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Making up the numbers?

By Dave Tindall.   Last Updated: 05/09/12 8:41pm

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Monty: Colossal as a pick in 2004

Monty: Colossal as a pick in 2004

The wildcard issue is never out of the headlines in the build-up to the Ryder Cup.

Both captains' every move and utterance are analysed in ludicrous detail for clues or tells and their final announcements are awaited with the same anticipation afforded Oscar winners or new Popes.

But do these wildcard selections really have such an impact on the destination of the Ryder Cup?

Or are they, in every sense, just making up the numbers?

The American side have only used captain's picks since the 1989 Ryder Cup so we will use that tournament as the starting point for our analysis.

Making a difference

Since their introduction in 1989, the average US wildcard (0.55) has a better Ryder Cup record than Tiger Woods (0.48) or Phil Mickelson (0.41).

The tables below show the wildcard picks on both sides for the last seven Ryder Cups with the results and points scored by each player.

1989 Belfry - EUROPE 14 USA 14


European captain Tony Jacklin is allowed three picks who enjoy contrasting fortunes. Bernhard Langer fails to score a point, Howard Clark wins two points in tandem with Mark James but is thrashed 8&7 by Tom Kite in his singles while Christy O'Connor emerges as one of the European heroes. Locked together with Fred Couples coming up the last he hits a fantastic two-iron to four feet which secures a valuable point. Tom Watson and Lanny Wadkins are the first US wildcard picks in the history of the event, the latter a surprise choice after missing six of his last eight cuts. They manage just 0.5pts out of four over the first two days but both win their singles after the Cup has already been retained by Europe to help the Americans pull level at 14-14.

1991 Kiawah Island - USA 14½ EUROPE 13½

USA7 3

Bernard Gallacher's wildcards virtually pick themselves as he names the experienced trio of Nick Faldo, Mark James and Jose Maria Olazabal. Ollie, in tandem with Seve Ballesteros, wins 3.5 points out of four over the first two days but loses his singles to Paul Azinger. James also plays all five matches, winning two points but Faldo fails to put anything on the board on the first two days before redeeming himself with a singles win over Ray Floyd, one of the two US wildcards. Floyd does make a contribution however, having earlier won two from three. Chip Beck loses twice on day one and is rested on the second day but comes out fighting in the singles to beat Ian Woosnam 3&1.

1993 Belfry - EUROPE 13 USA 15

USA7 5

Bernard Gallacher has no hesitation in picking Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal as his first two wildcard picks after their superb double act at Kiawah Island two years ago. But his final pick is a surprise as he opts for Joakim Haeggman who becomes the first Swede to taste Ryder Cup action. With four untested rookies in the side, the USA plump for veteran pair Ray Floyd and Lanny Wadkins. Ollie and Seve win two out of three together but crucially both lose their singles. Haeggman plays just once before the final day and loses but justifies his selection by scoring one of just three European singles wins on Sunday, a final hole victory over John Cook. Floyd and Wadkins both shine as they combine for five wins from seven matches and Floyd's singles victory over Olazabal is one of the key moments as the US wildcard picks make a big contribution to the US triumph.

1995 Oak Hill - USA 13½ EUROPE 14½


Captain's rick

The least successful US wildcard was Curtis Strange who lost all three of his matches in 1995. The singles loss to Nick Faldo was pivotal.

No Ryder Cup highlights the value of wildcard picks better than the 1995 showdown at Oak Hill. The defining moment comes when Euro wildcard Nick Faldo comes from one down with two to play to beat US wildcard Curtis Strange on the last hole - a victory that plays a huge part in Europe winning back the Cup. It completes a nightmare week for Strange who loses three out of three. The other two wildcard picks, Ian Woosnam and Fred Couples, also meet in the singles, their match ending halved. Couples had earlier won two from three but, with his picks managing just 2.5pts in seven matches, US skipper Lanny Wadkins is blasted in the US press for his selections.

1997 Valderrama - EUROPE 14½ USA 13½

USA7 4

After Jose Maria Olazabal steps in for the injured Miguel Angel Martin, European captain Seve Ballesteros is free to name Jesper Parnevik and Nick Faldo as his wildcards. Faldo, in partnership with debutant Lee Westwood, wins two points from four on the first two days but loses his singles to Jim Furyk. Parnevik has a win, two halves and a loss in four matches, his defeat a 5&4 hammering by Mark O'Meara in the singles. The US wildcards, Fred Couples and Lee Janzen, outperform their European counterparts but it's not enough to help America win back the Cup. Couples wins two from four, including an 8&7 destruction of Woosie in the singles while Janzen scores two out of three, which includes a come-from-behind singles victory over Olazabal.

