a ton more birdies to sink at Le Golf National.
Pick: Johnson and Fowler
Francisco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood (-116) vs Tiger Woods and Patrick Reed (+100) – I insist, insist mind you, that making Tiger Woods an underdog is a mistake this late in the 2018 season. He is on an upward trajectory.
Pick: Woods and Reed
Ian Poulter and Jon Rahm vs Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas (-126) – This pairing of young Yankees is working out much better than I anticipated.
Pick: Spieth and Thomas
For now, let’s look at a few narratives surrounding the top players on both teams, and then see if we can find the best odds on a futures pick to win the Cup itself.
In my opinion, the biggest mistake golf bettors make when handicapping the Ryder Cup is looking closely at the playing strength, current form, and mano-a-mano record of each participant. Golf is too volatile from day-to-day for matches to be decided on the basis of who’s had the hotter season, or who has sunk more birdie putts at the Anywhere USA Open. Even if the sport didn’t include randomized results and excellent athletes falling flat as part of its weekly DNA, the Ryder Cup would make it so.
Don’t worry about whether Tiger Woods would out-score Rory McIlroy in a 100-round stroke play match played in computer-generated conditions. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is the comfort level of a team, its ability to adapt to the setting and the layout…and the ability to make birdies at all costs.
The 5-fold losing streak has to weigh in on the futures odds somehow. But lo and behold, the Americans are slight favorites at Bovada Sportsbook with a (-135) line, making Europe a noted underdog at (+145).
Clearly, Vegas believes that this is the year the United States breaks the visitors’ curse.
United States skipper Jim Furyk (excellent choice and a cool customer) says that it’s unlikely he will pair Tiger and Phil Mickelson, despite fans clamoring to see the formerly ineffective and tension-filled pairing happen once more. For Furyk to put a potentially damaging pairing together when Tiger and Phil can each be used to good effect elsewhere would be ludicrous.
It reminds me of the media buzz Mike Keenan faced when sporting Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky on the same Team Canada at the Canada Cup in 1987. Lemieux and Gretzky sometimes double-shifted but rarely played together, giving the Maple Leaf a best-ever playmaker on 2 lines and a best-ever sniper on the other 2. But no one was satisfied. “Why not Gretzky and Lemieux, same line, all time?” asked a puzzled Finnish writer. Yes, Gretz and Super Mario did eventually pair up, “same line all time”…but they always got along better than Woods and Mickelson have over the years.
Mickelson has been practicing with Bryson DeChambeau, which hints at the marvelous idea of giving the streaky youngster a port in the storm via a veteran partner. Brooks Koepka’s game might not be well-suited to make birdie after birdie on the dangerous-yet-exploitable Le Golf National course. He’s a steady hand and must be paired with someone like Rickie Fowler, who knows how to go low.
It’s strange that the Europeans are so dominant on their side of the pond, considering that the Ryder Cup isn’t usually held at St. Andrews in a 40 mph gale. The golf is a mix of English, American and other styles – with courses largely set up to match.
Even Medinah, a state-side major championship course chosen to host the Ryder Cup in 2012, has a few elements around the course that remind some of links or European parkland golf.
But you can’t say “Medinah” or “2012” to a Ryder Cup fan without more of that old starry-eyed passion…and unshakeable agony.
The fiery Poulter will be there for Europe again this weekend, along with captain’s choices Sergio Garcia and Paul Casey.
Francisco Molinari led Europe qualifying, with Rory and Justin Rose – 2 players who could tear up the French course – nipping at his heels.
Fourballs and Foursomes Betting Strategy
It’s important to know the rules if you’re betting on the individual matches.
A foursomes match is held between teams of 2 golfers each. On any particular hole, the golfers on the same team take turns playing the same ball. One team member is assigned to tee off on every odd-numbered hole, and the other team member on every even-numbered hole. Other than that, it’s typical match play with the lowest score on a hole winning it, or the hole being “halved” with the same score.
Fourball matches are also between 2 teams of 2 linksmen, but they all play their own ball throughout the match. On each hole, the lower score of the 2 golfers in a team determines that pairing’s score.
The tournament concludes with all-comers singles matches on Sunday.
Analysis of fourballs and foursomes match strategy is crucial to making a solid futures bet on the Ruder Cup winner in addition to making good picks on the individual performances.
Alternate-shot teams must be willing to combine their styles and try to find a groove in crafting birdies with 8 limbs in use instead of 4. While the Europeans have a lot of steady, smart players like Jon Rahm who are excellent in foursomes play, the Americans can threaten to overwhelm the Euros with length and wedge play by pairing Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson with finesse players.
Fourball matches are won with birdies and eagles, and do not cater to the strengths of veteran par-save wizards like Mickelson or methodical grinders like Matt Kuchar. Tiger and Justin Thomas can help their teams go low, and DeChambeau is the wild card, capable of shooting 63 on his own ball or collapsing at the start like he did last week at the Tour Championship.
My Team Futures Pick for the 2018 Ryder Cup
I’m not liking Europe because of a curse, or a trend line. But I think they’ll be at least as formidable of a unit as the United States, and may work together somewhat more cohesively as they have done in every modern Ryder Cup not held west of the Atlantic.
Yes, I know Ian Poulter is old and decaying, Sergio is getting there, and the depth of the United States team is superior, even with Henrik Stenson reinforcing Europe and Tommy Fleetwood set to captivate the crowd. Johnson, Woods, Thomas, Spieth, Koepka, Reed. I get it.
But odds tell the tale. (+145) for Europe with near toss-up chances given the setting, history, and psychology of the event? Not to mention that something is causing the Yanks to have trouble every time the Ryder Cup is held far from home. Just because nobody can explain gravity yet doesn’t mean we’re not sure it exists.
My recommended team bet is below. If you are reading this on Thursday, be sure to check back soon for updated names, lines and picks for the alternate-shot and fourballs matches.