This article is part of our DraftKings PGA DFS Picks series.
Location: Rome, Italy
Course: Marco Simone Golf & Country Club
2021 champion: United States
It is here. The most eagerly-awaited and highly-charged week in golf is upon us. The build-up to the 44th Ryder Cup has been nothing short of extraordinary. The weeks and months leading to the biennial competition are always intensely anticipated. But it's hard to remember a run-up more controversial -- even vitriolic -- than what we witnessed over the past couple months.
The reasons are two-fold. First is the European domination or -- depending on your viewpoint -- the inability of the United States to win any of the six Cups played on European soil since the last American victory in 1993. Second -- and this is the real hot-button issue -- is players chosen or, again depending on your viewpoint, not chosen for the U.S. side, which set off a social media tsunami of opinions. Justin Thomas and Sam Burns are on the team; Keegan Bradley and Cameron Young are not. To a far lesser extent, some of Europe's captain's picks have been questioned. Ludvig Aberg and Nicolai Hojgaard are on the team; Adrian Meronk is not.
This week, finally, all the second guessing comes to an end -- at least for three days until the Cup is hoisted by the winning side and Second Guessing 2.0 commences.
This is a year of transition in the Ryder Cup, thanks largely to LIV Golf. Stalwarts on both sides -- Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood for the Europeans, Dustin Johnson and Patrick Reed for the Americans -- are gone. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are also long gone. Now, there are four Cup rookies on each side.
At the top of the U.S. roster is world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, though the team leaders in past international competitions have been the tandems of Thomas-Jordan Spieth and Patrick Cantlay-Xander Schauffele. The Europeans, meanwhile, are front-loaded with three of the top four players in the world in Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Viktor Hovland. One or all three of them might be asked to play the maximum five matches, and the competition could come down to the top-heavy greatness of the Europeans verus the depth o the US side.
It all starts Friday morning with four foursomes (alternate shot) kicking off the 28-match competition. It will be followed by four fourball matches (best ball) in the afternoon, then a repeat of those formats on Saturday, all leading to the 12 head-to-head singles matches Sunday. It was a bit of a surprising call by European captain Luke Donald to start with foursomes, since four-ball had been the starter in Europe's recent successes. Donald reasoned that Europe is stronger in foursomes. If the U.S. gets an edge after Friday morning, that could be the first misstep of the competition.
We don't know the official pairings yet, and won't until all the pomp and circumstance of the opening ceremonies Thursday evening, but the DraftKings prices are out. And befitting the Ryder Cup, all lineups must be set up in Captain Mode. While there still are traditional six-man lineups with a $50,000 salary cap, every lineup must have a team "captain." It is far from a ceremonial decision; it is critical. Your lineup captain will accrue 1.5 times the points the player would have under ordinary circumstances, but here's the catch -- and you knew there would be -- he will cost 1.5 times his designated price. For example, Scheffler is the top guy at $9,800 but will cost you a whopping $14,700 as your captain -- almost 30 percent of your budget.
Posted prices are for the entire Ryder Cup -- all five sessions over three days. As such, we are flying blind somewhat. We don't know pairings and we don't know who will play when and how often. We have some inklings, but that could change in a heartbeat depending on who's hot and who's not. Don't forget there's a chance one or two of the 24 golfers won't even play Friday; others will play both morning and afternoon.
We have some indications as to who might be playing with whom. U.S. captain Zach Johnson scheduled groups of four to practice together on Tuesday: Cantlay/Schauffele/Spieth/Thomas, Fowler/Harman/Homa/Morikawa, Burns/Scheffler/Clark/Koepka. That aligns with predicted pairings of Cantlay/Schauffele, Spieth/Thomas, Homa/Morikawa and Burns/Scheffler with the remaining four being paired off. European captain Donald set up his Tuesday practice quartets like this: Aberg/Hovland/Hatton/Rahm, Fleetwood/Lowry/McIlroy/Straka and Rose/Fitzpatrick/Hojgaard/MacIntyre. There are not many apparent pairings as with the American side. Aberg/Hovland surely stands out as a good possibility. Fleetwood/McIlroy, Hatton/Rahm and Fitzpatrick/Rose could be tandems.
