Which team will win the Ryder Cup at Marco Simone Golf and Country Club? And which players will be the top scorers for Team Europe and Team USA in Rome?
No pilgrimage to Rome is ever free from pain and so it has been with the Ryder Cup’s first ever journey to the Eternal City – for Team Europe, at least.
The date, for example. Italy was awarded the 44th edition of the match in late 2015 and it was initially slated to take place this time last year. Until Covid-19 intervened and added a dormant year to the match schedule.
When Paris hosted the last match on this side of the Atlantic, Europe dominated again prompting ecstatic scenes throughout the French capital and Rome must have been rubbing its hands at the prospect of a repeat – and then Padraig Harrington’s team were thumped 19-9 in the next match by the USA Team.
In early 2022 Henrik Stenson was made European captain but by July he had stood down, opting to join LIV instead. Luke Donald replaced him and the Swede was not the only Ryder Cup star lost to the rebel circuit – Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia, Graeme McDowell, Paul Casey and Martin Kaymer were gone too.
A golden generation was lost and many questioned the ability of the youngsters to replace them.
Stumbling block after stumbling block on the road to Rome and yet, as the city has come into view, hope has arisen for the home team. How?! Why?! Let’s find out.
Ryder Cup history
Rome is not the only site of religious significance linked to the Ryder Cup because Samuel Ryder, the man who created the match, came from St Alban’s in Hertfordshire – the oldest place of pilgrimage in England. Ryder dreamed of a competitive clash between the best golfers of the new and the old world (then Great Britain and Ireland). It was a noble aim but a flawed one.
True, GB&I won the second and the fourth matches but they won just once more, with one tie before the 1985 match. At that point the tally favoured the Americans 21-3. Continental Europe had joined the Brits and Irish in 1979 but it had had little effect. Ahead of the 1983 match ABC Television in the States was so disillusioned with the event as a spectacle it tried to pay not to honour a contract to broadcast it.
And then Europe enjoyed a renaissance and with it so, too, did the contest itself. Triumph, when it finally arrived, came in bulk: Europe regained the trophy at The Belfy in 1985 and then retained it, winning away from home for the first time, at Muirfield Village in 1987. In time, the Americans would be riled into response. The 1991 match was rechristened The War on the Shore and the 1999 match left Sam Torrance, among many others, appalled at what he had witnessed from Americans rampaging across a green in celebration when the match was yet to be decided.
But these were exceptions. The tide had turned. Between 1985 and 2018 Europe won 11 matches, lost five and tied one. The boot was on the other foot. Ahead of every Ryder Cup up until 2018 it was noted that Team USA was better on paper than the European, then, more often than not, Team Europe made an absolute mockery of the world rankings.
The last Ryder Cup match
And then came Whistling Straits in 2021. The Americans led 3-1 after the first session, 6-2 at the end of day one,
9-3 following the third session, 11-5 on Saturday evening and wrapped up victory in the sixth match of the singles. It was a drubbing.
The home team was not entirely united. Brooks Koepka had a problem with Bryson DeChambeau and most of the team didn’t get on with Patrick Reed, but the 12 featured young big hitters who were electrified by an awareness that this was the Stars and Stripes’ finest line-up in decades.
In contrast, while Sergio Garcia formed a defiant partnership with Jon Rahm, it was largely a Ryder Cup too far for Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood and Paul Casey (two points from 10 matches between them), the rest of the team fared little better and Rory McIlroy won only one point from four matches.
This year’s Ryder Cup captains
Luke Donald played in four Ryder Cups as a player, was on the winning side every time and played his part on each occasion with a record of 10 wins, four defeats and one half. He has five vice-captains: two men who won the Ryder Cup themselves as captain (Thomas Bjorn and Jose Maria Olazabal), a stats man (Edoardo Molinari), the 2018 top scorer (Francesco Molinari) and a 2012 hero (Nicolas Colsaerts).
Zach Johnson was a five-time player in the Ryder Cup and won just the once, in his last start in 2016. His record was 8-7-2. His vice-captains are Steve Stricker and Davis Love III (both winning captains in the Presidents and Ryder Cups), Jim Furyk (losing captain in 2018), Fred Couples (a three-time winning captain of the Presidents Cup) and Stewart Cink.
Team Europe’s Ryder Cup veterans
Tommy Fleetwood 4-2-2 63%
Justin Rose 13-8-2 61%
Jon Rahm 4-3-1 56%
Rory McIlroy 12-12-4 50%
Tyrrell Hatton 2-4-1 36%
Shane Lowry 1-2-0 33%
Viktor Hovland 0-3-2 20%
Matt Fitzpatrick 0-5-0 0%
Those records reveal why there was such despondency two years ago. Rose did not play then and his experience will be vital, but that is unlikely to stretch to four matches. Which means Rahm must maintain his high standards at Whistling Straits, Fleetwood must revive the brilliance of Paris and McIlroy must thrive as a senior player.
