Between the competitive flair, the historical significance, and the continental pride of the Ryder Cup, it’s easy to see why it’s so much fun to watch for golf fans. It also makes it fun to wager on, as the best players from the United States and Europe converge for the biennial tournament.

This time they’ll meet at Le Golf National, a course about an hour outside of Paris. It’s only the third time the Ryder has been played anywhere besides the U.S. or the U.K. in the tournament’s entire history, dating back to 1927. Through the 90-year-plus history of the competition, there have been countless of dramatic moments. These featured the greatest of U.S. stars, such as Jack, Arnie, and Tiger.

This year, the U.S. team is absolutely stacked, with legendary figures like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson on-board, along with seven other Major champions. But they’ll have a tough test from an experienced Europe squad packed with plenty of magic from past Cup wins.

But who has more ice in their veins on the late greens? And who can master the 18th hole, dubbed the toughest on the European Tour? Here I will break down the course hole-by-hole and then move on to discussing the talent the U.S. has and how it fits Le Golf National.

The Course

The Front Nine

The course starts with a par-4 first hole that requires players to calm their enthusiasm. Simply smashing it off the tee probably won’t do any good, only pushing the shot to the water on the left that shrivels the fairway as it goes.
Ryder Cup 2016
Tee-bombers like Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson will be able to post up with a long iron and work on hitting the tough but elongated green. This hole is an early test to the players’ patience, with water to the left of the hole and a bunker to the right.

The 2nd is a tricky little Par-3 that is draped front-to-left by water. Getting over the blue and sticking it on the left side of the dance floor is extremely tough. The further to the right the pin is, the better for these players. Because if any ball sails too far left of this slender green, it’s going for a swim.

There’s a little reprieve with the Par-5 3rd hole. A lot of frustration can be taken out for those who dropped a couple strokes on the last two holes. There’s patches of water and deep brush on the right, but a clear and spacious fairway lies straight ahead. As long as players can keep it left on the tee shot, this a great opportunity to earn a stroke back.

That leads us to the 4th, which undoubtedly plays well off the tee for the heavy hitters. There’s very little bunker here anymore, and The Par-4 gives a lot of relief to players whose approaches go long. The slope will bring it back considerably. The 5th and 6th holes are two Par-4’s that should play pretty easy during the weekend. The 5th has a slight dogleg and a small bunker to the bottom-left of the green, while the 6th can go from tee-to-green on a good day of gust.

These two teams need to take advantage of these two holes because the 7th plays no favorites. This is one of the longer Par-4s and one of the leanest as the fairway goes. And the green is also quite slender. Finally, No. 8 is a short-stroke Par-3, but is also a complicated hole. If a player misses deep, the puts are deceptively hard. If the shot goes to either side—even just to the fringe—it’s tough to get up and near the hole. And the course only gets more challenging as it goes.

The Back Nine

The back-nine starts with a long Par-5 that swoops right and often into the wind. There a huge, hilly rough to the right, but the real struggle is when players try to approach on their second shot.
Ryder Cup 2018
The bunkers are more like craters to each side of the green and are hidden amid the wrinkles of the course. It’s a slim green once again, but if played right, there are eagle opportunities to the best of the best. The 10th has some excessively high foliage to whoever misses wide, but the green is propped up from the rest of the hole. Playing behind the pin is a good idea with the fast slope it takes downward toward the hole.

No. 11 is a beauty, a Par-3 of only 178 yards, much of which is spread out over a lake. The ball has to get over the first slope of the green to make sure it doesn’t retreat to the water. And if the ball is played too deep, there are two sizable bunkers behind it. Holes 12 and 13 both feature doglegs, two Par-4’s of similar length (433 and 415 yards). The first is littered with bunkers on both sides of the fairway and becomes more claustrophobic as the green nears.

No. 13 curves around to a strip of water more than wide enough to lose a few balls. It plays as a gatekeeper of sorts to a fairly straightforward green. With a pin on the back-left, No. 14 can be a doozy. This 544-yard Par-5 has plenty of literal ups and downs on the fairway, but the second shot is monumental if one is lucky enough to hit near the green. The bunkers surrounding this hole are nothing to mess around with.

No. 15 is another dogleg (Par-4), but this one has water guarding the hole that is more expansive than on 13. Getting that second shot on the green is going to be entertaining to watch, especially if the pin is pushed close to the water. This hole will make-and-break several matches. Going up to No. 16, players will have a choice. They can whether risk hitting near the water, as this short Par-3 will probably have its pin set up there. Or people can play it safe to the left of the green and play one of the tougher downhill puts on the course.

Following that is a long Par-4 that plays even longer. And a player better hit center on the tee shot, or stare straight into the face of a bogey, or worse. Just because there’s no water on this hole means nothing. The elevations and slopes are as extreme as they come on the course. And the sidelines also have as thick of grass as any hole.

And that leads us to No. 18. It’s one of the toughest holes in golf to get to the green on. Once a golfer is there on the massive surface, things get a bit more stable. But then again, there’ll be thousands of people looking over the players in the gallery. Until the player gets there, a humongous expanse of water is in their way. To get over it, the first shot to the fairway must not stray. Otherwise, the hole could be conceded before a player even attempts to get over the wet stuff.

Team USA: -135 to Win (Bovada)

Jim Furyk, Captain

Furyk hasn’t necessarily had great success in Ryder Cups (10-20-4), but he clearly has a lot of experience playing for the U.S.

So his leadership is what matters in this role, and he’s been taking it seriously ever since he was announced captain in early 2017. He’s played the course himself recently with Bubba Watson and Jordan Spieth to get them ready for the Ryder. He’s clearly been invested and is one of the more likable guys and stable guys on the Tour.

