Strokeplay form is of limited relevance in matchplay
Although golf may be the same sport, requiring the same basic skills-set, whatever the format, the strokeplay formbook that we use week in, week out rarely offers a useful guide for matchplay events. Normally, for example, the world rankings or money lists, both of which are determined by the consistency of players over a long period of time, broadly reflect the betting order. Yet over the course of 18 holes, the difference between, say the top-100 in those lists, is miniscule.
Moreover, the scoring system is fundamentally different. Some players are prone to the odd disaster hole, due to inexperience, lack of resilience or poor scrambling skills. Such weaknesses are extremely costly in strokeplay, damaging the player's scorecard for the whole event. In matchplay however, a disaster such as a triple-bogey only costs one hole at a time, and therefore need not ruin the whole day's work. That 'type' of player therefore has a much better chance than usual.
Back format specialists, oppose those with poor matchplay records
The previous point can be perfectly illustrated by the records of several big names. Take Phil Mickelson, the second best player in the world this century. Part of the reason for Phil's success is his remarkable rescue skills, that so often turn a potential triple-bogey into a single bogey. Over the course of 72 holes, the effect on his scorecard is huge. In matchplay that profound advantage is negated and it shows in his record. In 11 attempts at the World Matchplay, he's never made the semi-finals and only once made the quarter-finals. In the Ryder Cup, he's won fewer than half all available points. 23 points out of a potential 42 points in the Presidents Cup is better, but still wouldn't have earned a profit for loyal punters in an event where Mickelson and his US team-mates are nearly always short-priced favourites.
The best alternative example of a matchplay specialist is actually somebody who isn't playing in either of this week's events. Ian Poulter has never won a strokeplay event in the USA, let alone a major. Yet he's top-scored in the last three Ryder Cups, a Seve Trophy and won both versions of the World Matchplay.
Of those who are in action this week, one matchplay specialist that catches the eye are Hunter Mahan. He's reached the final of the last two World Matchplays and has won over half his Ryder Cup points. Another interesting one is Keegan Bradley, whose Ryder Cup debut was a revelation. Like Poulter, head-to-head golf seems to favour Bradley's attacking style and bring out his competitive juices.
As for the Seve Trophy, Paul Casey has a good record in this event, has won the Volvo World Matchplay and been runner-up in the WGC-Accenture version. Equally Paul Lawrie, who starred on both Ryder Cup appearances and has punched above his weight in both versions of the World Matchplay, stands out as a player with matchplay prowess.
Back outsiders in the singles round
As we have seen time and again, 18-hole matchplay is the greatest leveller in golf. If you'd backed the outsider in every first-round match at the World Matchplay, you'd be showing a significant profit over the long-term and, without having the stats to hand, the same is almost certainly true for team matchplay events. Think, for example, of all the shocking defeats Tiger Woods has endured in this format to players who barely inhabit the same golfing universe, like Constantino Rocca, Nick O'Hern or Peter O'Malley.
Don't bank on many turnarounds in-running, especially in fourballs
In most sports, the key to successful trading involves the popular maxim to 'Back High, Lay Low'. This rarely works in matchplay and, because there is always a stream of punters looking to employ that simple principle, the very best value often involves backing teams or players already in front. Of 112 individual matches during the last four Ryder Cups, the player or pairing trailing through nine holes went on to win the match only nine times. Fourballs seems a particularly hard format to play catch-up, as winning a hole invariably requires making the sole birdie or eagle among the group, which is unlikely to happen too often because the most generous holes tend to produce more than one in four.
The tie is a good trading vehicle, whether for the outright or individual matches
Partly related to the above trend, this is a useful counter-intuitive trading angle. Punters generally look to find the winner in most sports, forgetting about ties, which are common in 18-hole matchplay. This option is always at least 4.77/2 before the match starts, sometimes considerably more such as in singles, yet it takes quite a one-sided run of holes for the odds to drift markedly. Later, if the match is close going down 17 and 18, the tie will often trade at odds-on, offering a chance to more than double your money. Likewise we've seen so many close team events over the years, when the draw has shortened to below 4.03/1 having traded in excess of 15.014/1 at some stage of the contest. The last Ryder Cup was a classic case in point, with the tie trading at odds-on during the closing stages before Europe won.