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Can we be the underdogs again?

  • Matt Slater - BBC Sport golf writer
  • 8 Sep 06, 04:20 PM

matt_slater55x55.jpg 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.

monty203.jpgIn 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.

sevecelebrates.jpg 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.

Comments   Post your comment

  • 1.
  • At 05:00 PM on 08 Sep 2006,
  • Gary Webster wrote:

Maybe i'm reading it wrong but does it not claim above that the Europeans have no major winners in their ranks? And I thought Ollie had bagged a couple (!)

  • 2.
  • At 05:05 PM on 08 Sep 2006,
  • Tommy wrote:

Correct me if I'm wrong but Jose Maria Olazabal has won 2 majors and is in Europe's team so the following quote from the article is not quite accurate:

"The Americans can boast of four major champions in their ranks (and 17 titles). The Europeans none. And don't we know it."

  • 3.
  • At 05:06 PM on 08 Sep 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

Not to be too pedantic, but the European team does have one major winner - Jose Maria Olazabal.

Here's hoping that this team will be of the 87' vintage and do what the last team didn't - use ryder cup success as a catalyst to victories in major championships.

Well spotted - we have now corrected the piece!!

Interesting statistics. If you take the scoring average of all the European Team you get 70.77. The US Team's average is 70.48.

Without Tiger, their best player, the US Team's scoring average goes up to 70.61. Even without McGinley, the worst European Team member on scoring average, the European team's scoring average is still higher at 70.70.

I took the European team's stats from the European Tour site, and the US Team's stats from the PGA Tour site. However it's hard to tell if this is meaningful for the Ryder Cup since Matchplay is a whole different kettle of fish. I wonder if scoring averages are just higher in Europe anyway due to the weather or the difficulty of courses?

  • 6.
  • At 12:40 AM on 09 Sep 2006,
  • Paul A wrote:

Who was it in describing the three grades of untruths said that there are lies, d**n lies, and statistics.

And reliance on statistics is oftentimes misplaced, particularly as underdogs invariably tend to outperform expectations. In this case whether the US can sufficently outperform to win, has yet to be seen.

Whilst a good European team, it is not that great.

Despite the standing of the stalwarts who failed to qualify, and although there may be a percieved statistical inferiority and lack of experience, this is not a bad US team.

For the first time the US has exhibited such a degree of team spirit (all 12 turning up for the K Club practice as against the European showing of 6 in their practice) uniting behind Tiger at his best form in the past three years, a European victory is far from a foregone conclusion, particularly on a parkland course which must favour the US.

I suspect that it is going to be very close, with Europe, perhaps because of home support, emerging victorious by maybe one or two points, but even a tie is not an unreasonable expectation.

Anyone else relying on statistics?

Tell me about it late on the 24th.

  • 7.
  • At 02:30 AM on 09 Sep 2006,
  • ALLY HILL wrote:

Never mind stastics,until the Americans can get TEAMWORK into their heads, they start with a disadvantage.

After the footy World Cup, this is the greatest TEAM event in the WORLD. We (Europeans ) , unlike the USA , bond better because we don't think of the money and can put personal differences aside, unlike the Yanks.

Unless Lehman can instill esprit de corp into Woods & Mickelson etc, then the Europeans are worthy favourites.

It will be decided on the first two days, as the Yanks ( playing as individuals ) invariably win the last day singles.

Come on Monty.

  • 8.
  • At 09:37 AM on 09 Sep 2006,
  • Terry 'Cool Hand' Murphy wrote:

What's with all the anorak stuff?

I don't think I have ever read so much self-indulgent nonsense.

Here's an idea next time you write a blog, have a relevant point.

The quoted statistics relate to tournament golf with individuals playing for themselves, over - in golf 'form' terms - a long period of time.

Ryder Cup results revolve around team dynamics, 'out-of-the-blue' form and match-play nerve.

And I don't even like golf.

  • 9.
  • At 09:48 AM on 09 Sep 2006,
  • soren tholstrup wrote:

Any comments on the fact that the present European team has amassed a total of, I think 85 or 86 RC points between them, whereas the US "only" has 35 or 36 RC points? Do we think that has any bearing on the way this will go?

