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Ryder Cup 2014: The numbers that show why it ain’t over until someone gets thrown in the water

The ups and downs of the last 10 Ryder Cups and how you're never really out of it. (Unless you're an American in 2006, 2004 or 1997)

by Aidan Elder | September 24, 2014

It’s unbelievably dramatic. Like a three day EastEnders cliffhanger multiplied by a Noel Edmonds Deal or No Deal ‘we’ll find out after the break’. To the power of 10.

All those melodramatic Sky Sports ads telling you to get behind a motley crew of European sillypants wearers in the face of a perfectly agreeable and largely inoffensive bunch of American sillypants wearers – it’s hard not to get swept up in the weird and short-lived trans-continental patriotism:

GO TEAM EUROPE! I’ve always been a huge fan of Danish golf.”
That sort of thing.

There’s a perception that the Ryder Cup is hugely dramatic. That’s not inaccurate, even if Sky Sports to over-egg it to the point of making an omelette. A look back over the last 10 Ryder Cups and the state of play after each season and the eventual result does indicate a plentiful supply of drama and swings wilder than Jim Furyk trying to hack his way out of thick rough. Here’s the breakdown:


Can you back the team who’ll putt some money in your pocket?

The variety of colours immediately tells us that forging ahead in the early stages is no guarantee of success. Except between 2002 and 2006 when Europe went through an impressive 15 combined sessions and three Ryder Cups without ever trailing to the US. In fact, were it not for losing the singles so badly in 1999, they would have gone through 26 sessions between 1995 and 2006 without falling behind to the Yanks, landing six Ryder Cups on the bounce. That surely would have been enough to have the Yanks packing up their silly pants and ending the competition once and for all.

Always A Plot To Play For

Generally however, the storylines are mixed. There are times when one team strikes the front and eventually ends up winning convincingly (USA 2008, Europe 2004 & 2006), but there are plenty of other occasions when things are much closer and much more nail-bitey throughout. There’s undoubtedly room for an in-running play, even if it might look like one team is tightening its grip on the trophy. Some stats to note include:

  • Just 50% of the teams holding a lead after four sessions have gone on to win the trophy
    The biggest deficit overturned in the last 10 Ryder Cups has been four points. It happened in the famous 2012 comeback, but Europe chucked away the same size lead when losing at Brookline in 1999
  • 66% of teams leading after three sessions go on to win it.
    This is a bit counter-intuitive. Despite having more time to lose it, teams with a lead after three sessions actually end up sculling victory pints more often than teams leading after four sessions
  • Strangely, 66% of teams who take a lead after the 1st session go on to win it.
    The tricky part is actually getting a lead because four of the last ten Ryder Cups have been all square after the opening session

Ultimately, the singles is where it’s at. Teams regularly take useful leads into the singles matches only to be shocked with they lose the one on one combat. Even though Europe have won seven of the last 10 Ryder Cups, they’ve got a very slight edge in the singles matches winning 61 of the points on offer to the 59 amassed by the United States of Get In The Hole. Percentage-wise, that translates into a virtually identical win rate of 43% for Europe, 42% for the Yanks with 15% of singles matches halved.

History tells us that even seemingly insurmountable leads going into the singles can be overcome. Anything up to a five point lead seems to be over-turnable – to coin a crap new word. Twice in the history of the Ryder Cup have four point leads been erased twice in the singles and smaller leads have counted for little in the end on several occasions down through the years.

For all its unpredictability, one thing is clear. No matter what the scoreboard may say at various points on Friday and Saturday – it’s not over until the fat lady sings. So if you see Colin Montgomerie doing vocal exercises on Sunday afternoon, the end may be nigh.

Ryder Cup Gif

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