The Ryder Cup has come to Italy for the first time.
The golf course was named after a castle built in ancient Rome in the Middle Ages, though Marco Simone has no such lineage. The 27-hole public track was designed in 1989 by Italian architect David Mezzacane along with Jim Fazio. After the course was selected in 2015 for the Ryder Cup, there was a total course redesign by European Golf Design. Marco Simone played host to the past three Italian Opens, conveniently won by Hojgaard, MacIntyre and Meronk, respectively. Fleetwood was runner-up in 2021 and Fitzpatrick was in 2022, when McIlroy placed fourth and Hatton eighth.
The course is not overly long. It has three par-5s -- the 587-yard 9th, the 546-yard 12th and the 597-yard 18th that is among the five holes with water. It also has three drivable par-4s, two on the back nine, which by all accounts should be more dramatic and potentially more match-altering than the front. There's the 329-yard 11th and 303-yard water-laden 16th. In between, there's a short par-3 measuring a mere 150 yards. There is amphitheater seating at Nos. 15 and 17, the perfect setting to rile up the galleries at crunch time. There are 76 bunkers, many protecting the large and severely undulated bentgrass greens that average nearly 6,800 square feet.
Overall, the course is quite hilly with significant elevation changes that might make playing five matches arduous.
The fescue rough is tall and thick and the paspalum fairways are pinched in most places to 18-to-26 yards, far more restrictive than PGA Tour tracks. it's all part of the plan to make the Americans consider keeping driver in the bag and hitting longer approach shots. Three years ago at mammoth Whistling Straits, it was bombs away off the tee, and the Americans rolled to a 19-9 victory. At Marco Simone, the greens will be slower than those golfers see most weeks on the PGA Tour, which again, is a move to blunt an American strength. The perk of the home team getting to set up the course to its benefit is getting more pronounced with each Ryder Cup.
The Europeans are also far more familiar with Marco Simone. To that end, nine of the 12 American players went on a scouting trip there earlier this month with Johnson and some of his vice captains.
DraftKings Scoring and Lineup Construction
UPDATE: The lock time has been amended from what originally was posted on the DraftKings site. It is now listed at 1:30 a.m. ET on Friday morning. For many of you, that means finalizing your lineups before going to bed on Thursday night.
Scoring will break down like this: +3 points for holes won, +0.75 for holes halved, -0.75 points for holes lost, +1.6 points for holes not played, +5 points for matches won and +2 points for matches halved. You can also earn +5 points for a streak of three consecutive holes won in a match (maximum one per round) and a +7.5-point bonus for no holes lost in a match.
Two final lineup/scoring notes: In foursomes and fourball, both golfers on the same team will receive the same score, no matter who is making birdies, bogeys, etc. And you ARE allowed to pick both partners among your six guys, which might be a very sound strategy if you think they will do well and you know who is paired.
Some things in the pricing caught our eye. Even though the betting markets view this competition as a slight U.S. lean, the DraftKings prices seemingly take a stronger lean toward the Americans in relation to everyone's world ranking.
- No. 5 OWGR-ranked Cantlay is priced higher than No. 4 Hovland, who just claimed the FedEx Cup.
- Koepka -- the one LIV golfer in the competition -- is the sixth priciest option on the board.
- No. 19-ranked Morikawa checks in ninth.
- No. 8-ranked Fitzpatrick is 13th.
- Three of the four cheapest options are Europeans -- all of them rookies.
DraftKings advises that there will be Showdown games for Sunday's singles matches.
As for the weather, it should be the same all three days: highs in the mid-80s, almost no chance of rain and single-digit wind. No one will be able to use the conditions as an excuse.
