Battle for Cup will be fought on greens – and US have the edge

Europe's Martin Kaymer putting on the practice green at the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament in Medinah
Europe's Martin Kaymer putting on the practice green at the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament in Medinah
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Nick Westby conducts a statistical analysis of how the Ryder Cup will be won – and it makes for grim reading from a European perspective.

Talk about the lack of rough at Medinah until you are blue in the face.

Analyse the impact of unity, personalities and player bonds until there are no words left to describe team spirit.

Focus on the rights and wrongs of targeting top players like Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy as much as you like.

But you will be wasting your time. Those factors will have some bearing on the outcome of the next three days of golf, but what the 39th Ryder Cup will hinge on is the very same aspect most golf tournaments are decided on – putting.

As ever in golf, no matter how high the individual or team stakes, results are determined by who performs best on the greens.

Which team has more clutch putters than the other? Which players have the ability to rescue a half with a 20-foot putt? Who has the nerve to drain a monster putt to ramp up the pressure on an opponent who is left with a nasty five-footer?

It is on the greens of Medinah where the Ryder Cup will be won and lost.

And statistically, the numbers do not look good for Jose Maria Olazabal’s European team.

The PGA Tour has developed what many believe to be the most comprehensive tool with which to analyse a player’s putting. It is a method right out of the statistical textbook re-written by the Oakland A’s baseball team, from which emerged the book ‘Moneyball’ that launched many a re-evaluation of sports statistics. Money is not the motivating factor at Medinah this week, only pride and honour.

And if the PGA Tour’s SGP (strokes gained putting) measure is anything to go by, it is the Americans who will be beaming with pride on Sunday night.

SGP is a measurement of how many strokes a player gains on the rest of the field while on the green. It is exclusive to PGA Tour events. All 12 members of the American team played enough rounds to qualify for the statistic in 2012, while only seven of the European team are analysed.

Three of the worst performers in the strokes gained putting field are European, with Lee Westwood the worst in 166th place. He has good company in Olazabal’s team with Justin Rose and Graeme McDowell only just higher up, while Masters champion Bubba Watson is the lowest-ranked American player.

At the top end of the scale, the best putter on the PGA Tour this year is Ryder Cup rookie Brandt Snedeker.

Encouragingly for Olazabal’s Europeans, Luke Donald is the second best putter, but from there the leaderboard is rather ominously awash with red, white and blue. Phil Mickelson and Zach Johnson are in the top 10, and you have to go down past Matt Kuchar and Jim Furyk before finding another European, Sergio Garcia, a surprising name to see so high given his problems on the greens in recent years.

Granted, it may be an unbalanced statistic if 12 Americans are analysed against the seven Europeans who play their golf on America’s PGA Tour.

A quick glance at the most definitive putting stats on the European Tour – putts per green in regulation – at least balances it out with Sweden’s Peter Hanson the best putter on the circuit.

Hanson is also in the top five when measuring an average for putts per round, suggesting the Swede might be Olazabal’s secret weapon at Medinah this week.

But overall there are more American Ryder Cup players featuring highly on statistical rankings than there are Europeans. Snedeker, for one, tops a number of lists. As well as SGP, he is also one of the most lethal executers of one-putts inside 25 feet and has the highest one-putt percentage on the US tour. Mickelson, Keegan Bradley, Jason Dufner and Steve Stricker all feature highly on the numerous statistic charts.

Sadly, Westwood invariably comes out towards the bottom of most rankings. And yet when it comes to the Ryder Cup, the 39-year-old from Worksop is invariably the man you would putt your mortgage on to win a point. For the Ryder Cup is as much about holding nerve as it is holing putts. Which almost renders this argument redundant.

But I fear the statistics are too overwhelming and that the USA will wield the short stick to devastating effect.

How the rivals measure up in Medinah

UNITED STATES

Keegan Bradley – Age 26, rank 13, majors 1, caps 0

Jason Dufner – 35, rank 7, majors 0, caps 0

Jim Furyk – 42, rank 27, majors 1, caps 7, won 8, halved 4, lost 15, pts 10

Dustin Johnson – 28, rank 12, majors 0, caps 1, won 1, lost 3, pts 1

Zach Johnson – 36, rank 16, majors 1, caps 2, games 7, won 3, halved 1, lost 3, pts 3.5

Matt Kuchar – 34, rank 14, majors 0, caps 1, games 4, won 1, halved 2, lost 1, pts 2

Phil Mickelson – 42, rank 15, majors 4, caps 8, games 34, won 11, halved 6, lost 17, pts 14

Webb Simpson – 27, rank 6, majors 1, caps 0

Brandt Snedeker – 31, rank 19, majors 0, caps 0

Steve Stricker – 45, rank 11, majors 0, caps 2, won 3, halved 1, lost 3, pts 3.5

Bubba Watson – 33, rank 8, majors 1, caps 1, games 4, won 1, lost 3, pts 1

Tiger Woods – 36, rank 2, majors 14, caps 6, games 29, won 13, halved 2, lost 14, pts 14

EUROPE

Nicolas Colsaerts – Age 29, rank 35, majors 0, caps 0

Luke Donald – Age 34, rank 3, majors 0, caps 3, won 8, halved 1, lost 2, pts 8.5

Sergio Garcia –32, rank 18, majors 0, caps caps 5, won 14, halved 4, lost 6

Peter Hanson – 34, rank 23, majors 0, caps 1, won 1, lost 2, pts 1

Martin Kaymer – 27, rank 32, majors 1, caps 1, won 2, halved 1, lost 1, pts 2.5

Paul Lawrie – 43, rank 29, majors 1, caps 1, won 3, halved 1, lost 1, pts 3.5

Graeme McDowell – 33, rank 17, majors 1, caps 2, won 4, halved 2, lost 2, pts 5

Rory McIlroy – 23, rank 1, majors 2, caps 1, won 1, halved 2, lost 1, pts 2

Francesco Molinari – 29, rank 30, majors 0, caps 1, halved 1, lost 2, pts 0.5

Ian Poulter – 36, rank 25, majors 0, caps 3, won 8, lost 3, pts 8

Justin Rose – 32, rank 9, majors 0, caps 1, won 3, lost 1, pts 3

Lee Westwood – 39, rank 4, majors 0, caps 7, won 16, halved 6, lost 11

FORMAT

TODAY – Foursomes, first tee-time 7.20am (US time), 1.20pm UK time. Fourballs, first tee-time 12.05pm or 1.05pm (US time), 6.05pm or 7.05pm (UK time).

TOMORROW – Foursomes first tee-time 7.20am (US time), 1.20pm (UK time). Fourballs first tee-time 12.05pm (US time), 6.05pm (UK time).

SUNDAY – Singles, tee times from 11.03am-1.05pm (US time), 5.03pm-7.05pm (UK time).