HPE analytics: Who could force their way in to Ryder Cup contention?
By Keith Jackson
Last Updated: 28/09/16 4:28pm
In the next of our Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) data analytics series on the summer of sport, as the countdown continues to qualifying for the 2016 Ryder Cup, we analyse the options for captain's picks and the statistics for players who are hoping to force their way into the action at Hazeltine.
The PGA Championship is the last major for those on the fringes of Ryder Cup qualification to impress their respective captains, and there is no doubt that performances on the big stage at Baltusrol will be a huge factor in the thoughts of Darren Clarke and Davis Love III.
But in the grand scheme of things, both skippers and their backroom teams will not just be considering four days' worth of form, and they will leave no stone unturned in their pursuit of a winning formula.
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History has proved that all Ryder Cup captains have their own thought processes when it comes to their wild-card selections. Previous match play form, both in team and individual competitions, seasonal results, performances in majors and WGCs, and familiarity and reliability have all come into the equation over the years.
Simple "gut instinct" has also played a part and, while many skippers have spent time analysing the merits and statistics of those in the frame, Paul McGinley took this to a new level ahead of the last Ryder Cup at Gleneagles in 2014.
And this did not just apply to his captain's picks - McGinley and his aides poured through page after page of numbers to assess every aspect of his line-up including prospective partnerships for the week, which players had performed well at Gleneagles or on similar layouts, who played well in chilly, blustery conditions … the list was seemingly endless.
Clarke has hinted that he will adopt the same measures before announcing his three captain's picks following conclusion of the Made In Denmark on August 28, meaning candidates have just three tournaments - including the Olympics - to prove their credentials.
Love will name three of his four captain's picks after the BMW Championship - the third of the four FedExCup Play-off events which concludes on September 11 - and he will make his final choice after the Tour Championship a fortnight later.
This is a direct reaction to the events of two years ago, when Tom Watson was obliged to name his wild-cards before Billy Horschel and Chris Kirk found some remarkable form on the PGA Tour and would have been firm favourites to be on the plane to Scotland had they produced the goods a couple of weeks earlier.
Clarke and Love will, no doubt, already have their "ideal" wild-card picks firmly imprinted, and they can only hope that the players they have in mind can show enough to merit consideration over the next month. Previous experience counts for little if they struggle to make a cut in the build-up to one of the premier team events in world sport.
The skippers have each played alongside some probable contenders over the course of the season, and it's interesting that Clarke has played twice with two of the rising stars on the European Tour - Thorbjorn Olesen and Thomas Pieters - while Love has checked out the form of established stars Jim Furyk and Jason Dufner at close range.
But when we look at the crucial statistics, how do this quartet match up against their rivals for a place in the action at Hazeltine? And with a number of rookies expected to qualify for both teams, will Clarke and Love abandon their number-crunching and look for experience first and foremost?
If Clarke opts for the latter approach, then the likes of Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell and his good friend Lee Westwood, appear to be the obvious choices. Fortunately for the skipper, their statistics in the Ryder Cup and match play in general look favourable.
Clarke has made no secret of his desire to see Westwood make his 10th Ryder Cup appearance. His performance in 2014 backed up McGinley's faith in him as he earned two vital wins alongside Jamie Donaldson, who celebrated a fine debut by securing the winning point on Sunday evening.
Westwood has had an indifferent season, but he has fared well in the bigger events. His runner-up finish behind Danny Willett at The Masters in April would have warmed the heart of his long-time friend and Ryder Cup partner Clarke.
McDowell and Kaymer have both proved their mettle in the heat of Ryder Cup competition before - G-Mac scoring the winning point to thwart a stellar American comeback at Celtic Manor while Kaymer memorably holed the six-foot putt that ensured Europe would retain the trophy in the most thrilling Ryder Cup of all - the Miracle at Medinah.
These three may not be setting the world alight when it comes to scoring average this season, with Kaymer's 71.77 per round the pick of the trio, but they are all hitting a respectable two-thirds of greens in regulation despite disappointing figures for driving accuracy.