Ryder Cup Factoids
The United States leads the overall competition 27-14-2 dating to 1927. But since Britain and then Britain/Ireland were expanded to include all of Europe in 1979, the Europeans lead 11-9-1. This will be the third Ryder Cup in Europe outside of Britain/Ireland. Spain played host in 1997 and then France in 2018. The Cup matches will return to Ireland at Adare Manor in 2027 after Bethpage Black in New York in 2025. Before leaving for LIV, Mickelson was expected to captain the 2025 U.S. team, but it now appears Woods will get the nod.
Key Stats to Winning at Marco Simone
The most important indicators every week are current form and course history. "Key Stats" follow in importance.
• Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee/Driving Accuracy
• Strokes Gained: Approach/Greens in Regulation
• Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green/Scrambling
• Strokes Gained: Putting
• Birdie Average/Birdie or Better Percentage
2021 - United States, 19-9 (Whistling Straits, Wisconsin)
2018 - Europe, 17 1/2-10 1/2 (Le Golf National, France)
2016 - United States, 17-11 (Hazeltine, Minnesota)
2014 - Europe, 16 1/2-11 1/2 (Gleneagles, Scotland)
2012 - Europe 14 1/2-13 1/2 (Medinah, Illinois)
2010 - Europe, 14 1/2-13 1/2 (Celtic Manor, Wales)
2008 - United States, 16 1/2-11 1/2 (Valhalla, Kentucky)
2006 - Europe, 18 1/2-9 1/2 (K Club, Ireland)
2004 - Europe, 18 1/2-9 1/2 (Oakland Hills, Michigan)
2002 - Europe, 15 1/2-12 1/2 (The Belfry, England)
Donald has set up the course to benefit his players while mitigating strengths of the U.S. side. It all starts in the tee box, where the more aggressive Americans like to let fly with driver. That won't, um, fly this week, with tall, thick rough bracketing the extremely narrow fairways. Landing in the fairway will be a huge advantage. From there -- even from far back -- it will be far easier to land the ball on the very large greens. The putting surfaces will be tricky with severe undulations, but they won't be fast -- again, to try to benefit the Europeans. Our model shows -- no surprise -- that Morikawa is best at hitting fairways, followed by Fleetwood, Hovland and a tie between Homa and Straka. When you combine accuracy with distance in the form of Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee, Aberg and McIlroy rank 1-2, followed by Scheffler and then Hovland. While some Europeans are best at getting the ball in the fairway, four of them are among the five worst. Hojgaard is last, followed by Thomas/Rahm (tied), MacIntyre and Fitzpatrick. The best putters over the past 24 rounds were Hovland, Koepka, Harman, Aberg, Homa and Rose.
DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS
Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap
Rory McIlroy - $9,600/$14,400 (Top Point Scorer odds at the DraftKings Sportsbook: +900)
McIlroy's record across six previous Cups is decidedly mixed at 12-12-1, split almost evenly across four-ball, foursomes and singles. He is the unquestioned leader of the team, but this time might be different, as he has a pair of heavyweights in Rahm and Hovland to share the leadership burden. Throughout 2023, McIlroy has delivered sustained excellent play, including 10 top-10s in his past 12 starts.
Viktor Hovland - $8,800/$13,200 (+1000)
Hovland had a tough Cup debut in 2021, though he did play all five sessions and went 0-3-2, tying his singles match with Morikawa. The early indication is that he could pair with Aberg, who despite being just out of college might be the best driver in the competition. They could be a formidable duo, with Hovland having elevated his game to the point that he seems destined to be No. 1 in the world very soon. Hovland ranks first in our model, though honestly there are nuances to a Ryder Cup that simply cannot be quantified statistically, especially when those stats are gleaned from stroke-play tournaments.
Brooks Koepka - $8,600/$12,900 (+1400)
Nobody would ever say it, but Koepka is carrying the weight of LIV Golf on his shoulders in this Ryder Cup. If anyone is up to withstanding the pressure, this five-time major champion is. Koepka's record across three Cups is only 6-5-1, but in singles he's undefeated at 2-0-1. That makes sense for a player who in the past has complained about playing with a partner. It should be different this time; Koepka has matured and is better equipped to handle the format.
