The golfing world is in full bloom as Tiger Woods has returned to the winner's circle and now the biennial Ryder Cup is at the plate.
It's Team USA versus Team Europe. Since the switch to this format in 1979, Europe has won 11 times while the Americans have won 8 times. One of those wins for Europe was actually a tie (1989) but Europe held onto the cup since they were the defending champions that year.
Europe has defended it's home turf successfully since 1993 (five straight) which was the last time the United States won on European soil.
Let's dive into the course to see how it might play then we will highlight some golfers to watch and run through some stats based on past Ryder Cup experience of both teams this week.
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Le Golf National's Albatros Course will host this week's big event.
The course is located some 20 miles southwest of Paris proper. It annually hosts the Open de France, a European Tour event which provides the Euro side a bit of a home-field advantage, if you will.
Looking to double down on that advantage, record crowds should be on hand with expected attendance around 65,000 each day. That includes the opening-tee grandstands which will seat 6,500 people (over 4,000 more than at Hazeltine which seemed massive at the time).
The course is tight and tricky with water heavily in play as it's featured on more than a third of the holes. Justin Thomas is on the record for hitting just seven drivers, ALL WEEK, during this year's Open de France.
This layout looks linksy at times due to the rolling hills, fescue rough, and the style of the bunkers. At the same time, there are trees and thicker rough just off the fairways to deal with and the ground is not as firm as most links land. A good all-around test with an emphasis on precision and approach play.
All of this combined sounds a lot like the European version of TPC Sawgrass. Consider diving into performance at THE PLAYERS if you want to know who might take to the course this week.
All the water in play should lead to a lot of risk-reward holes this week with an emphasis on risk during the Fourball section, especially. When everyone is playing their own ball, I'd expect to see a lot of high-risk shots that challenge the hazards. Shots you might not normally see during the Open de France's stroke-play competition.
The greens are a bentgrass and meadowgrass blend. The European Tour plays on slightly slower greens on a week-to-week basis so we may see the greens rolling at 10.5 to 11 feet on the stimp to give the European Tour guys a tiny edge in comfort. These greens were running at 10.5 feet on the stimp during the 2018 Open de France.
Sifting through some past quotes, let's try to break down the course to see how they will play...
Jon Rahm: "It's probably one of my favourite courses all year, not only European Tour but worldwide. From the first shot to the last it's challenging and it's beautiful and it's not long. Just the beauty of it. It's one of the courses that I enjoy the most. It's not go to the tee, hit driver as hard as you can. It actually makes you think. You need to hit good golf shots and you pretty much need to hit every golf shot there is. So yeah, it's a great week, a great venue, a great event and a great city. Nothing better I can think of."
Alex Noren: "Just hit the fairways. Hit enough fairways and just in the rough, like a little bit, but you need to be quite straight off the tee. It helped this week when the fairways were very firm. They were rolling, so you could hit a little bit less club off the tee, and you get a 20-, 30-yard roll sometimes and you don't have to hit that many drivers, which helps, because the fairways are narrow."
Graeme McDowell: "This place, you know, this place plays to my type of game, which is good iron play and strong putting.
It's not a driver golf course. There's about three drivers out there, so it's other clubs, finding fairways with other clubs in crosswinds."
Sergio Garcia: "If it plays like this, it's going to be hard. It's going to be hard for everyone. Probably a lot of holes are going to be won with par and some of them maybe with bogey. But yeah, it's a solid golf course. I said it all week long. Everybody talks about the last four holes, it's asking you to hit good shots over and over and over again, and you know, I mean, in these windy conditions, it's not an easy task."
Justin Thomas: "It sounds like for the most part they knew it was a narrow course and it was tough, and I'll just reiterate that to them. It's not like there's any ground-breaking stuff that I learned here. I definitely learned some stuff. It's all right in front of you. There's not any blind shots or anything like that. You just have to go out and execute."
Overview: The theme of the week at the 2018 Open de France was keeping it in the fairways and avoiding hazards. A lot of holes force you to club down and even then it's tough to hit the proper shot because you often have water on one side but rough/fescue on the other side. Pretty intimidating at times.
Friday: Clear skies with a high in the upper 70s. Winds around 5-to-15 MPH.
Saturday: Clear skies with a high in the upper 60s. Winds around 8-to-15 MPH.
Sunday: Clear skies with a high in the mid 60s. Winds around 10 MPH.
It looks like beautiful golfing weather is in store for us at Le Golf National.
Golfers to Watch
Arriving on a high note after winning the playoff finale at East Lake. Woods has a pretty poor track record at the Ryder Cup, just 9-16-1 in team play (4-1-2 in singles). This 2018 version of Woods would appear to be a much-better fit for the event, though. He's more open to having fun on the course but he still has his skills on the course. Being a part of the team as a non-playing member at Hazeltine should also help him in terms of seeing things form a wider view. Look for Woods to pair up with Bryson DeChambeau this week as they have formed a friendship this year and they also play the same or very similar Bridgestone ball.