But Clarke is likely to give higher priority to their previous match play records. All three have won comfortably more than they have lost, but McDowell leads the way with an impressive 39 wins from 62 matches in all competitions.
When it comes to Ryder Cup records, Westwood's ability to combine with his team-mates is a stand-out feature, particularly in foursomes - one of the most difficult match play formats - where he has a record of 12 wins against just four defeats with one halved match. And his penchant for "alternate shot" is even better in the Seve Trophy and EurAsia Cup - eight wins out of 10.
McDowell's record over four appearances since his 2008 debut also makes for good reading, with eight wins, two halves and just four defeats in all formats and just one defeat from his four singles matches. Little wonder that McGinley chose him to lead off the singles at Gleneagles in 2014.
Kaymer also has a positive match play record in all competitions, with a 4-3-3 record in the Ryder Cup. The only other two players on our European list with previous Ryder Cup experience - Victor Dubuisson and Francesco Molinari - have differing match play form.
Dubuisson thrust himself into the limelight with his superb run to the final of the WGC Match Play in 2014, where he displayed incredible short-game skills before being edged out by Jason Day. The flamboyant Frenchman has 13 wins and nine defeats from his 25 matches in all competitions.
Molinari, who capped the astonishing comeback at Medinah with half against Tiger Woods which ensured the outright win for Jose Maria Olazabal's heroes, has a less enviable match play record with 17 wins offset by 22 losses. But the Italian has - by far - the best driving accuracy this season of the 10 on our list with 73.21 per cent. This makes him a valuable asset in foursomes play.
Of the other European contenders, Molinari's negative match play record is replicated by Soren Kjeldsen, Olesen, Shane Lowry and Pieters, while up-and-coming English talent Tyrrell Hatton has played just one non-stroke play event - making the quarter-finals of last year's Paul Lawrie Match Play.
For Davis Love, the picture becomes less encouraging when he analyses overall match play records. Furyk, for example, has been one of the world's most consistent players over the last 20 years, but he has won 48 times in match play against 49 losses and possesses a dreadful Ryder Cup record for a man of his talents.
In 34 matches over nine appearances, he has won just 10 of them and suffered defeat no fewer than 20 times, with four halved rubbers. Yet in the Presidents Cup, his record is almost the exact opposite with 20 wins - including a perfect 5-0 record in 2011 - and just 11 defeats.
When Love looks at the 10 current leading contenders for a wild-card berth, he may be somewhat shocked to find that only two of them - Patrick Reed and Jason Dufner - have winning records across all match play competitions.
And three of them, Kevin Chappell, Daniel Berger and Memorial champion William McGirt, have no match play experience between them in the professional ranks. In fact, the lack of match play appearances overall is worryingly thin if you are an American fan.
Furyk (100), Bill Haas (23), Dufner (19) and Reed (17) are the only players to have notched double-figure matches in a head-to-head arena, compared to eight of the 10 contenders for Darren Clarke's European team.
Love's options look brighter in the data for form this season, particularly in the scoring average charts. All 10 on our American list are averaging under 71 strokes per round in 2016, with Dufner heading the list at 70.17. Of the 10 Europeans, only Hatton (70.38) is under 71 while Dubuisson (73.86), McDowell (72.87) and Lowry (72.77) are clearly on the wrong side of par.
One other statistic that Clarke and Love may take a peek at is previous form at the host venue. Here again, Europe appear to have the advantage. Westwood, Kaymer, Kjeldsen, McDowell and Molinari all played in the PGA Championship at Hazeltine in 2009 and performed well.
Westwood finished in a tie for third on three under - five behind champion YE Yang - while Kaymer (-1), Kjeldsen (-1), McDowell (Lev) and Molinari (Lev) all earned top-10 places. Compare this to the American list - Furyk was among the also-rans on 11-over par and Charley Hoffman and Dufner missed the cut.
When all this data is analysed, you could argue that Europe have the advantage when it comes to the options for captain's picks.
However, this is the Ryder Cup, where form and reputation are often disregarded when the week begins and the pressure ramps up. As Sir Nick Faldo once said: "Pressure is a privilege", so who would like the honour?"