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43rd Ryder Cup: Hovland, Schauffele Primed for Strong Ryder Cup Debuts

Xander Schauffele

Xander Schauffele

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

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After a year delay, the 43rd Ryder Cup is set to begin Friday morning at Whistling Straits. The United States will look to squeeze the most out of the home course advantage as they attempt to recapture the Ryder Cup for the first time since 2016. As it was three years ago in Paris, France at Le Golf National where Europe secured their seventh victory of the 21st century.


2018 Ryder Cup Recap:

To the tune of 17 ½ to 10 ½, Europe got the better of the United States in 2018. However, to suggest it was as lopsided as the final score suggests may be a bit misleading. Typical for the United States side, they got off to a dream start in Paris.

Nearly sweeping the morning four-ball session, Tiger Woods and Patrick Reed went to the back-nine with a 2 up lead. However, playing the duo of Tommy Fleetwood and Francesco Molinari – later to be coined “Moliwood” - the United States side faltered, leaving the door open for the Europeans to capture a pivotal, early point.

From there, the floodgates opened for the home squadron. Sweeping the afternoon session, Europe went into Day 2 possessing a 5-3 lead. Picking up where they left off, Europe won three of four morning matches, with the only blemish being Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth’s victory over Ian Poulter and Jon Rahm.

Going into Session 4 up by four points, the teams would split the afternoon foursomes. That meant, the United States would head into the Sunday singles down 10-6, the same score from which Europe mounted a historic comeback in the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah.

Front loading the singles matches with their best players, the United States made up ground early. Victories from Thomas, Tony Finau, and Webb Simpson, accompanied a ½ point from Brooks Koepka as the United States Team drew closer.

At 10 ½ to 9 ½, Europe’s lead had shrunk, yet Thorbjorn Olesen’s 5 and 4 thrashing of Spieth was the beginning of the end for the United States. Victories from Rahm and Poulter followed closely behind as the winning point inevitably fell into the hands of Molinari.

Europe’s best player for the entirety of the week, Molinari was in full control of his singles match against Phil Mickelson. With Molinari on the green on the par-3 16th at Le Golf National, Mickelson’s tee shot found the water. Conceding victory right there on the tee box, Europe had recaptured the Ryder Cup as the Italian was welcomed into the home crowd’s celebrations.

Standout Players from 2018 Ryder Cup Playing This Week:

Tommy Fleetwood (4-1-0):

The 2020-2021 season was hardly ideal for the Englishman as he struggled here stateside. With his lone top-10 finish on the PGA Tour coming at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, Fleetwood’s typical, reliable iron-play was nowhere to be found this summer.

However, a late surge in Europe could potentially draw fear into the American side. Finishing one-stroke behind Nicolai Hojgaard at the Italian Open, the darling of the 2018 Ryder Cup may finally be rounding into some form. Backing up his efforts at Marco Simone Golf and Country Club – host of the 2023 Ryder Cup – Fleetwood finished in a tie for 12th at the BMW PGA Championship.

Going 4-0 in Paris, the pairing of “Moliwood” was undefeated in team play. With Molinari failing to make the European Team, two question marks hover over Fleetwood at Whistling Straits. Unbeknownst to who captain Padraig Harrington will pair him with, will Fleetwood play in every session once again?

I can’t imagine Harrington rests Rahm or Rory McIlroy and could see the European headman feature Viktor Hovland and Shane Lowry prominently the first two days. Combined with Ryder Cup stalwarts Poulter and Sergio Garcia being mixed into the fold, and opportunities may be limited compared to Paris. +800 at PointsBet Sportsbook, the Englishman is fourth on the odds board to be the top European points scorer, a title he nearly captured in 2018 before losing his singles match to Finau.

Justin Thomas (4-1-0):

While the European Team trotted Fleetwood out in every session as their experienced rookie, the United States side went with Thomas. Playing alongside Spieth in team play, the duo captured three of four points, with their only loss coming courtesy of a Fleetwood, Molinari 5 and 4 beatdown in Day 1 foursomes.

7-2-2 in his Ryder Cup career in the team sessions, Spieth has long been sought out as an ideal player to be paired with. As one of the lone bright spots for the United States Team in Paris, I would be a bit surprised to see captain Steve Stricker break up the duo.

However, for whatever reason, Spieth has struggled to this point on Sunday. Yet to capture a singles victory in the Ryder Cup, Spieth is 0-3, while Thomas is 1-0 in his young career as he got the better of McIlroy 1 up in Paris.

PointsBet appears to agree with this sentiment as the childhood friends are co-favorites at +650 to be the top points scorer for the United States. If they were to play all four team sessions together, and enjoy similar success to Paris, this could come down to Sunday singles. With Spieth having a lackluster record on Ryder Cup Sundays, the slight edge has to go to Thomas, as he attempts to be the top man on the United States side for the second consecutive Ryder Cup.