Tommy Fleetwood - $8,400/$12,600 (+1600)
This will be Fleetwood's third Cup. While Koepka has been better suited in the past for singles play, it's been the opposite with the affable Fleetwood, who could fit seamlessly with almost anyone. He has a 4-2-2 record overall, but is winless in singles at 0-1-1. The Englishman has had a fantastic year in 2023, and he arrives as one of the straightest drivers of the golf ball on either side.
Xander Schauffele - $8,200/$12,300 (+1200)
If things go according to plan, Schauffele could play all his matches alongside Cantlay -- though at a cheaper price. They proved formidable in 2021, going 2-0 in foursomes and 1-0 in four-ball. Our model shows that Schauffele is second only to Hovland in both Strokes Gained: Approach and Birdie or Better Percentage over his past 24 rounds.
Collin Morikawa - $8,000/$12,000 (+1600)
A point of discussion before captain's picks were made was Johnson going 5-0 at Whistling Straits. He had never been that good in Ryder Cup before -- and he never had been paired with Morikawa before. They went 3-0 together. Coincidence? Maybe. But Morikawa's laser-like iron play will improve any team, and if he plays alongside a good putter in Homa, watch out.
Max Homa - $7,600/$11,400 (+1600)
See above. Homa is one of eight Ryder Cup rookies, but at 32 is the oldest and the least wide-eyed. Playing alongside Morikawa could steady anyone, and as mentioned above, Morikawa's iron play combined with Homa's putting seems like a great combination. Further, Homa turned it on toward the end of yet another very good season.
Justin Thomas - $6,800/$10,200 (+2000)
Yes, we're going here. The most controversial captain's pick maybe ever was a stalwart in the past two Ryder Cups, going a combined 6-2-1 -- both losses in foursomes -- and serving as the leader in the American team room. It has been well chronicled how poor of a season it's been for Thomas, though in his past two tournaments he finished T12 and solo fifth. He actually ranks middle of the pack in our model, and above his usual partner Spieth.
Ludvig Aberg - $6,400/$9,600 (+2200)
One of the biggest dangers in picking a rookie -- not to mention a player who has been a pro for only a few months -- is how many matches he will take part in. But it's become apparent quite quickly that Aberg is no ordinary newcomer. He won recently on the DP World Tour and ranks No. 5 overall in our model, including tops in the all-important Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee metric. If Aberg plays with Hovland and they succeed, he could play three matches and maybe -- though not likely -- four.
Justin Rose - $6,000/$9,000 (+2500)
At 43, Rose is by far the oldest player on either side. He's back for his sixth Cup after missing in 2021, having first played in 2008. He and McIlroy have more career points than anyone else, 14, though the Englishman has done it in five fewer matches. While Rose has an overall mark of 13-8-2, all of that winning differential has come in foursomes, in which he is 7-2-1. So it would seem logical that he will play right out of the gate Friday morning and then again Saturday morning. We don't know his partner, but with that foursomes record it might not matter.
Brian Harman - $4,600/$6,900 (+5500)
Our sixth and final Team USA pick came down to rookies Harman and Clark. Neither is young, both won a major in 2023 and both are excellent putters. Harman gets the edge because he's cheaper, has far better fairway accuracy and was the third best putter of the 24 golfers over his past 24 rounds.
Sepp Straka - $4,200/$6,300 (+5000)
Straka is the second cheapest golfer, ahead of only teammate MacIntyre. We like that he is a supremely accurate driver, making him partner-able with just about anyone. But he clearly was one of the final picks and may not play more than twice, and almost certainly not more than three times. But those 2-to-3 matches could prove pivotal for Europe to regain the Ryder Cup, especially if Straka is paired with McIlroy as the Tuesday practice groupings might suggest.
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