Sports·THE BUZZER

What to know for golf's Ryder Cup

CBC Sports' daily newsletter previews the biennial competition between the U.S. and Europe, which features all of the world's top 10 players and (because of course) a PGA Tour vs. LIV Golf angle.

U.S. vs. Europe showdown features all top 10 players and (of course) a LIV angle

A male golfer looks over to an opponent on his right on a course.
The PGA Tour's/Europe's Rory McIlroy and LIV Golf's/the United States' Brooks Koepka are on opposite sides again at the Ryder Cup in Italy. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

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The men's golf season effectively ended with the Tour Championship in late August, but this year we're treated to one of the most riveting events in the sport. The Ryder Cup, golf's biennial team competition between the United States and Europe, tees off Friday outside Rome.

Here are some things to know:

How it works

Each team has 12 players. Six of them qualified automatically via a season-long points system, and six were selected by the non-playing team captain — Zach Johnson for the United States and Luke Donald for Europe.

The competition takes place over three days and uses golf's matchplay format. The lowest score on each of the 18 holes wins that hole, and whoever wins the most holes wins their match and a point for their team. If a match ends in a tie, both sides get half a point. The first team to 14.5 points wins the Ryder Cup. If the competition ends 14-14, the reigning champion (in this case the U.S.) retains the trophy.

Friday and Saturday are devoted to two different kinds of two-on-two matches. In "four-ball," everyone plays their own ball and the best score wins the hole for his duo. In "foursomes," each tandem plays one ball, alternating shots. In Sunday's closing singles matches, all 12 players on each team square off head-to-head with an opponent for 18 holes.

Who's playing

The winners of all four of the 2023 major championships are here. That's Europe's Jon Rahm (Masters) and Americans Brooks Koepka (PGA Championship), Wyndham Clark (U.S. Open) and Brian Harman (British Open). Scottie Scheffler, who won the "fifth major" (the lucrative Players Championship) en route to finishing the season ranked No. 1 in the world, is also playing for the Americans.

Europe has the world's next three highest-ranked players in Rory McIlroy, Rahm and Viktor Hovland, who last month pocketed a cool $18 million US for winning the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup playoff championship. But the Americans have Nos. 5 through 7 in Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele and Max Homa before Europe's Matt Fitzpatrick breaks up the run at No. 8. Harman and Clark round out the top 10. Other high-profile players include two-time major winner Collin Morikawa for the U.S. and 2013 U.S. Open champ Justin Rose for Europe.

WATCH | Hovland claims FedEx Cup title with 5-shot victory:

Norway's Viktor Hovland claims FedEx Cup title with 5-shot victory

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Norwegian Viktor Hovland shoots 7-under 63 in the final round of the Tour Championship and wins the FedEx cup title.

The most criticized captain's selection was American Justin Thomas. The 30-year-old was ranked No. 1 in the world in 2018 and captured his second major title in 2022. But he struggled this year, failing to qualify for the 70-man FedEx Cup playoffs and shooting rounds in the 80s at the U.S. and British Opens. Zach Johnson, the U.S. captain, explained his pick by pointing to Thomas' 6-2-1 lifetime record in Ryder Cup matches.

What happened last time

Even though the United States boasts an all-time record of 27-14-2 in the Ryder Cup, the competition has been much more even since 1979, when players from continental Europe were allowed to join what had been a Great Britain and Ireland team. In fact, Europe has the edge since then, going 11-9-1.

But a new age of American dominance appeared to be dawning in 2021 when the U.S., fielding its youngest-ever team, obliterated Europe 19-9 at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin to take back the Cup. It was the worst defeat in the history of the Europe team.

Don't expect another blowout

Despite the lopsided result two years ago, the betting odds suggest the Ryder Cup has returned to its natural state: basically a tossup. If you remove the possibility of a tie, Europe is a very narrow favourite. If you're betting on which team lifts the trophy, the odds are slightly in the Americans' favour since they keep it in the event of a tie. The forecasting website Data Golf's model gives the U.S. exactly a 50 per cent chance of winning the Cup outright and a 57.9 per cent chance of retaining it.

A big reason to be bullish on Europe bouncing back from the 2021 blowout is home-course advantage. The teams take turns hosting, and the Americans haven't won on the other side of the pond since 1993. That's six straight road defeats. But Italy isn't exactly a golf hotbed, so the pro-European galleries might not be as intimidating this time.

There's a LIV Golf vs. PGA Tour angle (because of course there is)

Everything in men's golf these days is infused with the bitterness between the rival leagues. Their planned merger, which is still being ironed out, may have cooled the resentment among players on each side, but it's always lurking below the surface.

Some of those hard feelings have crept back up in advance of the Ryder Cup, which was one of the cudgels used by the PGA Tour to dissuade its players from defecting to LIV when the maverick league launched last year. As is the case with the major championships, the Tour doesn't control the Ryder Cup, so it could not ban LIVers from playing. But, cut off from the rankings points awarded by the PGA Tour and its ally the European Tour, they had no real hope of qualifying for an automatic spot. The LIV players' only chance was to be named as a captain's pick.

In the end, the only LIV player selected was Koepka, who tied for second at the Masters this year before winning the PGA Championship for his fifth major title. Some LIVers grumbled that they weren't given a fair shake, but Koepka was not sympathetic to his fellow defectors' plight. "Play better," was his advice to them this week.

As always, McIlory couldn't resist taking a shot at the LIV rebels. The PGA Tour's most outspoken supporter said "it's going to hit home" for guys on the other side this week that their decision to take the LIV money and run cost them a chance to compete in the Ryder Cup. "They," McIlroy declared, "are going to miss being here more than we're missing them."

WATCH | PGA-LIV Golf merger, explained:

The PGA/LIV Golf merger, explained | About That

1 year ago
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The merging of the PGA Tour and its rival, LIV Golf — a Saudi-backed startup that lured big golfers with the promise of massive payouts — has upended the sports world. Andrew Chang breaks down how the unlikely merger came to be, and the accusations of 'sportswashing.'

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