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Monday, 10 December, 2018

Comfortable Europeans to be Ryder Cup regainers at course they know well

Home advantage can see outsiders triumph

Justin Rose is a trump card for Europe after winning the FedEx Cup on Sunday
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Live on Sky Sports from 7.10am Friday

Leavers and Remainers unite for one noisy week in Paris as a European team bursting with Brits represents the whole continent for the biennial battle with our American cousins.

Political issues will be an irrelevance as the boys seeking leaderboard blue work together over the next three days. Europe has traditionally had a significant edge in the team-spirit department at Ryder Cups, and Thomas Bjorn's side appear set to continue that culture of fierce and determined collaboration.

Bjorn is a no-nonsense leader, respected by every European on the circuit, and the Dane has assembled an excellent backroom team to help the cause of regaining the cup. Graeme McDowell, a two-time French Open champion, can pass on the tactics which worked so well at this venue in the past, while Padraig Harrington, Lee Westwood, Luke Donald and Robert Karlsson are a nicely balanced set of characters acting as the other vice-captains.

The American staff could be an uninspiring bunch for the favourites. Captain Jim Furyk, along with deputies Davis Love, Steve Stricker, David Duval, Zach Johnson and Matt Kuchar are men of few words, and none of them has ever competed at Le Golf National. Would they be able to rally their troops if the States get off to a poor start?

Superior leadership, home support and course knowledge could be the key factors in Europe upsetting the odds and toppling their illustrious visitors. Hordes of British and Irish golf fans have crossed the Channel to provide vociferous backing for Bjorn's charges and the importance of home advantage does not seem to be reflected enough in the prices.

It is 25 years since the United States last won a Ryder Cup away from home – a 15-13 victory at the Belfry in 1993 – and 12 years prior to that was the only other occasion the States have beaten Europe overseas. In nine times away from home since Team Europe was created in 1979, the States have won only twice, and two of their last three trips have resulted in drubbings. Europe triumphed 18.5-9.5 at the K Club in 2006 and 16.5-11.5 at Gleneagles in 2014.

Americans are keen to point to the world rankings, which paint their team in an extremely good light. Furyk's line-up is the strongest Ryder Cup team in world-ranking history, averaging just 11.16, comparing favourably to Europe's 19.08. But the team with the best world-ranking average has won just three of the last 11 editions. It seems like big names – and the big egos which typically accompany them – do not perform to their usual high standards in a team environment.

It is also worth pointing out that doing the opposite of what bookmakers believe has been a profitable strategy in recent matches. The Ryder Cup favourites have won only five of the last 12 contests. Europe should be relishing their role of outsiders.

And there are clearly plenty of chinks in the American armour. Dustin Johnson is world number one, but he had become so frustrated with his recent putting performances that he suddenly switched to a cross-handed grip in the final round of the Tour Championship last week, and he has been suffering some relationship issues off the course.

Many of the Americans – Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson and Tony Finau in particular – are not well suited to the tight and fiddly Golf National. And the Tour Championship, where Koepka, Patrick Reed, Watson and Mickelson filled the bottom four places on the leaderboard, did not provide a confidence boost. Reed, Watson and Mickelson were a combined 32 over par at East Lake.

Justin Thomas is only American who bothered to play in the French Open this summer, gaining valuable knowledge from finishing tied for eighth place, and his 11 teammates have much less course comfort. Watson missed the cut by four shots in the 2011 French Open, before slating the tournament and saying how desperate he was to get home, while Koepka also missed the cut in his only course visit. Three days of practice, working with jet-lag and fatigue, is not enough for the Yanks to get anywhere close to the Europeans in terms of course credentials.

Every member of the European team has competed at Le Golf National in the French Open and the last two winners of the event – Tommy Fleetwood and Alex Noren – are in Bjorn's side. Seven of his team played in the last French Open, three of them finishing in the top eight. Europe know how to safely negotiate and score well at this brute of a layout and will set it up to neutralise the American bombers as much as possible.

4pts 13-10 Betfair, Betway
Europe to win 16-12
1pt 16-1 Betfred

The lowdown

Course Le Golf National, Paris, France
Length 7,247 yards
Par 71
Course records – 72 holes 269 Pablo Larrazabal (2008) 18 holes 62 Eduardo Romero (2005)
Course winners taking part Tommy Fleetwood, Alexander Noren
When to bet By 7.10am on Friday
Where to watch Live on Sky Sports from 7.10am Friday
Time difference France is one hour ahead of the UK and Ireland

Course overview Le Golf National is one of Europe's finest courses and provides a stern test every year in the French Open, which Alexander Noren won most recently at the start of July. The track opened in 1990 and staged the French Open for the first time the following year. It has been the venue a further 25 times, including the last 17 years, and is making its Ryder Cup bow this week.

The fairways are undulating so precise tee shots are required to keep balls on the cut and prepared. The rough is lush and penal, and several water hazards are lurking to punish the errant. The greens are fairly large and pacy with plenty of sharp slopes, making lag putting from distance extremely challenging.

The 210-yard par-three second hole as well as three par-fours measuring at least 470 yards (the fourth, 17th and 18th) provide the stiffest examinations. There are only three par-fives to offer relief (the third, ninth and 14th), but the last of those is 595 yards.

The story of 2016 The States regained the cup in emphatic fashion in front of loud, aggressive, patriotic American support at Hazeltine National, Minnesota.

The home side, led by Davis Love, won the opening foursomes session 4-0, before Europe responded well with a 3-1 fourballs success, Rory McIlroy and Thomas Pieters teaming up for the first time. A 2.5-1.5 Saturday foursomes victory for the visitors brought Darren Clarke and his charges to within one point of their hosts, but only the rampant McIlroy-Pieters combination won anything for Europe in the final fourballs, meaning the States led by three going into the singles.

Patrick Reed edged McIlroy in an epic opening singles contest, then the Stars & Stripes dominated the second half of the singles draw, cruising to a 17-11 success

Type of player suited to the challenge Nerves of steel and matchplay experience are key ingredients for success in the Ryder Cup. Le Golf National is a tough track which demands accuracy from tee to green – the penalty for wide shots is often a watery grave – so straight-hitters should be supported

Key attribute Accuracy

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The Ryder Cup favourites have won only five of the last 12 contests. Europe should be relishing their role of outsiders
E.W. Terms
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