Two talented teams could contribute to tense finale
Mighty Molinari may lead the way for Europe
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It would give a beautiful symmetry to my half-century of writing about golf if the 42nd Ryder Cup ended in a dead-heat. just like my first one did 49 years ago with a 16-16 tie at Royal Birkdale.
The tie was a 66-1 shot in those days, but now it’s only 12-1. That’s because the Ryder Cup had become as one-sided as the Wightman Cup in tennis. The previous contest had been embarrassing: USA 23.5, GB & Ireland 8.5.
It had been 23-9 at East Lake in 1963 and the USA had won by seven on their previous Birkdale visit in 1965.
It was still GB & Ireland in 1969, ten more years until the continentals were brought in to make the contest more equal and 16 more until Europe finally got two hands on Sam Ryder’s trophy.
Famous for Jack Nicklaus’s concession to Tony Jacklin on the final green of the final singles, picking up Tony’s marker as he said “I didn’t think you’d miss it, Tony, but I didn’t want to give you the opportunity,” 1969 was an unexpected break from the ritual slaughter.
That year Jacklin won the Open Championship - the first British winner for 18 years - and he was the blue-eyed boy of British golf.
At last we had a hero. The following year he won the US Open too and for a short spell was probably the best golfer in the world.
The tie meant the USA retained the Cup, but even so American captain Sam Snead was livid with Nicklaus for not forcing Jacklin to hole out - the putt was just over two feet and missable - as he wanted to go home the conquering hero.
But Nicklaus always saw the bigger picture and after the Americans had resumed normal service and blitzed the next three matches by five, six and ten, he suggested to PGA president Lord Derby that USA v Europe would be a more even contest.
Twenty years later we saw another tie at The Belfry but it shouldn’t have been. The Ian Woosnam-Curtis Strange last game out was on the 17th and all square when news came through that Europe had reached the magic number of 14 which meant they kept the Cup.
Thinking Woosie might want to get back to enjoy the celebrations, Strange suggested shaking hands there and then. But the Welshman had never won a Ryder singles and this was his fourth attempt. So he said “let’s carry on”, Strange birdied the last two holes to beat him, so 14-all it was, not 14.5-13.5.
So why the tie this time? Because it’s overdue and with two excellent teams it’s a very feasible outcome.
The cumulative rankings give the US a definite edge but it’s 25 years since they last won an away match, Jordan Spieth is not the fearsome opponent he was, and Woods, Fowler, Watson and Mickelson have lost more Ryder Cup games than they’ve won.
The Europeans know the tricky Albatross course far better through the French Open and they don’t have any passengers this time. The one controversial choice, the struggling Sergio Garcia, answered his critics with seventh in the Algarve last week.
Open champion Francesco Molinari, three times French Open runner-up, is each-way value to be European top scorer, Players champion Webb Simpson continues in great form and could spring a 25-1 surprise for top American and the phenomenally gifted Jon Rahm may win a tough top debutant heat at 9-2.
2pts 12-1 general
USA to win 14.5-13.5
1pt 10-1 188Bet
Europe win 14.5-13.5
1pt at 12-1 Coral, Ladbrokes
F Molinari top European pointscorer
1pt each-way 9-1 BetBright, Hills, Sky Bet
W Simpson top USA pointscorer
1pt each-way 25-1 Coral, Ladbrokes, 188Bet
J Rahm top debutant
1pt 9-2 BetBright
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