  • 10.
  • At 10:47 AM on 09 Sep 2006,
  • Jerry Neoh wrote:

"That said, I'm actually less confident of victory this time than I was last time..."

I felt the same and tried to analyse why?

Bernhard Langer. He was the determining factor. If Bernhard had still been in charge (sorry, Woosie), the bookies wouldn't be offering any odds on a European victory.

  • 11.
  • At 11:51 AM on 09 Sep 2006,
  • gary chilvers wrote:

The European team are firm favourites going into this event.

It's time for everyone to focus on support in what could be one of the all time classic contests between the tours.

  • 12.
  • At 12:58 PM on 09 Sep 2006,
  • Matt Slater wrote:

I think you're probably right, Jerry. Langer got pretty much everything spot on in 2004 - his wildcard picks, pairings, dealings with the media, preparation work, singles line-up...not sure what the team's hotel was like but I bet it was pretty good too. And then there's that result. It's a tough act to follow and I have a lot of sympathy for Woosnam.

But I also think many of us might be underestimating Woosie. OK, he made a bit of horlicks of that press conference, and he might have handled the Thomas Bjorn affair a little less cack-handedly, but I don't think he's done too badly so far.

His picks were fair enough (you can make good cases for other players but there really isn't much between about half a dozen of them...and I certainly don't think Bjorn has any claim on being the man most wronged by Woosie's choices) and he has consulted former captains (just not Langer). There has been some comment that he hasn't been as hands-on as Tom Lehman but then that's just not his style...and I also don't think it's necessary with this European team. And there is certainly no need for any public displays of affection - the Americans had to go to the K Club together and make a big song and dance of it, the Europeans don't need to prove to anybody that they can work as a team.

Soren, I agree, I think the Europeans' huge advantage in terms of RC experience and success is a big reason to be cheerful.

Bosco, I hadn't thought of the stroke average angle. Interesting. But I'm not sure how many conclusions can be drawn from those numbers....they are, for the most part, playing different courses with different pars and degrees of difficulty. I suppose it does indicate, though, that there is probably a lot less between these teams than first appears. We may not know much about Brett, JJ and Vaughn but as the PGA Tour keeps telling us, "these guys are good".

Paul A, yep, I'm with you on the result. I think we'll win but it will be close. But then narrow margins of victory are much more the norm (since things got competitive between the teams). The 2004 result was remarkable. Your K Club course point is a good one too, and it's something that I'm going to come back too next week.

Sorry you don't like all the conehead stats stuff, Terry (not sure why you think it's self-indulgent, though). But my point was that we're favourites (for once), and we're favourites for objective, quantifiable reasons (not just because we think we're brilliant...that's the football team). And I don't like us being favourites. It just doesn't sound can the Americans be the plucky underdogs?

But I agree, at this point it's all just words, words, words. We're all just speculating and ruminating, wetting our fingers and sticking them in the air. Isn't that what sports fans do until the action starts?

  • 13.
  • At 06:03 PM on 09 Sep 2006,
  • JJH wrote:

As much as statistics and rankings do show good benchmarks of how each team should perform (ironically a very American way to compare from), I truely believe the difference in this Ryder Cup will be the "Tiger factor".

If Tiger can find a partner who he can play with (and more importantly can play with him), the US momentum will be difficult to stop. But if what has happened in the last two cups occurs (Tiger's team of one), I really do see Europe exploiting the home field advantage.

  • 14.
  • At 06:04 PM on 09 Sep 2006,
  • Terry 'Cool Hand' Murphy wrote:

Hey Matt,

Thanks for the reply. I was obviously too harsh!

I agree: I prefer it when we are underdogs. I'm not sure though that all the stats you quote (that happen to help fill out the copy nicely! Hence self-indulgent) have any relevance to the bookies making us favourites. Like I say, in my view that's more to do with team dynamics and match play and possibly home advantage.

You are right. It is all words at this stage. By coincidence (perhaps?) you are paid to write them. I just question whether stats do a serious journalistic blog make?

  • 15.
  • At 02:10 AM on 10 Sep 2006,
  • Mick wrote:

Unfortuately, anyway I look at it the US will win.

I'm an expat in the US and for the first time I actually believe they have some team spirit. Tiger is in awesome form, driven on by his father's death. Trust me, he will win EVERY match.