The Vice Captains

Although I’m bunching these together, the vice captain’s role has definitely expanded. Many of the small interchanges within the tournament will fall in the hands of these coaches. Some of them are major champions and these next two have seven Ryder Cup appearances between them.

David Duval is a bit of a surprise in this role. He’s been mostly doing work for the Golf Channel since 2015, but it’s clear he is quite the student of the beautiful game.

It’d be nice to see Zach Johnson and his 6-4-1 Ryder record swinging clubs. His resiliency on the course is a big asset to have in close matches or to rally a teammate in a foursome. But he’s a very heady golfer who can supply plenty of insight for the slew of young players littering this roster.

Matt Kuchar is another stable voice that’s going to be great for the U.S. to have around, and someone the younger players trust in. He had a string of failure in the Ryder until Hazeltine, where he played in a key four-ball win with Phil Mickelson. As for fellow vice-captain Davis Love III, he’s been here before. Not only as a player on six different occasions but also as the captain for the U.S.’s big 17-11 win at Hazeltine two years ago.

Simply having him in the group gives off a lot of confidence considering how dominant the 2016 squad was under his tutelage. And last but not least of the vice-captains is Steve Stricker. The three-time participant will be better off as a coach than as a competitor (3-7-1 lifetime). But he’s definitely a guy the U.S. wants studying the course for its players.

The Players

Bryson DeChambeau: One of the stronger players on the Tour right now. His approaches (.599) are very consistent, something that will be needed at all times at Le Golf National. He’s as smart as they come on the course for his age. You could definitely consider him a golf-nerd, if there’s such a thing. He’d be great paired with Tiger Woods but may get accompanied by a younger player.

Tony Finau: The tall Salt Lake City native was another golfer who played this course beforehand with Furyk. His strength lies off the tee. But though he has the fourth-farthest drives on average (315.3), his accuracy (ranked 181st) hitting fairways could be a concern on the more confining holes.

Rickie Fowler: One of the more fun guys to watch on tour. Like the two golfers mentioned before him, he’s playing very well right now. He had top-10’s at the BMW and the Tour Championship. His driving isn’t always the best, but he has a knack for getting out of trouble, especially in sand traps. As good of friends as they are, it’d be natural for him to play with Justin Thomas, though that’s not a surety.

Dustin Johnson: He’s been one of the more dominant figures of the sport the last few years. Johnson had a strong showing at the Tour Championship, finishing 3rd. He could be the most consistent player out there. All three singles’ rounds he’s had in the Ryder he’s won. He’s strong beginning and finishing holes. As long as his mid-range game doesn’t fail him, he will get at least one win in France.

Brooks Koepka: Him and Dustin Johnson will more than likely pair up. Their bomb-and-pitch styles work well together, and they’re already gym buddies with natural comradery. Koepka was 3-1 in his first appearance at the Ryder in 2016. He played at Le Golf National in 2014 as part of the European Tour. He didn’t make the cut though. He’ll have to not overdo the fairways this time around.

Phil Mickelson: It just wouldn’t be the same without Lefty. He’s been playing in this tournament since the mid-90’s and at 48 is still averaging the 6th-best holes-per-birdie average. His putting is still marvelous, and he makes shots from sand and deep grass that many others simply can’t. He’s a veteran with moxie and will be great to have on this squad. He will most likely pair with Finau or Woods.

Patrick Reed: This guy was built for these match plays. He’s such a competitor and is looking to continue to add on to his 6-1-2 run (2014 and 2016 combined). This year’s green jacket winner hasn’t been on top of his game lately. But if any setting is going to flip a switch, it’s this one. He’ll more than likely play with Jordan Spieth this weekend. He’ll need his best drives to position himself well, but his chipping around the green will come in handy.

Webb Simpson: After being left off the 2016 team, Simpson is back on this iteration after two previous appearances. His 2-3-1 lifetime mark is nothing to write home about. But finishing 6th at BMW and 4th at the Tour Championship means the Ryder has come at the right time for him. His lack of driving power shouldn’t hurt him too much here, except for on a couple of back-nine Par-4’s.

Jordan Spieth: This guy will be a cornerstone for the US team for years (possibly decades) to come. He’s tested the course aplenty and will be expected to do big things, especially if he’s paired with Reed. His ability to find the greens is a huge leg up for him on this course. Though his putting is still a concern, some of the greens will be forgiving.

Justin Thomas: One of the first-time Ryder Cup participants. He may not be playing as well as he was in August, but he was still an obvious pick for this team. He finished tied for 8th at the French Open here less than three months ago. That’s huge for this team, as is the fact Thomas’s approaches are some of the best in the game. It’s the main reason he did so well here at the French.

Bubba Watson: Though he’s 3-8 lifetime at the Ryder, it’s hard to exclude him. He may not be the definition of a “team player”, but he has a fire in him that oozes over to the rest of the group. Still, it’ll be interesting to see how he plays here. He should put himself in good position off the tee, and that is critical. But what he does there-on-out is a mystery that may not have a pleasant answer.

Tiger Woods: Yes, Tiger is back. Sort of. But he may even be a better pick for this team now than he was in his prime. He’s definitely not as isolated of a competitor as he once was. He’d actually pair well with a few different players on the roster, including Mickelson. As long as he can stay disciplined on the fairways, he’s going to have a good time at Le Golf National. His mid-range is as good as ever and his putting has seen improvements. He’s close to being the hottest golfer out there right now after winning the Tour Championship. Expect big things from him.

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