Sunday, October 07, 2012

ryders on the storm

Much gloaty rejoicing after Europe's remarkable Ryder Cup victory last weekend, and why on earth not. I was down in Swanage for the annual pub crawl so I didn't get to see very much of it, but I kept up with events in real time through the magic of smartphone technology.

There are a couple of modern-day bits of received wisdom about the Ryder cup that people accept unquestioningly, and they are:

1) Europe are better at the doubles formats because they have better "team spirit" for some reason, but struggle in the singles because the USA team tends to be stronger man-for-man.

Here's some analysis of the scores for the last 17 Ryder Cups, since it started being Europe v USA at The Greenbrier in 1979:

Year Foursomes Fourballs Doubles Singles Overall
1979 3 5 11 17
1981 2 6 10½ 4 8 18½
1983 4 4 4 4 8 8 13½ 14½
1985 4 4 5 3 9 7 16½ 11½
1987 6 2 10½ 15 13
1989 3 5 6 2 9 7 5 7 14 14
1991 2 6 6 2 8 8 13½ 14½
1993 5 3 13 15
1995 5 3 2 6 7 9 14½ 13½
1997 5 3 10½ 4 8 14½ 13½
1999 10 6 13½ 14½
2002 8 8 15½ 12½
2004 6 2 5 3 11 5 18½
2006 5 3 5 3 10 6 18½
2008 7 9 11½ 16½
2010 5 3 5 7 14½ 13½
2012 3 5 3 5 6 10 14½ 13½
Totals 69 67 76 60 145 127 96½ 107½ 241½ 234½

So we can see that it is indeed true that Europe do better at the "doubles" formats, quite markedly so in the case of the fourballs. And it is indeed true that the USA tend to do better in the singles. An alternative view of the results gives:
  • Europe have won the doubles competition 9 times to USA's 5, with 3 draws
  • USA have won the singles competition 11 times to Europe's 6
Other statistical nuggets include the following:
  • Comeback victories (i.e. overall victory after being behind after the doubles) have been achieved by USA in 1993 and 1999, and by Europe in 1995 and 2012
  • The draw in 1989 was unique (thanks largely to Tiger Woods - see below), but the smallest possible margin of victory, 14½-13½, has occurred seven times, USA winning by that margin in 1983, 1991 and 1999, and Europe in 1995, 1997, 2010 and 2012
  • The Cup changed hands in 1985, 1991, 1995, 1999, 2002, 2008 and 2010.
  • While Europe pretty much always seem to start as underdogs, they have now won 5 of the last 6 competitions, 7 of the last 9, and 9 of the last 14. 
2) Tiger Woods is rubbish in the Ryder Cup because he's not really a "team" guy, and gets frustrated when he has to rely on the efforts of others whom he regards as inferior.

I was very interested in Woods' comments after his last-hole 3-putt bogey and generous concession of a putt gifted Francesco Molinari a half in their match. And a very significant half it was too, because it made the match score 14½-13½ in Europe's favour, rather than the 14-14 draw it had been shaping up to be. Woods' reaction to this was basically: meh, whatevs, Europe were going to keep the Cup anyway, so basically I just couldn't be arsed to line up the putt properly or stir my multi-millionaire arse to concentrate and make an effort just for another five minutes. Regardless of the destination of the cup, the difference between drawing the match and losing it is clearly huge, and was obviously evident to the European captain José María Olazábal who went to the trouble of going over to Molinari on the fairway to impress upon him that he was going to try and win the hole, halve the match and win the match overall or he, Olazábal, was going to smack Molinari repeatedly over the head with a paella pan, and quite rightly too.

I'm not sure why I was as irritated by all that as I was, but I find it infuriating - if the match score had been, say, 17-10 rather than 14-13 as Woods and Molinari stood on the last tee then a case could have been made for agreeing a half there and then (though my personal view is that they should have been made to finish - why would you not want to win your own match, after all?), but the overall result was still in the balance. I think what makes it stick in the throat particularly is that you can be absolutely certain that if Woods came to the 18th tee in a major, let's say tied for third and knowing that he couldn't catch the leader, but knowing that a birdie would get him second on his own, you can bet that he would be busting a gut to try and get one, and knowing him probably would. There's an undercurrent of petulance to it: yeah, OK, you won, but shut up, right, 'cos I wan't even really trying anyway, otherwise I totally would have won.

Woods' Ryder Cup singles record is actually pretty good, as it happens; he's only ever lost one singles match (to Costantino Rocca on his Ryder Cup debut in 1997) out of the seven he's played in. The Molinari half was his second; his other four matches all ended in wins. His doubles record is poor, though - won 9, lost 16, halved 1. So do we conclude that this cliché is true as well? I guess maybe we do.

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