His game was trending toward the end of the season but he never pieced it all together. I'd look for the Texan to be fully focused this week and he is a perfect course fit for Le Golf National as it's a strategic course that doesn't force you to hit drivers. I'm expecting a big week out of Spieth and of course that also means a big week for Patrick Reed. I do think Spieth finally gets on the board in singles as he arrvives with an 0-2-0 record in Ryder Cup singles and 0-3-0 at the Presidents Cup.
He gets the reputation for being a poor Ryder Cup performer but I wouldn't be so quick to judge. He is 0-1-1 in singles but both of them were against Ian Poulter, who nobody seems to beat in this event. For team play, he and Bubba Watson are 2-2-0 with the first loss coming against an Ian Poulter/Justin Rose team and the second loss coming against Justin Rose/Henrik Stenson. Simpson may not be in the top tier in terms of being able to knock out those superstars but I don't think he's deadweight, either. Add in the course being somewhat similar to TPC Sawgrass, and I think Simpson will have a good time this week in Paris. The difficulty is whether his longtime partner, Bubba Watson, will take the same liking to the course. That could mean we only see Simpson once or twice or it could mean that Furyk decides to split up the duo and give Simpson an extra shot.
You would think that Fleetwood and Le Golf National would be a match made in heaven. That hasn't been the case as Fleetwood has missed the cut in FOUR of his FIVE visits. The other start? It was a win in 2017. Making his Ryder Cup debut, that just makes him even more of a question mark. Other than his spotty course record and lack of RC exeperience, Fleetwood looks like a tremendous addition to the European side. Some obvious pairings would be other Englishmen like Ian Poulter, Paul Casey, or even Justin Rose if they want to split Rose/Stenson at any point.
His pick was somewhat controversial but it's hard to argue with his past success at the event. He is 16-7-6 in team play and 3-4-1 in singles. Overall, that's a 0.61 Point per Match ratio. He's been pretty bad since the Spring but he does arrive with finishes of T24 and T7 over his last two starts.
He's been battling an elbow injury over the summer and also battling his putter. He's lost 3 or more strokes putting to the field in five of his last six ShotLink starts. I would expect these slower greens to be more to his liking but if the putter stays cold then I'd expect that Thomas Bjorn would split him and Justin Rose, aduo that has been wreaking havoc on the Americans for nearly a decade now.
Let's have a look at the Ryder Cup resume of both teams to see how they stack up in terms of historical success at the event.
Team USA is 41-49-15 in team play (0.46 Points per Match in 105 matches).
Team Europe 47-29-17 in team play (0.60 Points per Match in 93 matches).
Notes: USA gets the edge in experience, playing 12 more matches but a huge chunk of that comes from Phil and Tiger which is also the reason their overall PPM is much lower than Europe. The European side has a massive edge when it comes to the rate of earning points in their matches.
Team USA is 16-13-5 in singles (0.54 Points per Match in 34 matches).
Team Europe is 14-10-6 in singles (0.57 Points per Match in 30 matches).
Notes: We see things are much closer when it comes to singles performance. Europe has been doing their damage over the last few decades in team play.
Team USA has 3 rookies (Bryson DeChabmeau, Tony Finau, and Justin Thomas).
Team Europe has 5 rookies (Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Alex Noren, Thorbjorn Olesen, and Jon Rahm).
Notes: It's weird to think of guys like JT, Rahm, and Fleetwood as rookies but they are when it comes to playing in a Ryder Cup. With five of the auto qualifiers being rookies, it's easy to see why Thomas Bjorn went with experience with all of his picks.
USA's captain's picks are 22-31-7 in team play (0.43 PPM) and 9-6-3 in singles (0.58 PPM).
Europe's captain's picks are 31-17-12 in team play (0.62 PPM) and 10-7-3 in singles (0.58 PPM).
Notes: All four of Europe's picks have a PPM of 0.5 or higher which is all you can ask for. That includes Ryder Cup standout, Ian Poulter, who is 12-4-2 overall which is good for an outstandings 0.72 PPM. As for the Americans, they've gone with Tiger and Phil who historically struggled in team play and a pair of rookies (Finau and DeChambeau).
USA's auto qualifiers are 19-18-8 in team play (0.51 PPM) and 7-7-2 in singles (0.5 PPM).
Europe's auto qualifiers are 16-12-5 in team play (0.56 PPM) and 4-3-3 in singles (0.55 PPM).
Notes: Again, it's reasy to see why Bjorn went with experience on his captain's picks. Juding solely off Auto Qs, Europe has played in just 43 Ryder Cup matches versus 61 on the American side.
I think Team USA has the overall edge in talent but Europe has the edge when it comes to familiarity with the course and also has home-field advantage when it comes to fans cheering them on and overall comfort level in France. The Americans haven't won on European soil since 1993 at The Belfry.
Combining all that, I think we see this one come down to the wire with Team USA inching out a 14.5 to 13.5 victory.
Check out Dave Tindall's Ryder Cup article. Is Fatigue a Factor at the Ryder Cup?