(Photo credit: Adam Cairns-USA TODAY Sports)
On paper, the United States is the heavy favorite ahead of the 44th Ryder Cup.
In reality, the Americans have not won a Cup on foreign soil in three decades.
Those factors played heavily into the U.S. team opening as healthy favorites, only to see the Europeans draw closer ahead of Friday's start to the event at Marco Simone Golf and Country Club near Rome.
All 12 Americans are ranked inside the top 25 in the world, with an average ranking of 12.9. By comparison, Europe has seven players in the top 25 and an average ranking of 29.3. Then again, many of the players on captain Zach Johnson's team weren't alive the last time the United States hoisted the Ryder Cup in Europe in 1993.
The U.S. opened as -175 favorites at BetMGM, where the Americans are now being offered at 110 and have been backed by 46 percent of the total bets and 49 percent of the money. Europe's odds have shifted from 175 to 100 while drawing 41 and 48 percent, respectively. The 1100 odds on a tie account for the remaining action.
The story has been different at BetRivers, where the Europeans flipped to the -107 favorites by mid-day Thursday while the Americans were the 114 underdogs. The book reported the U.S. team drawing 61.5 percent of the bets while the money has been almost evenly split.
Prediction: Europe narrowly keeps its home dominance alive in a 15-13 victory that is determined late in Sunday singles.
With the depth of Johnson's team, a big question has been how many -- if any -- of his players will compete in all five sessions. By contrast, European captain Luke Donald is expected to ride his stars heavily. That includes Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm, and perhaps Viktor Hovland, as well.
That's why the trio is among the top four favorites at BetMGM to be the event's top individual points scorer. The lone American in that group is world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, who is 800 along with McIlroy and Rahm while Hovland is 900.
Friday's pairings provided some interesting insight into Donald's thinking, with McIlroy paired with Tommy Fleetwood to close the opening session.
Fleetwood made Ryder Cup history in winning all four of his matches teamed with Francesco Molinari in France in 2018. The dynamic duo earned the nickname "Moliwood" in the process.
However, with Molinari failing to make the team two years ago, Fleetwood did not enjoy the same success being paired with Hovland. He finished the loss at Whistling Straits with an 0-1-2 record.
Fleetwood is back on home soil in Europe and has been playing extremely well. That includes seven top-10s in his past nine worldwide starts. He's coming off a solo sixth at the BMW PGA Championship in England two weeks ago, and Donald is rewarding that form -- at least to begin the event.
It may be tough to outscore Europe's trio of heavy hitters, who likely each will play at least four sessions. However, we do like Fleetwood at 225 at BetMGM to be Donald's top-scoring captain's pick.
THEY SAID IT
"We are not the favorites when we step onto the first tee because of the crowd. We are not the favorites because of what's happened and transpired over the last so-many-odd years, and they have got a really, really good team playing well. So hey, I love that. Our backs are against the wall, and that's the way we are going to approach it." -- Johnson, when asked about the U.S. team being perceived as the favorites to win.
12 -- The number of Europeans who played in the BMW Championship two weeks ago. By contrast, only Max Homa and Justin Thomas played in the Fortinet Championship to kick off the PGA Tour's Fall schedule.
Zach Johnson (captain); Sam Burns (rookie), Patrick Cantlay, Wyndham Clark (rookie), Rickie Fowler, Brian Harman (rookie), Max Homa (rookie), Brooks Koepka, Collin Morikawa, Justin Thomas, Xander Schauffele, Scottie Scheffler, Jordan Spieth
Luke Donald (captain); Ludvig Aberg (rookie), Matt Fitzpatrick, Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Nicolai Hojgaard (rookie), Viktor Hovland, Robert Macintyre (rookie), Rory McIlroy, Shane Lowry, Jon Rahm, Justin Rose, Sepp Straka (rookie)
The teams will compete in four foursomes followed by four four-ball matches on Friday and Saturday. All 12 players on both teams will compete in singles matches on Sunday. Winners from each match earn a point for their teams, with matches ending in a tie resulting in a half-point for each team.
The U.S. team needs 14 points to retain the Ryder Cup as defending champions, while Team Europe needs 14 1/2 points to win the trophy back. ... The U.S. is attempting to win on European soil for the first time since a 15-13 victory at The Belfry in 1993, and is seeking back-to-back wins first the first time since 1991 and '93. ... The Americans have a 27-14-2 all-time Ryder Cup record while the Europeans are a combined 14-27-2. Great Britain and Ireland went 3-18-1 before players from the rest of Europe were added to the competition in 1979. Europe has gone 11-9-1 since.
--Field Level Media