For the benefit of folk who fancy getting up on the downswing this weekend but don’t always follow the greatest sport in the world, we usually cut and paste the following explainer. Hey, if it’s worth reading once, it’s worth reading a dozen times. Here we go …
The Ryder Cup is a matchplay event. Each match is worth a point. There are 28 points available over the three days, so the first team to get to 14.5 points will win the Cup. Should the scores be tied at 14 points apiece, Europe will retain the trophy as current holders.
Match-play explained for those dipping their toe into the murky world of golf for the first time: In common-or-garden championship golf, such as the Masters or the Open, tournaments are scored using the stroke-play system. Whoever takes the fewest shots over all four rounds in a championship wins. All shots count and are added up for a cumulative total. So if, say, in next year’s Masters, Collin Morikawa shoots 63-63-63-63 and Rory McIlroy shoots 87-87-87-87, Morikawa will have taken 252 strokes, and beaten poor old Rors by 96 shots. (Good luck if you bet large on this exact outcome.)
Anyway, in match play, each player or team wins a hole for every hole they better their opponents. So if Collin takes five shots at the 1st, but Rory needs only three, Rory goes 1up. If Rory wins the next hole too, he’s 2up. If the pair share the same number of shots on the 3rd, the hole is halved, and Rory remains 2up. It doesn’t matter if Collin took 13 shots on his way to losing the 2nd, by the way; a bit like the unwritten rule of visits to wallet-sewer-interface-venue Las Vegas, what happens on each hole stays on each hole. There is no knock-on effect.
So let’s say McIlroy wins the first nine holes of our make-believe match. With nine played, and nine remaining, he is 9up. Morikawa can only tie at best; McIlroy can’t lose. This is known as dormie. (And more specifically, in this slightly ludicrous example, as dormie nine.) If Collin wins the next nine, the game will end all square, and each team will get half a point to their overall total. But if Rory wins the 10th, he’s 10up with eight holes to play. He has won 10&8. If the 10th hole is halved, Rory would be 9up with eight to play. He’s won 9&8. Similarly Collin can be said to have lost 9&8. Europe would add a point to their overall total. I’ve probably made this sound way more complicated than it needs to be, but there it is anyway.
There will be three types of match: foursomes (teams of two players use one ball, taking alternate shots); fourballs (teams of two players play a ball each and take the best score, known as the better ball); and singles (this is when it gets quite wild and everyone across two continents starts with the shallow breathing and chest clutching). And these matches are arranged in a schedule like this:
Today: four matches of morning foursomes; four matches of afternoon fourballs.
Tomorrow: four matches of morning foursomes; four matches of afternoon fourballs.
Sunday: 12 singles matches.