Hatton, Lowry, Hovland and Fitzpatrick can improve on their poor records, but, while they are somewhat small sample sizes, struggles on day one will heap enormous pressure on them.
If that is the bad news, there is good news, too. McIlroy, Rahm and Hovland are in the world’s top four, Fitzpatrick is now a major champion, Rose is a PGA tour winner this year and Fleetwood has done all but win there.
Team Europe’s Ryder Cup rookies
MacIntyre secured his ticket with automatic qualification and is a winner on the Ryder Cup course. So, too, is Højgaard who top-scored at the warm-up Hero Cup and got a wildcard nod, somewhat controversially, over Poland’s Adrian Meronk. Captain’s picks also went to Straka, a two-time top 10 finisher in the 2023 majors and winner of the John Deere Classic, and Åberg, who won the European Masters in his ninth start as a pro and leap-frogged a continent of pro golfers.
Team USA’s Ryder Cup veterans
Collin Morikawa 3-0-1 88%
Patrick Cantlay 3-0-1 88%
Scottie Scheffler 2-0-1 83%
Xander Schauffele 3-1-0 75%
Justin Thomas 6-2-1 72%
Brooks Koepka 6-5-1 54%
Jordan Spieth 8-7-3 53%
Rickie Fowler 3-7-5 37%
The contrast with the European records is undeniably stark. Morikawa, Cantlay, Scheffler and Schauffele were superb in victory two years ago – and Europe will hope that it was a short, rather than long, term trend.
Thomas has not only been superb in the Ryder Cup, he has also thrived in the Presidents Cup and was excellent in amateur team events. But his form has been poor since winning last year’s PGA Championship and his selection has caused huge debate. Critics have talked of a clique. Captain Johnson will face questions if JT struggles.
Koepka and Spieth are solid, Fowler’s record is somewhat baffling and is even worse in Europe (1-6-5).
Team USA’s Ryder Cup rookies
Few would have predicted in 2021 that Wyndham Clark and Brian Harman would be representing the Americans this year. On the one hand that suggests a problem for the visitors, on the other is the reality that they won major championships to earn their trip which rather highlights their qualities. Homa was superb on his Presidents Cup debut last year (played four, won four) but Burns was not (0-3-2). The latter also plays his best golf in the south-east of his home country.
Read our full guide to Team USA’s 12 players.
Recent history – the stats
Europe has won nine of the last 13 matches, seven of 10 in the 21st century and four of the last six. The Americans’ response would not be bad: they’ve won two of the last three.
The last six results in Europe read:
– 17.5-10-5 at Le Golf National, France in 2018
– 16.5-11.5 at Gleneagles, Scotland in 2014
– 14.5-13.5 at Celtic Manor, Wales in 2010
– 18.5-9.5 at The K Club, Ireland in 2006
– 15.5-12.5 at The Belfry, England in 2002
– 14.5-13.5 at Valderrama, Spain in 1997
Each one a victory for Europe: six on the bounce. The last defeat was a 13-15 scoreline at The Belfry in 1993. That’s an American wait of 30 years. Five of this year’s US team weren’t born when their nation last lifted the trophy this side of the pond and only one of them had started school.
But it’s not one-way traffic. The home team has won 10 of the last 12 Ryder Cup matches. One of those exceptions was the due to the combination of European captain Bernhard Langer’s micro-managing magnificence and US captain Hal Sutton’s ham-fisted errors of judgment. The other was so unlikely it has gone down in history as The Miracle of Medinah.
Home advantage is also revealed in the set-up of the home course. Five years ago, Le Golf National played a key part in Europe’s success and it was not just that it was narrow – the landing areas from the tee were also shallow giving the American big hitters nowhere to land their driver. Irked by being shackled, what became layups were played badly and the rot set in.
Marco Simone GC is a par 72 set at 7,268 yards (read our full Ryder Cup course guide). It is undulating, often has blind shots to raised greens, features holes that will reward an aggressive line from the tee (if well executed) and reports already indicate that the rough is deep. It’s also a physically testing layout, which will play a role in the captains’ thinking.
It has hosted the last three editions of the Italian Open, won by Højgaard, MacIntyre and Meronk. The other men to finish in the top three were Fleetwood, Fitzpatrick, Victor Perez, Romain Langasque and Julien Guerrier. McIlroy was fourth in 2022. Those golfers are all excellent drivers of the ball who feature highly in Strokes Gained Off the Tee rankings either side of the pond. They also mostly have fine records on the Earth Course at Jumeirah in the DP World Tour Championship, another venue that favors elite level driving.