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2020 Ryder Cup Bets (Odds Via PointsBet):

Top Points Scorer – United States: Xander Schauffele (+800)

Spieth and Thomas will draw the attention of many this week, potentially hindering the two’s efforts to repeat their success from Paris. Knowing victories over the formidable duo would give the European side a jolt to their system, a massive target will be on their backs. Needing to stop them before they get going, I believe Harrington will do his best to line up his top pair across from Spieth and Thomas. Giving them all they can handle; this inadvertently would leave another American couple in an enviable position.

Publicly good pals and recently enjoying a couple’s retreat in Napa, I believe Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay have a fantastic opportunity to put their stamps on this Ryder Cup. Playing every session together at the 2019 Presidents Cup, the Ryder Cup rookies will likely be utilized in a similar manner at Whistling Straits.

Going 2-2 at Royal Melbourne, the duo was undefeated in foursomes, yet failed to capture a single point in four-ball matches. If they are able to avoid the likes of McIlroy and Rahm, they should improve on their 0-2 record in the four-ball setting. With Cantlay being arguably the hottest golfer on the planet and Schauffele as consistent as they come, the pair possess such similar games, making them a hard out for the European Team.

If the above hypotheses materialize, this will come down to Sunday singles, which is heavily dependent on the draw. Not only is who you play important, but arguably more important is where you play in the lineup. I envision Stricker sticking Cantlay towards the bottom of the card due to his even-keel demeanor and killer instincts.

However, if either team wins the Ryder Cup before the completion of Cantlay’s match, it very well could be conceded one way or another. Projecting, yes, Schauffele should be out in front of his friend on the golf course, leaving his singles match and overall points total much more in his control. It is because of this I have the Olympic gold medalist eking out the recent FedEx Cup champion for the top points scorer for the United States.

Top Points Scorer – Europe: Viktor Hovland (+700)

With Rahm and McIlroy drawing much of this market at +300 and +500 respectively, we venture a bit further down the odds board. As seen in the past, the Europeans have no reservations about relying on their rookies to lead them to victory. With Fleetwood playing the role in Paris, I believe either Hovland or Lowry will need to put up a similar performance at Whistling Straits for Europe to retain the Ryder Cup.

Lowry is enticing at +1000, but the Norwegian’s raw talent is undeniable, making the +700 number enough to draw me in. On paper, there are three members of the European Team that can go toe-to-toe with any player on the United States on any given day. That would be Rahm, McIlroy, and yes, Hovland.

Needing this trio to perform their best in unison with their slew of veterans, I believe Hovland will have the chance to play all five sessions. Not having the luxury this go around to play their young rookie only three-times, as they did with Rahm in Paris, Hovland will be thrown into the fire.

He will react accordingly, relying on his steady ball-striking and potentially leaning on the experience of a team member. I could see Harrington pairing Hovland with a short-game magician such as Poulter who boasts a Ryder Cup record of 14-6-2. This wouldn’t be uncharted waters for the Englishman as he played with McIlroy and Rahm in the team sessions in 2018.

With a competitor such as Poulter in his corner, I believe we could see the birth of the next great European Ryder Cup star. If the putter cooperates, which it tends to do for Europeans in the Ryder Cup, Hovland will be a force to be reckoned with.

Top Points Scorer – Combined: Sergio Garcia (+2200)

While I will be looking to Schauffele (+1600) and Hovland (+1800) in this market as well, Garcia’s recent form cannot be ignored. Combined with his Ryder Cup record of 22-12-7, the fiery Spaniard presents plenty of upside potential at +2200 to be this year’s top points scorer.

Having played in four or more sessions in each of his Ryder Cup appearances, the European side will once again rely on Garcia to some extent. 8-4-3 in four-ball matches and 10-4-3 in foursomes, the wily veteran was called on to hold the hand of Ryder Cup rookie, Alex Noren, in Paris.

If they go down this route once again, Lowry, Hovland, and Wiesberger would fit the bill as they are the only rookies on Team Europe. Lowry would pair best with Garcia given their statistical profiles, but I believe there is a case to be made to pair Garcia with his fellow countryman.

Doing so in 2016, albeit with Rafa Cabrera Bello, the Spanish duo went 1-0-1 together in a losing effort. A vast improvement compared to Cabrera Bello, a date with the world No. 1 could be a fruitful proposition for the European side.

With a course such as Whistling Straits demanding strong off-the-tee play, the two could ball-strike their way to victories. With an emphasis on driving this week, few have been better than Garcia over the last decade or so with that club in hand. Finding his putting stroke out of thin air in past Ryder Cups, I am willing to chance the putter, and more importantly, the opportunities will be there for Garcia.

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