Ryder Cup: Do Wildcards make a difference?

American Jim Furyk and Denmark's Thomas Bjorn
Ryder Cup skippers Jim Furyk and Thomas Bjorn
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With all eight wildcards now chosen, Dave Tindall looks at their impact down the years and whether we give them too much focus...

"If recent history plays out again, there's a 60% chance that one of Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson or Paul Casey will bank more points than anyone else at Le Golf National."

Although we all know that 28 points are up for grabs at each Ryder Cup and the magic number to claim an outright win is 14.5, the combined individual points tallies of the 24 players will add up to 44.

That's because both players are credited with a point if winning a fourballs/foursomes match over the first two days, so add those 32 points (16 x 2) to the 12 singles points and we get 44.

It means if every player scored equally in a 14-14 tie, all 24 would register 1.8333 points each (44 divided by 24).

Of course, that technically isn't possible but it gives us a handy barometer for success. Score two points or more and you've had an above average Ryder Cup. Score less and you've not quite contributed.

That's maybe harsh on a player who's gone into battle just twice and won both times but, looking at it differently, their skipper didn't have enough faith in them to play them more often.

And so to Ryder Cup wildcards.

Lost a little in the debate over Matt Wallace was how many times Thomas Bjorn would actually have played him. The answer could easily have been just twice and therefore his possible impact would have been limited.

Captains surely select wildcards that they trust and will use frequently. Bjorn clearly felt that if things went a little awry in the first session on day one, he could turn to the experience of Sergio Garcia or Henrik Stenson to get him out of it.

So, how have wildcards fared in past Ryder Cups. How much have they contributed?

Using that 1.8333 per player figure as a guide, did the combined tallies of the wildcards average over that mark. Or did it come out below, rendering all that pre-pick debate rather overblown?

(By the way, if going on actual rather than theoretical points won over the period, USA have garnered 113 to Europe's 107 when totting up player scores. That does very little to that baseline average score of 1.8333 however. For the record, a US player has averaged 1.88pts in the last five Ryder Cup and a European 1.78).

Ryder Cup wildcards

2016 - USA 17 Europe 11

USA
J.B. Holmes 1, Rickie Fowler 2, Matt Kuchar 2, Ryan Moore 2
Combined points: 7
Points per wildcard: 1.75

Europe
Lee Westwood 0, Martin Kaymer 1, Thomas Pieters 4
Combined points: 5
Points per wildcard: 1.67


2014 - Europe 16.5 USA 11.5

USA
Keegan Bradley 1, Webb Simpson 0.5, Hunter Mahan 1.5
Combined points: 3
Points per wildcard: 1

Europe
Stephen Gallacher 0, Ian Poulter 1, Lee Westwood 2
Combined points: 3
Points per wildcard: 1


2012 - USA 13.5 Europe 14.5

USA
Steve Stricker 0, Jim Furyk 1, Brandt Snedeker 1, Dustin Johnson 3
Combined points: 5
Points per wildcard: 1.67

Europe
Nicolas Colsaerts 1, Ian Poulter 4
Combined points: 5
Points per wildcard: 2.5


2010 - Europe 14.5 USA 13.5

USA
Zach Johnson 2, Tiger Woods 3, Stewart Cink 2.5, Rickie Fowler 1
Combined points: 8.5
Points per wildcard: 2.12

Europe
Edoardo Molinari 1, Luke Donald 3, Padraig Harrington 2
Combined points: 6
Points per wildcard: 2


2008 - USA 16.5 Europe 11.5

USA
Steve Stricker 0.5, Hunter Mahan 3.5, J.B. Holmes 2.5, Chad Campbell 2
Combined points: 8.5
Points per wildcard: 2.12

Europe
Ian Poulter 4, Paul Casey 1
Combined points: 5
Points per wildcard: 2.5


Average points tallies of wildcards in last five Ryder Cups

USA: 1.75, 1, 1.67, 2.12, 2.12 - average 1.73
Europe: 1.67, 1, 2.5, 2, 2.5 - 1.93

In summary, European wildcards have performed above that baseline score of 1.833 and the USA below it.

However, take out Ian Poulter's results and that average Euro wildcard score drops to just 1.6.

Another stat is that over half of the Euro wildcards (7 out of 13) starting from 2008 have managed a single point or less and therefore played very little part.

As for the Americans, 10 of the 20 picks have scored two points or more, i.e. performed slightly above expectations, although, as a bunch, they've averaged less than the eight who qualified automatically.

Which probably all makes sense. After all, the top eight were the ones who played best during the qualification period.

Using the above stats, while many express fury at captain's picks, more often that not they're making up the numbers.

There is a very strong count-argument though - at least from a European perspective.

In four of the last five Ryder Cups, a wildcard has finished as top or joint top European points scorer.

Poulter (2008 and 2012) and Thomas Pieters (2016) would actually have won top overall points scorer while captain's pick Luke Donald shared Euro honours with that man Poulter again in 2010.

True, Europe only won two of those four matches but you can hardly say it was due to lack of input from the wildcards. Or, to be precise, one of them.

If recent history plays out again, there's a 60% chance that one of Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson or Paul Casey will bank more points than anyone else at Le Golf National.

Their odds in the Top Overall Scorer market: Poulter [23], Casey [26], Stenson [29] and Garcia [30].

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