From tee to green: where Europe’s strengths lie

Will Olazabal's 12 men and their collective skills be enough to bring the revered Samuel Ryder Trophy back to European shores?

From tee to green: where Europe’s strengths lie

Who is the longest from the tee or the most accurate? Who finds the most Greens in Regulation and who can scramble for par most often should they not? Who makes those all-important putts? As the build-up to The 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah continues, we explore where Team Europe’s strengths lie with the help of Genworth Statistics...

From the tee

“The hands, the legs, the knees were all going,” said Vice Captain Darren Clarke of his first-ever Ryder Cup tee shot, while Paul Lawrie, who will be making his second appearance this year at Medinah, said simply: “When you are standing there, trust me, it is not good.”

Tee shots at The Ryder Cup, then, not quite your normal fare.

But once that nerve-wracking opening strike has been unleashed onto the No. 3 Course at Medinah, there will continue to be a premium placed on the driving pedigree of José María Olazábal’s 12 charges throughout all three competition days.

Italy’s Francesco Molinari is widely regarded as one of the straightest hitters in the European game, exemplified by his Driving Accuracy statistics that show he has hit an average of 68.1 per cent of fairways so far in 2012, just clear of team-mate Justin Rose, who has averaged 67.9 per cent so far this season.

On the other side of the Atlantic, meanwhile, Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell ranks sixth overall in the US PGA Tour’s Driving Accuracy averages with a highly impressive 70.1 per cent of fairways hit from the tee.

So, in McDowell, Molinari and Rose you have three players you want hitting your tee shots in the opening Friday Foursomes Matches.

Much has been made of Medinah’s challenging length in the build-up to The Ryder Cup, too, with the No. 3 Course coming in at a gargantuan, record-breaking 7,658 yards – making it the longest Ryder Cup layout in the event’s history; however, both teams are well-placed to combat its prodigious yardage as the biggest hitters in global golf go head-to-head in Illinois.

While the US team boasts the long driving talents of Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson and Keegan Bradley (not forgetting Tiger Woods), the European team can stake a proven claim to having the longest in professional golf in rookie Nicolas Colsaerts.

The Belgian averages a staggering 317.1 yards from the tee in 2012 – almost two yards longer than the aforementioned Watson, while Rory McIlroy ranks only marginally shorter than Johnson – despite being seven inches shorter than the American – with an average drive of 309.8 yards on the PGA Tour this season. Add into the mix England’s Lee Westwood, who averages just shy of 300 yards per drive on The European Tour in 2012, and it becomes clear that the Europeans are more than ready to match the Americans’ driving prowess.

To the green

Backing up the claim that the younger of the two Molinari brothers is one of the world’s finest proponents of tee to green golf is the statistic that proves that the Turin man is not only amongst the straightest drivers in the European team, but that he most frequently converts that accuracy into Greens in Regulation.

Molinari ranks second only to Louis Oosthuizen in this field on The European Tour this year having found, on average, an impressive 78.9 per cent of Greens in Regulation so far in 2012, just ahead of McIlroy, who has found 78.6 per cent.

More good news for the Europeans, too, as three more of the 12-man team can be found in the top ten in the Greens in Regulation statistics on The European Tour this year as Sergio Garcia (77 per cent), Ian Poulter (76.4) and Colsaerts (75.7) have all proved exceptional in their approach accuracy and currently rank within the top ten in this field to date in 2012.

On the US PGA Tour, meanwhile, Rose has the distinction of being second only to the most creative pair of hands in golf in America’s Bubba Watson in Greens in Regulation when playing an approach from anywhere other than the fairway, meaning on the rare occasions when the Englishman does miss the fairway from the tee he is still highly likely to find the putting surface regardless.

The last point could be somewhat moot, however, with US Captain Davis Love III having ordered the rough at Medinah to be trimmed short in a move he feels will benefit his troops.

In truth, it shouldn’t do the Europeans any harm either.

Around the green

You’re in the midst of a titanic foursomes battle, neck and neck with just holes remaining and The Ryder Cup on the line. You’ve just pushed your smooth seven iron to the right of the green into the rough or greenside bunker. Who do you want as your partner; who would you back to give you the best chance of getting up and down to make that crucial birdie putt or clutch par save?

Well, in terms of the Scrambling statistics (the frequency of a player scoring par or better on holes where they have missed the Green in Regulation), one man stands out above the rest largely thanks to his reputation as one of the finest exponents of the short game in golf, England’s Luke Donald.

On an average of 63.9 per cent of the time, World Number Two Donald scrambles to make par if he misses the green with his approach, while the aforementioned Molinari further embellishes his standing as a real asset to Olazábal's side by also saving par over 63 per cent of the time in the infrequent instances when the Italian plays a wayward shot into the green.

Match Play connoisseur Poulter is renowned as the embodiment of Ryder Cup passion and he has, over the years, produced countless moments of pure grit and determination in the transatlantic contest that have in turn yielded priceless points for his team.

This resolute approach is reflected in his scrambling statistics on the US PGA Tour this year, where he ranks second in 2012 with 64.3 per cent.

There are plenty of bunkers on Medinah’s No. 3 Course and this season it is World Number One McIlroy who sits on the top step in terms of Sand Saves on The European Tour, having got up and down from greenside bunkers an incredible 81.3 per cent of the time.

Rose is another with an excellent touch from the sand, coming in at 78.6 per cent while the famous Spanish hands of Garcia also see the 32 year old Castellon man inside the top ten in this category with a round 75 per cent of saves.

On the green

Donald was recently asked by one of his 300,000 plus followers on the social network site Twitter what was more important, accurate driving or distance control with irons and he replied, simply: “Neither – making putts.”

The Ryder Cup so often comes down to a missed putt here – think Bernhard Langer at Kiawah Island in 1991 – or a holed one there – think McDowell’s heroics on the 16th at Celtic Manor in 2010, so Donald’s agreement with the colloquialism ‘Drive for show, putt for dough’ could not ring truer than in the revered team competition, albeit in this case the objective is not monetary but the priceless Samuel Ryder Trophy and the glory that brings.

The 34 year old’s aptitude with the short stick is well documented and his talent is wholeheartedly backed up in fact.

Donald tops the rankings in the One Putts category so far this year with an average of 7.33 per round, was second in 2011 and first again in 2010. It’s clear, therefore, if you had to choose one man from the European dozen to attempt a winning putt at Medinah it would surely have to be the man who plotted his way calmly to both European and American Order of Merit titles in 2011.

The Englishman is also unsurprisingly up there in Putts per Round and Putts per GIR, too, with 28.9 in the former and 1.73 in the latter, but it is Peter Hanson – this year making his second Ryder Cup appearance – who has shone brightest with the putter so far this season.

Hanson, who has made something of a habit out of holing crucial putts in the build-up to Ryder Cups – the latest of which was a 35ft eagle putt at the last to claim the KLM Open in the Netherlands two weeks ago, ranks first on The European Tour in Putts per GIR with 1.70, and fourth in Putts per Round with 28.4 so the big Swede could prove a formidable partner for someone in the Fourballs and Foursomes Matches next week in Illinois.

In short…

You can learn a lot from individual statistics, but it was a wise person who once said: “There’s no ‘I’ in team.”

Should Team Europe triumph in Chicago it would be a conquest built not on the individual but upon the collective will of 12 players, four Vice Captains, one Captain and a continent bound together in belief that once again this will be Europe’s year.

Let the games commence.