The best Ryder Cup betting odds
– Europe to win: 13/10 with BetFred
– USA to win: 1/1 with SkyBet
– Tie: 12/1 general
THE RYDER CUP – OUR PICKS
To win – Europe at 13/10 with BetFred
There’s no doubt that at the end of the 2021 match the future looked bleak for the Europeans, but there are solid reasons to believe that the worm has turned.
The arrival of LIV Golf has had a profound influence on the make-up of the two teams and all of it in Europe’s favour. With the exception of Justin Rose the golden generation plies its trade with the new circuit now and that is a blessing in disguise.
A clean break with the past has been made and Thomas Bjorn referenced it at the Hero Cup, telling the two teams that he and his peers were done and now it was the turn of a new generation to take on the mantle.
In addition, LIV’s Koepka slipped out of the qualification spots late in the day and was rightly given a pick, but the likes of Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed missed out. The lack of that trio, in the form of 2021, is a loss for the visitors.
Åberg’s last-minute victory was very timely. Had he merely finished top five he would have generated interest and maybe controversy if picked. With a stunning triumph he has injected vim and vigour to the European line-up. The shot-making skills of MacIntyre and Højgaard add further excitement, alongside their winning experience on the layout.
Clark and Harman earned their debuts by right and it would be foolish to be flippant about their qualities. It would also be disingenuous not to say that Europe prefers a team with them in rather than bigger guns if they were in form or available.
Those factors indicate that Europe is stronger than in 2021 and USA weaker.
Then there is history and those 10 home wins in the last 12 matches. That suggests that, if the US are to match the trend busters, they need a repeat of 2004’s captaincy mismatch, a miracle or some similarly fantastical set of events.
At the prices, take the outsiders. Europe can triumph again.
European top scorer – Tommy Fleetwood each at 7/1 with William Hill
McIlroy, of course, has it in him to top score but he is yet to do so. Rose, Straka, MacIntyre, Højgaard and Åberg are most likely to be limited to less than four matches (although the latter pair could easily shine on day one and be let loose). Fitzpatrick, Hatton and Lowry will be fidgeting to improve on past results. Rahm is the favourite and deservedly so. If he top scores again he elevates himself into legendary status because in the modern era only Faldo, Ballesteros, Montgomerie, Westwood, Garcia and Poulter have been multiple lead contributors. There is a little disagreement among the books about Hovland – some take his scintillating form ahead of his record two years ago.
To gain some each way edge (top three earn a return), we’re going with Fleetwood. Since reaching maturity as a pro golfer he’s been superb in team events: 3 points from 3 in the 2018 EurAsia Trophy, 4 points from 5 in the same year’s Ryder Cup, two halves and a loss in the 2021 match, 3 points from 4 in this year’s Hero Cup. He’s had a fine year, he’s popular with everyone, he makes a fine team-mate and he’s a course runner-up.
USA top scorer – Patrick Cantlay each way at 7/1 with BoyleSports
Clark and Harmon have surprised the golfing world once this year, can they do it again? The odds of them playing four times are low. Fowler and Burns are in the same category. Burns was partnered by his good friend Scheffler in the Presidents Cup last year, and many believe it is why he got a pick, but that combination didn’t work out. He could be an intriguing one if it did, but we’ll discount him. Koepka is rarely more dangerous than when he has a point to prove and may do this week, especially if there are any barbs about team golf thrown around, but he has tended to grind in team golf rather than lead. Homa’s debut will be sensational if he repeats his 4 & 0 of last year’s Presidents Cup. Scheffler is the favourite and has a superb match play record but the prospect of a repeat of the Burns problem puts us off.
That leaves Schauffele & Cantlay and Spieth & Thomas, who really do come as pairs. The former are 6-3-0 together in team golf, the latter are 8-2-0. Spieth and Thomas might struggle with the test, with the high demands on driving, while Schauffele and Cantlay could thrive. Cantlay edges it with a slightly better record across his three team matches.
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About the author
Matt Cooper has been a golf journalist for 15 years. He’s worked for, among others, Golf365, SkySports, ESPN, NBC, Sporting Life, Open.com and the Guardian. He specializes in feature writing, reporting and tournament analysis.
He’s traveled widely in that time, covering golf from Kazakhstan to South Korea via Seychelles, Sri Lanka and Nepal.
More straightforwardly, he’s also covered numerous Majors, Ryder Cups and Solheim Cups.