Colin Montgomerie Is Ryder Cup King?

Colin Montgomerie is history’s best Ryder Cup player, according to a study recently published in the Journal of Applied Statistics.

In the study, Rose D. Bakera and Ian G. McHale constructed a model to assess the strengths and rankings of Ryder Cup Competitors. It was — as you imagine — a difficult task, given the combination of singles, four ball and foursomes played in Cup competition. The statisticians also had to compensate for number of appearances, opponent strength and a large number of other variables.

The authors used a modified version of the Bradley-Terry model, allotting strength parameters to each player’s probability of winning a hole. Adjustments were made in the rankings to counteract the inflation of players who win by large margins. Data was collected for all matches, results and players over the last 40 years, comprising 924 matches and 327 players.

As a gauge of overall golfer strength, Baker and McHale assessed their results over the 4 major golfing competitions; US Masters, US Open, British Open and the US PGA Championship.

The study indicted that Colin Montgomerie, Tom Kite and Ian Poulter were the strongest Ryder Cup golfers.

The authors also used tried to determine the most “over-performing” teams — that is, those whose Ryder Cup performances exceeded that predicted by the Majors performances of their members.

Adopting this approach suggested that the most over-performing team was that of Europe in 2004 when Bernard Langer captained Europe to victory. The second most over-performing team was also Europe when Ian Woosnam led the team to victory in 2006. Indeed, these results can be thought of as attempting to identify the Ryder Cup’s greatest ever captains. In third and fourth place are the US teams from 1981 and 1979, captained by Dave Marr and Billy Casper, respectively.

The top ten players are listed below:

RankingNameTeamEstimated strength
1Colin MontgomerieEurope1.009 (0.03)
2Tom KiteUSA1.008 (0.03)
3Ian PoulterEurope1.006 (0.03)
4Jose Maria OlazabalEurope1.006 (0.03)
5Larry NelsonUSA1.006 (0.03)
6Tom LehmanUSA1.005 (0.03)
7Lanny WadkinsUSA1.005 (0.03)
8Bernhard LangerEurope1.005 (0.03)
9Hale IrwinUSA1.005 (0.03)
10Justin RoseEurope1.004 (0.03)
11Tom WatsonUSA1.004 (0.03)
12Corey PavinUSA1.003 (0.03)
13Graeme McDowellEurope1.003 (0.03)
14Seve BallesterosEurope1.003 (0.03)
14Rory McIlroyEurope1.003 (0.03)
14Phil MickelsonUSA1.003 (0.03)
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