Betting On The Ryder Cup
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With the 2012 Ryder Cup set to tee off in just a couple of weeks time, today on the blog Cassini offers us some statistics and strategies to keep in mind this year as the best golfers of the United Stats face the best of Europe.
The biennial Ryder Cup is fast approaching, with the competition this year taking place between Friday September 28th and Sunday September 30th. This is the 39th Ryder Cup, a competition first played in 1927 and named after Englishman Samuel Ryder who donated the cup. The Ryder Cup is contested in match play format, and the non-playing team captains are Davis Love III (USA) and Jose Maria Olazabal (Europe).
The competition alternates between Europe and the United States, and this year it is the turn of the USA to host, with the cup being held at the Medinah Country Club in Illinois.
Originally the cup was played between the USA and Great Britain, but although the first four competitions were split 2-2, the USA then won fourteen of the next fifteen competitions, including one tied match in 1969, which meant the cup remained with the holders as written in the competition rules. In an effort to make the Ryder Cup more competitive, Great Britain became Great Britain and Ireland in 1973, but after another three wins for the USA, the decision was made to include players from continental Europe from 1979.
The Europe Era
Since the advent of the Europe era, things have been a lot more even, and the goal of increasing public interest has been achieved, to the point where there is now enormous interest in the competition. Like the World Cup and the European Championships, even the most casual of sports fans sits up and takes an interest. It took a while for Europe to find its feet, losing the first three cups in 1979, 1981 and 1983, but of the 13 matches since 1985, Europe has won 8, tied one (to retain the trophy) and lost 4.
Dating back to 1979, there have been 16 Ryder Cups. Of the eight played in Europe, the hosts have won 5, tied 1 and lost 2, with only one of those defeats coming since 1981.
More relevant to 2012 is the record of the USA when they have hosted the tournament. In the eight tournaments there, the USA has won five and lost three, so hosts win twice as often as the visitors overall, with that one tie.
The Tie of '69
On the subject of ties, it’s perhaps worth mentioning how the tie of 1969 came about. The USA were the holders, so a tie was good enough to retain the Ryder Cup. In the final Singles game, Jack Nicklaus was paired with Tony Jacklin, when Nicklaus conceded a very miss-able putt to halve the match, and leave the final score tied at 16.
It was the first tie in Ryder Cup history, and the concession is considered one of the most famous gestures of sportsmanship in sport. The point though, is that the tie was quite probably not the result that would have played out had the cup been on the line, and while ties are rare, it’s an example of the inherent risks of betting on winning margins. The tie is priced at 12.5 / 13 right now, but bear the 1969 lesson in mind if it gets close.
The format on the first two days of the Ryder Cup is a morning session consisting of four matches of foursomes (a match contested with two members from each team playing alternate shots), followed by an afternoon session where another four matches are played, this time in four ball (better ball) format. Two players from each team each play their own ball, and the player that completes the hole in the lowest number of shots wins the hole.
On the Sunday, twelve singles matches are played, with every one of the twelve players from each team playing a one-on-one match.
Numbers To Note
When researching the numbers for this article, I have chosen 1979 as a good starting point, for two reasons. Not only did this year herald the arrival of Europe in the competition, but since then, the format of the Ryder Cup has consisted of 28 matches held over three days, with each match worth a point. Thus a total of 14.5 points is needed to win the cup, with 14 points enough to retain it.
In the last six tournaments played in the United States, five opening sessions have been foursomes. In 2004 the format was for the morning sessions to be four ball, with the foursomes in the afternoon.
Friday (Day One) foursomes have been close, with a slight edge to the USA 12.5 to 11.5. Europe has the edge on Saturday (Day Two) by 14 to 10, which may suggest that Europe makes adjustments better for the second day, but not much more than that.
This pattern is confirmed though when we look at foursome results from European hosted tournaments. Over six more tournaments, the first day shows little between the two teams, with the USA ahead by 13-11, while on the second day, Europe again improves, and leads 15-9.
Europe has a definite edge in this category, especially on Day One. On the Friday, in the last six stateside tournaments, Europe has picked up 19points to the hosts 9 points. The USA gets their act together on the second day this time, improving enough to split the four ball 12 points each, but overall,this is Europe’s strong suit.
Again looking at matches in Europe, these findings are confirmed. Europe excels on Day One, leading by a huge 15.5 to 8.5 margin, and also leads in Day Two matches by 14-10.
