Best bets for the 2018 Ryder Cup


David Gordon
ESPN PLUS ($ MATERIAL)


Betting the Ryder Cup is different.


Two different betting strategies can be successful in typical golf tournaments. We can "bet with our hearts," whether it be a favorite player or a long-shot underdog. Or we can "bet with our brains," picking a winner based on a combination of player/course analysis and historical trends. They're two different bets, but should either win, the payout far exceeds the buy-in.


There's no such opportunity in the Ryder Cup. It's the United States or it's Europe.


So while my heart tells me one thing, here's what my brains tells me.


Note: All odds are courtesy of the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook.
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The team on home soil has won five of the past six Ryder Cups, dating back to 2006. The advantage is even stronger for the Europeans, who haven't lost a Ryder Cup at home since 1993. That was also the last time the defending-champion United States went back-to-back. The U.S. team is no stranger to this trend -- especially the more experienced players on the team. After being selected as a Captain's pick this year, Phil Mickelson acknowledged it himself.


"It's obvious that the one thing that has been missing is for our team to go over to Europe and win."


But what Phil might not realize is that much of the United States' struggles in this event can be attributed to the experience (or lack thereof) playing European-style golf courses year over year. The top American players simply don't compete on the European Tour like their opponents do in the States.


Take this year, for example. Only two of the 12 members on the U.S. team played more than four rounds in European Tour-sanctioned events year. Bryson DeChambeau (6) and Patrick Reed (8) have 14 rounds between the two of them. Meanwhile, every member on Europe's team has played at least eight rounds in European Tour-sanctioned events, and all but three played at least 12 rounds. Add it all up and it's a 198-28 advantage in terms of rounds played for the Europeans. Yes -- 170 rounds!


One thing the Americans do have is the clear advantage in talent. There are nine major champions on the U.S. roster compared to five on Europe's. One of those Americans has 14 major victories to himself, and I wonder what kind of an effect he'll have on the outcome of this Ryder Cup.
After closing out the season by winning the Tour championship -- his first win in five seasons -- Tiger Woods brings with him the intimidation factor he's so well-known for. He has been an integral piece to the makeup of this roster; captain Jim Furyk originally wanted him as a vice captain before Woods played well enough to earn a spot on the team, so I see Tiger as the X-factor for a couple reasons. He's playing in his first Ryder Cup since 2012, which was a very forgettable seventh career appearance. He won just half a point in four matches for the United States, the only Ryder Cup in which he failed to win at least one match.


What I find more startling is how much better Tiger has played in singles matches compared to team play. His points per match in singles play is almost double his rate in team matches. He has lost just one singles match in his Ryder Cup career, the very first one he played back in 1997.


But the most troubling Tiger statistic? In his seven career appearances in the Ryder Cup, the United States is 1-6.


So if Tiger and his partner don't win a few points in the first couple of matches, what kind of mental effect does that have on the team? We know a handful of these guys idolized Tiger growing up. Getting out to a good start, especially those partnering with Tiger, is imperative to the team's chances at retaining the Cup. The Americans swept the opening matches 4-0 to start the 2016 Ryder Cup, so look for the Europeans to be sharp from the get-go.


And still, the U.S. team is heavily favored at minus-210 compared to the Europeans at plus-175. A tie would mean the United States retains the Cup -- certainly an advantage not to be overlooked. But that can't be the only reason for such a large disparity.


The other reasons besides talent: experience. Nearly half (5 of 12) of the Europeans are making their Ryder Cup debuts this week, while the U.S. team has just three. Advantage, seemingly, America. But most of the U.S. players with Ryder Cup experience have dreadful records on the road.


<aside class="inline inline-table" style="box-sizing: border-box; font-family: -apple-system, BlinkMacSystemFont, Roboto, Arial, &quot;Helvetica Neue&quot;, Helvetica, sans-serif; height: 447px; border: 1px solid rgb(220, 221, 223); clear: both; margin: 6px 0px 18px; padding: 15px; width: 565px; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-size: 16px;">United States Ryder Cup Team Records

PLAYER HOME W-L-T AWAY W-L-T TOTAL
Bryson DeChambeau 0-0-0 0-0-0 0-0-0
Tony Finau 0-0-0 0-0-0 0-0-0
Rickie Fowler 2-1-0 0-3-5 2-4-5
Brooks Koepka 3-1-0 0-0-0 3-1-0
Dustin Johnson 5-2-0 1-3-0 6-5-0
Phil Mickelson 12-9-3 6-11-4 18-20-7
Patrick Reed 3-1-1 3-0-1 6-1-2
Webb Simpson 2-2-0 0-1-1 2-3-1
Jordan Spieth 2-2-1 2-1-1 4-3-2
Justin Thomas 0-0-0 0-0-0 0-0-0
Bubba Watson 2-2-0 1-6-0 3-8-0
Tiger Woods 4-9-1 9-8-2 13-17-3
Total 35-29-6 22-33-14 57-62-20
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Meanwhile, this is how the Europeans with Ryder Cup experience have fared at home.


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PLAYER HOME W-L-T AWAY W-L-T TOTAL
Paul Casey 2-0-2 1-2-2 3-2-4
Tommy Fleetwood 0-0-0 0-0-0 0-0-0
Sergio Garcia 7-4-1 10-7-6 17-11-7
Tyrrell Hatton 0-0-0 0-0-0 0-0-0
Rory McIlroy 3-2-4 6-4-0 9-6-4
Francesco Molinari 0-2-1 0-2-1 0-4-2
Alex Noren 0-0-0 0-0-0 0-0-0
Thorbjorn Olesen 0-0-0 0-0-0 0-0-0
Ian Poulter 3-2-2 9-2-0 12-4-2
Jon Rahm 0-0-0 0-0-0 0-0-0
Justin Rose 3-0-2 8-6-0 11-6-2
Henrik Stenson 4-2-1 3-5-1 7-7-2
Total 22-12-13 37-28-10 59-40-23
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As you can see, five players on the United States roster enter this week with a losing record on the road. Only one player on the European roster enters with a losing record at home: 2018 Open champion Francesco Molinari.


And back to those former rookies for a second, because they've actually played great in the past few Ryder Cups when debuting as the home team. The 2016 rookies on the United States went a combined 5-2-0, while the 2014 rookies on the Europeans went a combined 5-3-1.


That brings me to my ultimate takeaway: History has simply proven the difficulty of winning matches as the away team. We saw how rowdy the fans can be at Hazeltine in 2016. Call it a 3-point "home-field" advantage for the Europeans.


The talent on this U.S. team is superior, but not enough to retain the Ryder Cup this year. I see Europe defending home turf yet again, this time in a close one.


My Ryder Cup value picks:


• Two-way odds to win: Europe +175
• Alternate handicaps: Europe +1.5 Points (Even)
• Top American Scorer: Patrick Reed (+800)
• Top European Scorer: Jon Rahm (+700)
• Correct Score: Europe 15.5 - 12.5 (+1800)