Woosie needs some sacrificial lambs to go up against him, because if too many of his team get exposed to Tiger's onslaught they will carry the scars through the competition.

The Americans love Ireland and will not feel intimidated.

  • 16.
  • At 01:17 PM on 11 Sep 2006,
  • John Heavey wrote:

Hi Guys,

I think we are all being too optimistic. Stats mean nothing, past victories very little either. Three things decide a Ryder Cup in my opinion. Form, Teamwork and a good captain.

The form of the American players is good, Tiger's is obviously excellent but the new boys is pretty good too, take JJ Henry for instance, a good young player who hits the ball a country mile, he will do well on such a course, it suits his game. The Yanks have the teamwork thing down this time around, they have learn't from past mistakes, 12 gus for the practice round (It was Hal Sutton who complained before about them all turning up at different times in their private jets and not bonding, I think). Now they are getting together and going out to dinner together.

It is us who turned up half hearted, only six and not much bonding, OVERCONFIDENT!! I think that we must not get carried away as the Americans are more ready than us and I think we shall be on the end of a good thrashing if we are not careful.

  • 17.
  • At 07:54 PM on 11 Sep 2006,
  • Darren Russell wrote:

Regarding Mick's post above "trust me, he will win every match..."

Maybe it was the lateness of the hour but trust me Mick, he won't!!!

Even with his best ever partner in Furyk (they were excellent together in last year's Presidents cup) he will inevitably find himself up against Europe's strongest pairings and a game of doubles over 18 holes is a whole different ball game than a 72 hole strokeplay tournament.

Re Woosie's press conference: I thought it was very brave of him to admit that it hadn't gone as well as he would have liked. For what it's worth, I didn't think it was that bad.

He should have mentioned the guys like Bjorn by name who almost made it, but he came across better the longer it went on as he began to relax.

I would have picked Westwood over Bjorn every day of the week and if he prefers to get some advice from Torrance rather than Langer so what...

If the European guys play to their potential we will give the American team a run for their money once more, don't worry about that. Good luck to both teams!!!

  • 18.
  • At 11:31 AM on 13 Sep 2006,
  • Tom Howard wrote:

'Actually, that Tiger dig is unfair. The Americans can boast of four major champions in their ranks (and 17 titles). The Europeans none. And don't we know it.'

What about JM Olazabal's two Masters titles?

  • 19.
  • At 06:13 PM on 18 Sep 2006,
  • BETTE GREGG wrote:


  • 20.
  • At 11:13 AM on 19 Sep 2006,
  • Steve wrote:

Rankings past rounds mean nothing when it comes to matchplay esp the RCup .... 7 of the 8 highest seeded players out in the first round at the World Matchplay..Tiger stuffed first round .... Anything can happen its about who has the upper hand on the day and who takes the pressure letting yourselve down is 1 thing but a whole continent is another..

  • 21.
  • At 01:00 PM on 21 Sep 2006,
  • Ron Sullivan wrote:

What happened to the Ryder Cup format between the USA and the UK and Ireland? How, when, and why did it become a tournament between the United States and the entire massive continent of Europe?

  • 22.
  • At 02:28 AM on 22 Sep 2006,
  • John Carstairs wrote:

Can anyone out there please help me to get in touch with some/any descendants of Sam Ryder? Although I have lived in Canada for the past 50 years, I was born and raised in England. My mother told me her mother's name was Lucy Ryder, and her family had a seed business. It's possible, therefore, that Sam Ryder was my great grandfather. I'd like to touch base with Sam Ryder's relatives to see if I, too, am related to him. Thanks.


  • 23.
  • At 01:35 PM on 22 Sep 2006,
  • Tom Koenig wrote:

Thanks for the blog… Does any one else feel like the announcers suck? I have never seen (or should I say heard) two people so incompetent in all my life. Well okay there was this taxi driver in Singapore… Anyway, these guys can’t even keep the score straight. There are only four teams in play but they can’t seem to figure out who won what hole. Clearly they don’t like each other but instead of making that an interesting side bar we get this awkward first kiss relationship. If only there was a button on the remote that would slap the person talking at that moment…
Thanks, I needed that venting…

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