Over the last six USA hosted Ryder Cups, the Singles category is the USA's strength, leading by 39 points to 33 points. The USA won the singles in four tournaments, losing in 1995 and 2004. Psychology may have played a big part in the 2004 loss, as the USA trailed by 6 points (11-5) going into the final day, and needing 9.5 points from the twelve available, the tournament as a contest was all but over.
The 1995 come from behind win on the final day was exceptional. The USA led 9-7 going into the final day, and 10-7 after Seve Ballesteros lost the opening singles match, but the next eight matches saw Europe pick up 6.5 points to lead 13.5 to 11.5. With three matches remaining, Europe needed one win, and after a loss by Bernhard Langer, it came with the relatively unknown Irishman Philip Walton, making his first and only Ryder Cup appearance, who beat Jay Haas by one hole.
Overall, including matches in Europe, the conventional wisdom that the USA has better individual players than Europe is at first sight supported by a total singles record since 1987 of 76.5 to 67.5, but it’s important to note that this advantage has diminished in more recent years. If we look at the last8 tournaments, the Singles are tied at 48, while over the last four tournaments,Europe leads by 25.5 to 22.5.
The USA has four Ryder Cup rookies this year, while Europe has just one. In terms of tournament experience, the average age of the USA team is two more than the European team – 34 to 32.
The USA is top heavy in terms of experience, led by Phil Mickelson with 8 previous tournaments, Jim Furyk 7 and Tiger Woods with 6, the remaining nine players have two or less each. How valuable is that experience? Looking at those three players, not very, as all three players have losing records:
Tiger Woods, W13-L14-H2, (.483)
Phil Mickelson, W11-L17-H6, (.412)
Jim Furyk, W8-L15-H4, (.370)
European experience is more evenly balanced. Lee Westwood leads the way with 7, followed by Sergio Garcia with 5, with the nine non-rookie players all between one and three years in experience. In contrast to the US ‘senior’players, experience for Westwood and Garcia is a definite positive, with both having winning records:
Sergio Garcia, W14-L6-H4 (.667)
Lee Westwood, W16-L11-H5, (.578)
The format for 2012 is as follows:
Day One, Friday: morning four foursome matches followed by four afternoon fourball matches.
Day Two, Saturday: morning four foursome matches followed by four afternoon fourball matches.
Day Three, Sunday: twelve singles matches.
While the match-ups are not yet known, the statistics suggest that the USA will lead after the Friday foursome matches, with Europe bouncing back in the afternoon four balls. I expect the two teams to be close at the end of Day One with Europe having a small lead.
Europe has led after Day One in 2 of the last 4 in the USA, and 5 of the last 8 overall.
Day Two, and the statistics suggest Europe takes the lead after the morning session, but a close afternoon four balls keeps the scores fairly close,with perhaps a small lead for Europe.
Note here that only once since 1987 has a team trailed after Day One,and led after Day Two – and that was Europe in the rain affected 2010tournament where three days became four, and some sessions were comprised of six matches!
Europe has led after Day Two in 2 of the last 4 in the USA (Day One lead has never been lost), and 5 of the last 8 overall (one tie).
On to Day Three then, and there is still all to play for. Advantage USA here, playing at home, and while Europe has improved in recent years in this category, if we discount the 2004 loss when the cup was all but decided,the USA at home can still be expected to have the advantage. Will they make up enough points to catch Europe?
In 2008, the USA led by two going into the Singles, and won by five.
In 2004, Europe led by six, and won by nine.
In 1999, Europe led by four, but lost by one.
In 1995, the USA led by two, but lost by one, the only time the USA has lost a lead to Europe in the Singles, and the first time they have lost a lead since the very different cup of 1957.
So if the USA leads after Day Two, they are a solid bet to hold that lead. If Europe lead, but it’s still close, then expect the USA to make a run and win the Singles, if not by enough to win the cup. If Europe has a big Day Two lead, bet at your peril.
With the USA currently priced at 1.85 / 1.86 to win the cup, anyone thinking of trading this tournament should be looking at opening their position by laying the USA. Day Two is usually close, (only 1997 saw one team dominate) and the USA price will find support unless the Europe team can extend their lead to three or more, in which case confidence in Europe’s ability to hold on during the singles will grow as their price shortens. Since 1987, Europe has never trailed after Day Two by more than two points, so it’s a tournament that usually throws up several trading opportunities.
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