Understanding The Ryder Cup Format
The 2021 Ryder Cup is upon us with the odds favoring team USA at -190 over Europe per SportsBettingDime.com. That’s an interesting line, considering that the US has struggled in the team match play format over the last twenty years. Since 1999, Europe is 7-3 over the US team. All three of the US wins were on US soil.
Part of the US struggles may be linked to the fact that match play and team play formats are unusual in the United States. For those unfamiliar with the formats, here’s a quick primer.
First a word about match play in general. In match play, players win holes, rather than accumulate strokes. After each hole, players compare strokes and the lower number wins the hole. If Harper takes eight strokes to hole out on the first and Peyton takes nine, Harper is up one hole. The strokes do not carry over, so on the second, both are playing from a clean slate (other than the fact that Harper is up one).
The competition thus continues with each hole existing in isolation. It doesn’t matter how many strokes it takes to hole out, as long as the sum is fewer strokes than the opponent.
Overall scores in match play competitions are reported by how many holes a player (or side) has won and how many holes have been finished. If after nine holes, Harper has won five and Peyton has won four, Harper is 1-Up through nine. If the players are tied in the number of holes won at any point, the score is reported as “All Square” — i.e. All Square Through Sixteen.
Mathematically, then it is possible for a match to end before 18 holes are played because a player (or side) is up by more holes than are left. If, after the sixteenth hole, Harper is up by three holes, the match is over. Even if Peyton wins the next two holes, Harper still wins by one.
In this case the match is called and the final score is reported as Harper 3 and 2. That means that Harper won as a result of being three holes up with two left to play.
A match can end in a tie — All Square after 18. In Ryder Cup matches, at least, there are no extra holes.
Note how different this is from a typical PGA TOUR or European Tour event, where the final results are recorded as the total number of strokes and that score’s relation to par. Total strokes do not matter in match play, nor does par.
The Ryder Cup competition (as with the President’s Cup and the Solheim Cup) is comprised of three different types of match play competitions; four Four Ball matches and four Foursomes matches on the first two days, followed by twelve singles matches on Sunday.
At the end of each match, the winner scores a point. If tied, each side wins a half a point.
In Four Ball, there are two teams of two players. Each player on the team plays their own ball (thus, “four balls” are in play). At the end of each hole, players compare scores and if one player has a lower score than the others, that player’s team wins the hole. Four Ball is sometimes known as “Best Ball,” as the best ball of the four wins for their team.
Foursomes is sometimes known as “alternate shot.” In this format, two teams of two players play one ball per team. Players alternate playing their team ball from the tee shot to holing out. The team with the lowest score wins the hole.
The Sunday singles matches feature players going Mano A Mano. Each match has one European team member facing off against one US team player.
Each match, whether Four Ball, Foursomes or Singles will score a point for the winning side, or a half a point to each side for a tie after eighteen holes. Thus, the Ryder Cup can end in an overall tie. If that occurs, the team that currently holds the cup retains it. This year, a tie means the European team retains the cup.