The 42nd biannual competition between Team USA and Team Europe will begin on Friday and conclude on Sunday, but there is sure to be hordes of drama in-between. That’s what you get when you take 24 of the world’s best golfers and have them compete in awesome, unique formats they don’t get to play in elsewhere. Sprinkle in some patriotism and continentalism (is that a word?) and you’ve got a golf event unlike any other
Ryder Cup 2018
Match 1 (2:10 a.m.): Tony Finau and Brooks Koepka vs. Justin Rose and Jon Rahm
Match 2 (2:25 a.m.): Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson vs. Rory McIlroy and Thorbjorn Olesen
Match 3 (2:40 a.m.): Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas vs. Paul Casey and Tyrrell Hatton
Match 4 (2:55 a.m.): Tiger Woods and Patrick Reed vs. Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood.
How should captain Jim Furyk use Tiger Woods?
We now know that Woods will play the Friday morning fourball session alongside Patrick Reed, a guy who relishes this competition perhaps more than any other on the American side. Prior to this week, most expected Reed to play alongside Jordan Spieth (who will play Friday morning alongside Justin Thomas), as those two have teamed up to go 4-1-2 over the past two Ryder Cups. But for whatever reason—maybe Spieth preferred to play with Thomas over Reed, the latter of whom isn’t the world’s most popular player among fans or his peers, or maybe Tiger made a special request—that duo has been split up.
It’s not surprising to see Tiger being trotted out in the first session given how well he’s been playing recently. Not sure if you heard, but Tiger picked up his first win in five years at last week’s Tour Championship, but that wasn’t an isolated hot week. He finished T-6 in his previous start at the BMW and would have won there if he had any sort of bunker game that week, and he would have won multiple times this year had he putted like he used to. With the Scotty Cameron back in the bag, Tiger looks to have figured it out and feels confident and aggressive on the greens once again.
Also, don’t underestimate the intimidation factor Tiger still brings, especially given last week’s spectacle. He’s got his swagger back and, as the absolute mayhem coming up 18 last week showed, he still transcends the game. Whoever he plays against will feel they’re playing against Tiger Woods, and they’ll know the European fans are there to see Tiger just as much as they are to root on Team Europe.
All that goes to say, the answer to this question changed significantly given the events of the past week. The conventional wisdom pre-Atlanta was that Tiger would probably play two of the four team sessions to avoid putting too much stress on his back. (That, and Tiger historically does not play well in the alternate-shot foursomes format.) It’s all different now—he is arguably the U.S.’ hottest player and he remains the team’s biggest asset when you combine current form and mere presence.
The most important thing, of course, is keeping Tiger healthy and fresh for Sunday’s singles. There’s been a lot of discussion as to whether Woods is capable of playing two sessions in one day, but I think a lot of that is overblown. Match play isn’t the same grind as stroke play. In fourball, when you’re out of a hole you can pick up your ball, so you don’t have to grind to save bogey as you do in regular tour events. In foursomes, by definition you only have to hit half the shots. If Tiger is up for it, I don’t see any reason he shouldn’t play at least three of the four team sessions and I wouldn’t be absolutely shocked if he plays all four. If he’s earned a perfect three points after Saturday morning’s session and tells Furyk he feels great physically, how can Furyk not send him out for basically nine more holes of golf?
Which team will win the Ryder Cup?
There seems to be this conventional wisdom that the U.S. is a not-insignificant favorite. I’m not buying it—these teams are really evenly matched (average world rank of the U.S. team is around 11, for Europe it’s around 17) and Europe has a course and fan advantage.
That doesn’t mean I’m not picking the Americans. Of course I am. I’ll go with 16-12 overall, though I think the U.S. will only old a 9-7 advantage heading into singles. The Europeans have tended to fare better in foursomes, and I think that will once again be the case this year. The U.S. individual (very slight) supremacy will prove the difference, and it’ll be a closer contest than the score might suggest.