The Ryder Cup is unlike any other event in professional golf. This is not exactly breaking news, but it should inform the way players are considered leading into the 43rd edition of this event at mighty Whistling Straits on the shores of Lake Michigan.
Ranking players for major championships is straightforward. Who's playing well? Who's hot? Who has played well at these types of events or courses in the past? Over the course of 72 holes of stroke play, the most talented players who have been playing the best golf almost always rise to the top of the leaderboard.
Ryder Cups are trickier. You're dealing with 18 holes at a time in unfamiliar formats. Things that you would not consider in a stroke-play event -- playing partners, excitement for team events, ability to play different formats, playability in general -- must be considered.
Oftentimes for majors, I rank players straight off of their strokes-gained numbers over the last 20 rounds or three months or some arbitrary number like that. When combined with other things like course fit, it's a good predictor. And while I still used that number, I didn't weight it as heavily as I normally do for all the reasons mentioned above and also because a lot of these guys haven't played in nearly three weeks. We should consider the fact that Collin Morikawa was bad during the FedEx Cup Playoffs, but we perhaps shouldn't consider it as much as we would if he was playing a major two weeks ago.
With all those caveats and one of the monumental events of the year directly in front of us, here are my rankings of all 24 players at the 43rd Ryder Cup.
2021 Ryder Cup teams, rankings
|1||26||2nd||He is by far the best player in the world. Over the last three months, only three men are gaining at least 2.0 strokes per round (Patrick Cantlay, Harris English and Rahm), and Rahm is at 3.0. Astounding.|
|2||28||2nd||J.T. became the first U.S. golfer since 1995 to earn four points in a single Ryder Cup when he did so in the 2018 Ryder Cup in Paris.|
|3||29||1st||He's playing in his first Ryder Cup, but he gets a bump because he's been the clear-cut second best player in the world for the last few months. Also, he seems like he would be a nightmare to play against in match play.|
|4||32||6th||McIlroy's golf has not been as good as a lot of the players below him, but he's Europe's heart. He knows, as everyone knows, that he's going all five matches, and he gets a major bump because his skill set fits this golf course so well.|
|5||41||10th||Garcia's Ryder Cup record is unassailable, and he's driving the hell out of the golf ball. If (when?) he starts making putts, he's going to be a problem for the U.S., and Europe might roll him out for five matches.|
|6||28||4th||I wasn't sure where to slot Spieth. He was nasty in the majors this year, but there was a drop in his play over the last month or so. Still, his Ryder Cup record is good, and he'll partner with the No. 2 guy on this list all week.|
|7||24||1st||He and Garcia hold the keys to Europe's victory. If Rahm and McIlroy thrive, then Hovland and Garcia complementing them will be vital.|
|8||27||1st||You could talk me into anywhere between No. 2 and No. 10 on this list for Schauffele. He's scary in match play because he does everything well, but I wasn't overly inspired by his partnership with Cantlay at the 2019 Presidents Cup.|
|9||37||5th||I want to rank him higher because he's been a terrific putter and has absolutely owned Whistling Straits, but the 7-9-0 Ryder Cup record lingers.|
|10||32||2nd||I think he thrives here. He had a winning mark in 2018 in Paris, crushes on humongous tracks like this one and finished in the top 10 at Whistling Straits in 2015. Oh, and he won a month ago.|
|11||44||5th||Maybe the most underrated statistical year of anyone at this Ryder Cup. The only Europeans who have been better than him over the last six months are Rahm and Hovland.|
|12||28||2nd||Perfect for this course and seemingly a perfect match-play player, but I don't know that you can play him in alternate shot. He's fourth in total strokes gained over the last four months.|
|13||31||3rd||Solid Ryder Cup record, but I'm leery about both his injury and his general disposition. If he hadn't gotten hurt at the Tour Championship, I'd probably have him in the top eight or so.|
|14||30||2nd||The golf has not been good for Fleetwood this year, but I can't ignore his 2018 debut when he was a pre-singles revelation and went 4-0-0 with Francesco Molinari in Paris. He certainly has the game to roll with everyone here, especially if the weather picks up a little bit.|
|15||29||1st||I wanted to rank him higher because he's my pick for breakout star on the U.S. side this week. A U.S. answer to Hovland, perhaps. However, the U.S. is so deep that I'm not sure how many matches he's going to get. Fifth of everyone in this field in total strokes gained in the last three months.|
|17||24||1st||He would have been in the top seven or eight had he not fallen all the way off during the FedEx Cup Playoffs. He doesn't have a top-25 finish on the PGA Tour since his Open Championship win. His game is not perfect for this golf course, but he's very playable. A drop to 16th should tell you how thin the margins are among these players.|
|16||32||1st||Really good numbers over the last three months, but he's not among the best players from tee to green. Still, he's a nice piece the U.S. can get some points from, and could be an alternate shot specialist.|
|18||25||1st||We think he's getting some matches with Bryson DeChambeau, which is obviously beneficial (specifically in four-ball). He's also a monster off the tee. He won't play a ton, but he's a hell of a 12th man to have in the queue.|
|19||34||1st||Underrated year for Lowry, who is also solid from tee to green and sneaky long. He and Scheffler are two guys who could fall on either end of the spectrum of success this week.|
|21||35||1st||This is where it starts to drop off for Europe. If they're able to either get some magic from the bottom OR hide a few of these guys until Sunday when they have a wave of momentum, they could pull it off. Wiesberger is the best of this bottom group.|
|20||45||7th||Poulter's numbers have been good this year, but so much of it has been due to his putter. That's extraordinarily difficult to maintain both on a course like this and throughout the course of a week. He's been pretty average at his last few Ryder Cups (especially compared to his first few).|
|22||27||2nd||Solid player, but the course is a bad fit for him and his lack of pop off the tee. Definitely very playable in foursomes though.|
|23||29||2nd||Here is a list of golfers that have a better strokes-gained number than Hatton over the last three months: Mikko Korhonen, Harry Higgs, Marcel Siem, Jim Herman and Andrew Putnam. Does not bode well.|
|24||48||11th||I respect the 11 Ryder Cups, but given his age and his form of late (not great since March), I would be surprised if he played more than two matches.|
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