Can we be the underdogs again?
- 8 Sep 06, 04:20 PM
LONDON - It's tee minus 14 days to the K Club clash and we have already seen/heard the American team dismissed as callow nonentities and then hailed as brothers in arms, and European morale destroyed by a disappointed Dane and then patched up again with an apology and under-the-radar bonding session.
Not bad for less than a week since the cast was finalised.
So where does the hullabaloo of the last week or so leave us? Exactly where we were before.
In the red corner, one half of an excellent matchplay team and six makeweights. In the blue corner, 12 good men. I know where my money is going.
A tad simplistic perhaps - and I have a feeling one or two of the American rookies might surprise us - but the fact remains the Europeans are the bookies' favourites for good reason.
John Wood, an earlier poster, noticed something that we had been talking about in the office for some time (honest!). Namely that this European team "outranks" their American rivals. As John pointed out, the average world ranking for the 12 Europeans is 23.25. It is 27.5 for the Yanks.
This looked new and significant as soon as the American team - and guys, thanks for that qualifying system...very sporting - started to take shape.
Just how new can be seen from looking back through the world golf rankings archive. It only goes back to 2001, so we can only compare this year's teams with the last two RC's teams, but it makes for interesting reading.
In 2004 the American average was a remarkable 18.67 (only Fred Funk being outside the top 50), while the European average was 38.25 (they had four players with rankings worse than Funk's).
In 2002 the American average was 31.08, the European was 52.58. Sam Torrance's side had five players "worse" than Curtis Strange's worst player, and two outside the top 100 (Phillip Price and Lee Westwood).
I couldn't find the full stats for 1999 but I'm guessing the picture would be fairly similar. The American side had 10 of the world's top 16, while Mark James could count on only three of the top 16 (which probably is all that needs to be said about his "dash for points" approach to the pairs matches and subsequent difficulties on singles Sunday).
But it is not just rankings that give the Europeans the bookies' nod this time. There is recent Ryder Cup history, US inexperience and homefield advantage (though just how homefield the K Club is remains to be seen and more will be said on this next week).
There is, however, one other measure of a side's worth that can be easily quantified - the "get your medals out" measure. And when it comes to major victories, Tiger....sorry... the American team can't be matched.
Actually, that Tiger dig is unfair. The Americans can boast of four major champions in their ranks (and 17 titles). The Europeans one (2 titles). And don't we know it.
In fact, the Europeans have trailed in this measure in almost every Ryder Cup apart from the 90s teams of Bernard Gallagher and Seve Ballesteros.
It was, of course, the arrival of Seve that spelled the end of American dominance in the majors and the Ryder Cup.
When he made his debut in 1979 it was his and Tony Jacklin's three major wins against America's combined 11. When he missed the next RC in 1981, it was the American "dream team" selection's 36 major wins versus Europe's zero. That US team - Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Lee Trevino et al - was something else.
But the next decade saw Europe's golden generation close the gap until the gap was no more in 1991 - 11 majors each. Europe had the lead in majors for the next three RCs, and they brought two wins and a defeat for the Old World.
And Europe's answer to the American vintage of 1981? Well, on paper it is the 1995 team that won at Oak Hill. They had 13 wins amongst them at that time. But my choice would be for the 1987 team at Muirfield Village (our first "away" win). The likes of Seve, Faldo, Woosie, Ollie, Langer and Sandy had won "only" seven majors at that point but they would go on to claim 18 (and who knows, maybe Ollie hasn't finished).
It is well documented that no European has won a major since two struck gold in 1999. So it is hardly surprising that the current team is a little light in this regard. But is hasn't done us much harm in the biennial battles with our American cousins.
I'm backing this trend to continue. The rankings don't lie. This is a very, very good European team. Perhaps not as good as those Seve/Faldo-led teams but they, like the Americans this year, had their weak links too. I don't see too many of those this time around for Woosie and the current depth of European golf is unprecedented. Never have so many good players (Bjorn, Pettersson, Poulter and so on) been left out of a RC team from this side of the Atlantic.
And most importantly for the outcome of this year's RC, no amount of get-togethers, team ping pong tournaments and "I like Brett Wetterich" pronouncements from Tiger and co, is going to hide the fact that Tom Lehman has a Mark James-style job to do in Ireland.
That said, I'm actually less confident of victory this time than I was last time. I suppose it's just the "newness" of our favourites status. It just doesn't sit well....we're supposed to be the plucky underdogs! Must remember to ignore those nagging doubts.
I said before that the rankings reversal was new and significant. It's certainly new. I guess we're just going to have to wait and see how significant it is.
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