As victories for Justin Rose and Francesco Molinari last week built anticipation for this years Ryder Cup and European chances of wrestling the trophy back from the USA, this weeks blog will simulate the likely match-ups, strip away the hype and analyse which side will emerge victorious at Le Golf National in September.
Sides have been picked based upon current standings and form, and two days of intense match-play battle have left the scores tied at 8-8 going into the 12 singles matches. For the purposes of this simulation, the singles order was decided FA Cup style by drawing lots out of a hat. It is a fascinating match-up for an epic final day.
3 factors were taken into consideration when simulating the results of each match:
- Form: In short 18 hole matches, form going into the event is crucial. A bank of good scoring from 2018 can give the all important confidence and edge in a mano on mano contest. Players 2018 scoring average was therefore given a 33% weighting in the simulation.
- Class: Ultimately a players class will more often than not decide the outcome in match-play. Competitors Official World Rankings accounted for 33% towards the result of each match-up.
- Luck: It is true that in 18 Hole match-play, lady luck can play a crucial role. In the golfing equivalent of a sprint, a couple of bad bounces or lip-outs can tip the result either way and a poor start can be fatal. As part of our simulation then, the roll of a dice was used as the final % prediction in every match.
Match 1: Alex Noren v Dustin Johnson
The gritty Swede versus the languid American brought a contrast of styles to the opening match. Despite Noren’s toughness and a few loose shots from the big-hitting Johnson, ultimately the class of the World Number 2 shone through as three birdies after the turn helped the USA to a comfortable victory.
USA win 4 & 3. Match Score: Europe 8 – 9 USA
Match 2: Francesco Molinari v Bubba Watson
The poor match-play record of the quiet Italian continued as he was comfortably swatted aside by the in-form Watson.
USA win 5 & 4. Match Score: Europe 8-10 USA
Match 3: Rory McIlroy v Xander Schauffelle
On paper this should have been an easy point for the Europeans against the American rookie. In reality it was an edgy, poor quality affair with McIlroy hitting into water twice and missing a number of makeable putts. Luckily for European hopes, Schauffelle himself could not take advantage of the lapses and ultimately McIlroy had just enough to creep over the line.
Europe win 2 & 1. Match Score: Europe 9-10 USA
Match 4: Tyrell Hatton v Webb Simpson
This turned out to be the highest quality match of them all as both players traded birdies. There was never more than 1 hole margin and Hatton held his nerve to hole a 4-foot par putt on the 18th to ensure a deserved half point as both players were round in 6-under par.
Match Halved. Match Score: Europe 9.5 – 10.5 USA
Match 5: Sergio Garcia v Rickie Fowler
European hopes took a battering in this match as Fowler sprinted out the blocks and over the horizon like an orange blur in the distance with 5 straight birdies. Garcia had no answer as the irritated Spaniard surrendered to an early bath.
USA Win 8 & 7. Match Score: Europe 9.5 – 11.5 USA
Match 6: Jon Rahm v Phil Mickelson
Heartbreak for Europe as an inspired Phil Mickelson edges the fired-up Rahm for a crucial American point. Despite only hitting 3 fairways, a combination of outrageous skill, good fortune and inspiration keep Mickelson in the match and a hooked tee-shot into the water at the 18th by the Spaniard confines him to the narrowest of defeats.
USA Win 1up. Match Score: Europe 9.5 – 12.5 USA
Match 7: Tommy Fleetwood v Brian Harman
The Englishman keeps Europe in the hunt with a nervy victory in the battle of the Rookies. 2up with only 2 to play, Fleetwood survives the shock of missing a 2-foot putt on the 17th that would have secured a victory as Harman cannot convert a 25 footer on the 18th that would have gained an unlikely half. A visably shaking Fleetwood looks a relieved man he gains a bear hug from Captain Bjorn at the back of the final green.
Europe Win 1up. Match Score: Europe 10.5 – 12.5 USA
Match 8: Justin Rose v Matt Kuchar
The classy Rose exerted his authority over the steady American with the players shaking hands on the 14th green despite the defeated Kuchar being 2-under par on the day. The Englishman remained undefeated in his 4 matches throughout the week as he stood firm against the American onslaught.
Europe Win 5 & 4. Match Score: Europe 11.5 – 12.5 USA
Match 9: Ross Fisher v Patrick Reed
Fisher is no match for the self-proclaimed ‘Captain America’ as Reed ignores the occasional jeer from the pro-European gallery to power into an early lead that he never looked like surrendering. The point moves the USA within a point of winning the trophy on ‘enemy’ soil and the fist-pumping Yank is loving every minute.
USA Wins 5 & 4. Match Score: Europe 11.5 – 13.5 USA
Match 10: Rafa Cabrera-Bello v Brooks Koepka
Drama aplenty as Cabrera-Bello wins the final hole of his match to keep slim European hopes of a tie alive. The Spaniard enjoys a huge slice of luck on the 18th as his do or die approach bounces off the sleepers surrounding the water before settling on the putting surface. Two putts from there is enough to secure the tie with the impressive American.
Match Halved. Match Score: Europe 12-14 USA
Match 11: Henrik Stenson v Jordan Spieth
When the ice-cool Swede is at his imperious best, there are few golfers that can keep pace. Spieth battled hard against the hugely impressive ball striking from Stenson, but a costly 3-putt on the 16th cut his comeback short and the European was able to wrap up the match on the 17th green.
Europe Win 2 & 1. Match Score: Europe 13-14 USA
Match 12: Matt Fitzpatrick v Justin Thomas
The wisdom of keeping the world number 1 player as the number 12 was justified as the uber-confident Thomas always had too much for plucky Brit Fitzpatrick. Striking nerveless iron shots at the flags, Thomas justified his status as the best player in the world as he wrapped up the trophy for the USA on the 15th green.
USA Win 4 & 3. Final Match Score: Europe 13-15 USA
Mickelson & Spieth celebrate Ryder Cup success
My simulation predicts another victory for the USA as they retain the trophy by a 2 point margin in France.
What was clear however, as the simulations were playing out was how evenly matched the teams were in terms of form and world ranking. The European side is looking far more impressive than 2 years ago which saw a mis-match at Hazeltine.
With evenly matched sides, the role of the Captains may be crucial. Captain Bjorn has the advantage of setting the course up to favour the Europeans and one imagines this means to reduce the advantage of the power hitting American heavyweights. If he can get his pairings right, then Europe have a serious chance of beating a very strong opposition.
I for one hope that my simulation proves incorrect. It should be an exciting week of golf whatever the result.