Le Golf National in France hosts the 2018 Ryder Cup and given the form of most, and the quality of both the European and US sides, this Ryder Cup sets up to be a thriller. Throw in the potential drama of a unique Le Golf National layout and the Ryder Cup 2018 is a mouth watering prospect for golf lovers and bettors alike.
As of the weekend previous, 17 of the top 20 in the official world golf rankings will compete in France, with just 1 name inside the top 20 set to miss out. The unlucky player is America's Xander Shauffele, who many believe was the next on US Captain Jim Furyk's picks list. The other two players inside the top 20 in the official world golf rankings - Jason Day and Hideki Matsuyama, are ineligible given their Country of origin. The lowest ranked player from both sides combined is Thorbjorn Olesen in 44th position.
There are plenty of narratives this year - most notably the return of Tiger Woods. Originally set to be a vice captain, Tiger has defied the odds and looks as if he's on the way back to the top of the game. Tiger currently leads the Tour Championship by three strokes after 54 holes as I write, and golf fans are finally set to see a Sunday final pairing treat of Tiger and Rory McIlroy, who is currently tied for 2nd with Justin Rose. The US Team is littered with star names who have been doing the business in the big events of late (recency bias), and I believe this fact, along with the Tiger variable, amongst other things, is making them false favourites for Ryder cup 2018. I believe the current win odds should be the inverse.
The main reason I think Europe should be favourites for Ryder Cup 2018 is the set up of the Le Golf National track, and thinking logically when assessing actual current form, player ability, and matching the players from each team to the course in question:
The course - Le Golf National: par 71, 7183 yards ( course tour: https://www.rydercup.com/course-tour )
"This is a great golf course" "It really is a thinker's course, it's a ball strikers course aswell. It just asks questions of everything in your game" - Ryder Cup Captain, Thomas Bjorn
Le Golf National is a largely exposed, links-style track, with a premium on accuracy off the tee and ball striking - fairways and greens. Pot bunkers guard undulating greens and the surfaces are fast and firm. The stimp will be set up to the European team's preferred green speed (probably 12'). Some surfaces are equipped with run offs and others have surrounding mounds with thick rough leaving tough up and downs if missed. Fairways are also lined by mounding and some wispy browned out rough awaits errant tee balls.
Less than driver is required on a number of tee shots which will not favour the aggressive US team. Stadium style holes feature at the start and end of the 18 and this sets the Ryder Cup up for potential dramatic viewing, with a number of water hazards very much in play, especially down the stretch. Thomas Bjorn says he won't be tricking the course up, but expect the fairways to be slightly narrower than we see at the Open De France, and the rough a little thicker.
Long and straight from the tips is a bonus at LGN and when we look at the total driving stat on the PGA Tour, Europe occupy the no. 1 and no. 3 spots in the rankings (at time of writing) with Justin Rose and Tommy Fleetwood, and two more European team members feature in the top 10 - Francesco Molinari and Paul Casey. None of the US team features in this category, with Rickie Fowler the highest ranked at 12th. Phil Mickelson is a big name wild card pick but Phil looks to be going through a mild mid life crisis and I wouldn't be surprised to see him score no points on a course that you must hit the fairways. Mickelson is currently 194th on tour in driving accuracy with a clip of 51.94%. The veteran is -0.138 in strokes gained off the tee - good for only 144th, and I'll be looking to back Phil to get a grand total of zero points at a decent price if these individual player markets become available
Course experience vital
Key this week will be knowledge and experience on this unique Le Golf National layout. I've been largely unimpressed with the US players lack of interest or ambition with regards to doing a reccy on the upcoming test. Only Justin Thomas came over for the French Open 2018, and he bagged a top 10. I was actually impressed by the way he dialed back his usual aggressive game but the US in general will have a lack of course knowledge and lack of a proper course management strategy. Bubba Watson visited LGN a few years ago but wanted to leave for the US asap so he's another I'd be worried about if I was a US fan.
Europe on the other hand are full of course specialists and players who tick the course fit box. Alex Noren won the Open De France this year with the following stats and winning score of -7 emphasising the premium on fairways and greens, over distance and aggressive birdie making
Tommy Fleetwood propelled himself to top of the Race To Dubai in 2017 after winning at LE Golf National, and he went on to win the Race To Dubai. Even John Rahm made the trip across the water twice since becoming pro and he bagged 2 top 10s in his 2 visits. Ryder Cup pick Olesen was t3 in 2017 and also owns another 2nd here. Fellow pick Sergio Garcia did his own reconnaissance mission at the French Open 2018 where he carded the low round 64 after 54 holes to lie 3rd after day 3, only to fall away on the Sunday. Francesco Molinari has been 3 times 2nd at Le Golf National. Even the backroom staff for Europe own strong course ties, chiefly vice captain Graeme McDowell who has back to back French Open victories.What's more, if the wind does get up, it can only serve as another favourable factor for Europe at Le Golf National
Best betting angles
In short, Europe come prepared for the specific test that awaits, USA do not. Current form wise there's actually an argument for Europe now getting the nod in that area too. Dustin Johnson is in the midst of personal problems once more and his form has dipped. The same can be said of Brooks Koepka's form. Bubba and Phil have been struggling and don't look suited to the test, while Fedex Cup leader (at time of writing) Bryson de Chambeau looks to have run out of gas. Jordan Spieth has been battling confidence issues, especially on the greens, all year.
As mentioned, I think the odds are the wrong way around. I would give the edge to the Europeans for Ryder Cup 2018 and have felt this way all year about the prices. I'd have them circa 60% - 40% faves, meaning the general 7/5 on Europe to hoist the trophy is a very good value bet if you like to go in bigger on shorter prices.
Dutching the scorelines
I'm more of a smaller stake / bigger odds value bettor and the best angle I see is to try and exploit some value in the correct score market where a convincing victory for the Europeans looks to be written off a little, but is a much stronger possibility than implied in the odds in my opinion
If we combine the winning scorelines of 15.5-12.5, 16-12, 16.5 - 11.5 for the European side, in a dutch bet (staking proportionally so that we'd get the same return if any scoreline selection wins) we would see odds in excess of 5/1
Under the radar - top points scorer
Another variable Europe may have going for them is a lot of great potential team combinations. Sergio and Rahm for example or the Stenson / Rose duo that has done so well in the past. With Henrik not at his best however, a Tommy Fleetwood partnership with Justin Rose looks the nuts, and could well be in Thomas Bjorn's mind. Tommy would be an ideal partner for anyone though, in any format - foursomes or fourballs - both for his ideal course fit and also for his all round demeanour, attitude and personality which is huge in team golf. As mentioned, Tommy ranks 3rd in total driving and has already won around Le Golf National. He ranks 13th in strokes gained: tee to green on the PGA Tour. I'd fancy him to beat anyone he is put up against in the singles around this track too.
Fleetwood is a tasty 18/1 ew 1-4 in the top combined points scorer market