Underdog Team Europe Looks To Keep Ryder Cup Out Of U.S. Hands

Golf's most prestigious team tournament begins Friday at Whistling Straits outside Milwaukee
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Maybe the extra year’s wait will be worth it for Team USA at the Ryder Cup.

Captained by Steve Stricker, the Americans are solid favorites to reclaim the most prestigious trophy in team golf from Europe in match play spread over three days beginning Friday. The biennial event was pushed back due to the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to tweaks in the respective scoring systems for how Stricker and European counterpart Padraig Harrington selected their respective 12-man teams before adding their captain’s picks.

The Ryder Cup is one of the biggest sports betting events for golf outside the four majors and the recent burst of made-for-TV match-play events. Match play brings a different dynamic than the traditional stroke play seen on the PGA and European tours. Live betting is tailor-made for this event, given the value each hole carries in foursomes, four-ball, and singles.

The Ryder Cup is being held at Whistling Straits, just outside of Milwaukee. Whistling Straits is no stranger to big golfing events, having hosted the PGA Championship in 2004, 2010, and 2015, and Team USA hopes the venue just off Lake Michigan will prove both formidable and helpful enough to provide a home course advantage.

Team Europe currently holds the title after pounding Team USA 17.5-10.5 in France in 2018 and will retain the title if the match ends tied 14-14. Hence, Team USA needs at least 14.5 points to reclaim the trophy.

Team Europe looking to extend dominance

Since the “Battle of Brookline” in 1999, when the U.S. team rallied from a 10-6 deficit in singles play on the final day (while wearing perhaps the ugliest team shirts in Ryder Cup history) to win 14.5-13.5, Europe has won seven of the last nine matchups. The rout in France three years ago was the largest margin of victory since Team Europe won 18.5-9.5 in both 2004 and 2006.

Similar to team events in other sports, a decisively U.S.-partisan crowd could make an impact. Unlike PGA Tour stops, love of country — or continent for a Euro supporter — brings out a more die-hard and louder fan element at the Ryder Cup, and Team Europe will not have much on-course backing due to COVID-related travel restrictions.

The “Miracle at Medinah” in 2012, in which Europe overturned its own 10-6 deficit on the final day just outside Chicago, had a rowdy crowd that heckled Rory McIlroy — who nearly missed his tee time Sunday and showed up at the first tee box with 10 minutes to spare. McIlroy and current teammates Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood, and Ian Poulter would all have the last laugh, though, winning their singles matches to spark the comeback.

Brushing up on four-ball and foursomes

On the first two days, there are morning and afternoon sessions of four-ball and foursomes, with eight points available each day. On Sunday, all 12 members from each team play singles matches for one point apiece.

In four-ball, each member on a two-man team plays a hole individually, and the lowest score by either member is carded. In foursomes, teammates play the same ball in an alternate-shot format, with one player teeing off on odd-numbered holes and the other on even-numbered ones.

Player pairings take on significant importance, with Stricker and Harrington set to endure intense scrutiny for their selections. Some players do not respond well to the immense pressure of playing in the Ryder Cup, and the captains need to find duos who have chemistry to scrape out points. The order of singles play will also weigh heavy as Harrington and Stricker must take the score into account when filling out their lineups to navigate the best path to 14 or 14.5 points.

Stricker looks to have the more daunting task of the captains, with six first-time players and one partnership likely unavailable in Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka, given their season-long sniping at each other on the PGA Tour. Team USA does have plenty of talent, with 10 of the top 13 players, according to the Official World Golf Rankings, and all 12 in the top 21.

Team Europe does have the world’s No. 1 player in U.S. Open champion Jon Rahm. All but Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger are 50th or better in the OWGR rankings, and Harrington has three Ryder Cup debutants, including Open winner Shane Lowry and Wiesberger.

The pandemic has provided an added twist with the “COVID envelope.” Ahead of singles play Sunday, each captain will put the names of three players in an envelope in case someone from the opposing team is unable to play due to a positive COVID test. The captain places the name of the player in the envelope, and if the opposing player cannot play, the player whose name is in the envelope does not play and each side receives half a point.

What betting markets are available?

There is no lack of offerings at sportsbooks, given the Ryder Cup’s popularity on both sides of the Atlantic as well as a different variety of bets that comes with match play. Team USA is listed as a favorite from -186 on the Kambi platform — powering BetRivers, Unibet, and Barstool Sportsbook — to -200 at Caesars and theScore.

DraftKings, PointsBet, FanDuel, and BetMGM have sought a middle ground at -190. FanDuel has the best three-way odds for Team Europe at +220, followed by BetMGM and DraftKings (+210), and Caesars (+200). In wagers to lift the trophy, Team USA odds again range from -186 to -200, while the best Team Europe play after shortening comes at DraftKings (+160).

Some books are offering spread plays, with Team USA favored anywhere from 1.5 to 4.5 points. Caesars has the best play at -1.5 (-133), with BetMGM offering the best underdog value for Team Europe at +115. The value flips at 2.5, with Team Europe posted anywhere from -137 at Caesars to -150 at PointsBet. BetMGM again has the best underdog play, with Team USA +115 to cover as favorite.

Kambi and Caesars are the lone platforms offering the U.S. at -3.5, with the former giving a +163/-225 split and the latter +175/-225. Caesars is on its own offering Team USA at -4.5 (-230/+300).

Props are plentiful, but carry some risk

One important thing to remember about the Ryder Cup is that every player is “guaranteed” only one match — singles play on Sunday. Player performance, fatigue, and captain’s strategies may result in lineup and pairing changes throughout four-ball and foursome play Friday and Saturday, which could leave some players watching at various points and impacting over/under plays for points.

The maximum amount of points a player can earn in the current format is five, a feat accomplished only four times since 1967. Italy’s Francesco Molinari was the last to do so in 2018, teaming with current Euro member Tommy Fleetwood to win all four of his foursome and four-ball matches before beating Phil Mickelson in singles. Fleetwood missed out on his chance to go 5-0-0, losing 6-and-4 to Tony Finau in singles.

For top combined points scorer, Rahm is either the top option or joint-top option across sportsbooks. Most offerings are at +700, though DraftKings and theScore list him at +800. Justin Thomas is the top American option for this play, with PointsBet and BetMGM both listing him at +900.

McIlroy is the clear-cut No. 2 option among Euro players, with +1200 at FanDuel the highest value, while bettors for Team USA players can pick and choose among Patrick Cantlay, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, and Xander Schauffele in a bracket from +900 to +1200.

Some books are offering props on top rookie scorer, with Cantlay the top option at BetMGM (+450), FanDuel (+430), PointsBet (+425), and Kambi (+400). He is also a +400 offering at DraftKings, but second to Schauffele (+350) there.

Schauffele and Spieth also headline the highest point total among captain’s picks, with the pair joint-top options at Kambi and BetMGM (+400), as well as DraftKings (+350). Spieth is the top listing at FanDuel (+350), followed by Schauffele (+450).

For those who fancy Europe and some veteran savvy, Garcia can be grabbed for most points among captain’s picks at +750 on the Kambi platform and BetMGM, while Poulter’s top value is +1000 at FanDuel. Westwood, making his 11th Ryder Cup appearance for Europe, has an over/under of 1.5 points with a +160/-223 split at PointsBet, while BetMGM has a special of +135 for Poulter to win his singles match.

Multiple sportsbooks are also offering races to point totals, as well as session-by-session and full day correct score plays, so be sure to shop around to find the best offerings in those corresponding markets.

Photo: Michael Madrid/USA TODAY

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