1999 Brookline - USA 14½ EUROPE 13½

USA6 4
Coltart1 Lost0

Jesper Parnevik is an automatic choice for Euro skipper Mark James but he raises eyebrows by selecting debutant Andrew Coltart as his second pick. Parnevik is one of the stars of the show over the first two days as he and young Spaniard Sergio Garcia rack up 3.5pts out of four. But looking tired he suffers a heavy 5&4 defeat against David Duval in the singles. The decision to play Coltart seems even stranger as James leaves him on the sidelines until the singles. To compound his misery Coltart draws Tiger Woods and loses 3&2. Ben Crenshaw chooses Tom Lehman and Steve Pate as the US wildcard picks and neither lets him down. Although played just twice over the first two days (both win one and lose one), Lehman and Pate score crucial singles wins as the US win the trophy after a thrilling final day fightback. Lehman takes out Lee Westwood 3&2 while Pate accounts for Miguel Angel Jimenez 2&1.

2002 The Belfry - EUROPE 15½ USA 12½


US-based Sergio Garcia and Jesper Parnevik get the nod for Europe but, despite their devasting partnership three years ago, Sam Torrance splits them up. Garcia is given the job of nursing an out-of-form Lee Westwood through his opening match and the pair hit it off immediately, going on to win three points out of four. Parnevik plays a more low-key role, winning one out of two on the opening two days and halving his singles with Tiger Woods when the match is already over. The American duo are used more sparingly by Curtis Strange although Scott Verplank does a good job, winning two points including his singles clash with Westwood. Paul Azinger, after playing just once before Sunday, pulls off a miraculous halve against Niclas Fasth by holing his bunker shot at the 18th.

2004 Oakland Hills - USA 9½ EUROPE 18½

USA8 3

It's pretty much a no-brainer for Bernhard Langer as he chooses Colin Montgomerie and Luke Donald. Monty again proves a colossus for the European team as he posts two wins on the opening day and, after a breather on Saturday afternoon, maintains his unbeaten record in singles by accounting for David Toms. Europe are nearly home and hosed by that stage but it's Monty who gets to hole the winning putt. Donald also justifies his selection by banking 2½ points on the first two days although he's hammered in the singles by Chad Campbell. Whereas Europe's wildcards contribute 5½ points, the USA pair of Stewart Cink and Jay Haas combine for just three from the same number of matches. However, in the context of the shoddy performance put in by the Americans, it's not bad and only Chris DiMarco and Tiger Woods score more. It shouldn't disguise the fact though that the European picks have much more influence. Monty and Donald are two of the genuine stars of the European team while Cink and Haas disappear in the general US malaise and can't lift their teammates.

2006 The K Club - USA 9½ EUROPE 18½

USA7 4.5

Dynamic duo

Great friends and fellow wildcard picks Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood won 7 points out of 8 when picked by Ian Woosnam for the 2006 match.

To the chagrin of Thomas Bjorn, who was higher in the world rankings than both selections, Ian Woosnam picks tried and trusted Ryder Cup duo Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke. His faith in the stars of three previous Ryder Cup triumphs is rewarded handsomely. Westwood finishes joint top scorer after banking 4 points out of 5 while Clarke - cleverly rested for each afternoon session due to the huge emotional effort of playing in front of so many home fans after the recent loss of his wife to cancer - wins three out of three. Westwood and Clarke actually pair up for two of their wins, the latter a 3&2 triumph over Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk. While the US wildcards are overshadowed they do a good job too. While their team are taking a pounding, Stewart Cink halves his first three matches before following up a foursomes beating on Saturday with a thumping 4&3 win over Sergio Garcia in the singles, thus denying the Spaniard a full 5 points out of 5. Scott Verplank is used sparingly by Tom Lehman, perhaps to the skipper's regret, as the veteran straight hitter wins both his matches and even produces a hole-in-one in his 4&3 singles victory over Padraig Harrington.

2008 Valhalla - USA 16½ EUROPE 11½


In one of several masterstrokes, US skipper Paul Azinger requests and gets four wildcard picks and they help power the Americans to a convincing victory. Hunter Mahan plays all five games and top scores with 3.5 points while JB Holmes and Chad Campbell both win two matches out of three and score singles victories over Soren Hansen and Padraig Harrington respectively. Only Steve Stricker, who manages just half a point from three games, disappoints but the strength of Azinger's strategy is that he can afford one of the quartet to underperform. Paul Casey is an obvious pick for Nick Faldo but the European skipper courts controversy by selecting Ian Poulter after press and pundits had all put forward the case of Darren Clarke. Casey fails to record a victory (one loss and two halved) but Poulter's inclusion proves to be one of the few things Faldo gets right. Despite angering the Clarke backers by staying in the US for the FedEx Cup rather than trying to play his way into the team at Gleneagles, Poulter is inspired. Two wins with Justin Rose and another with Graeme McDowell stop Europe caving in completely and the Englishman then beats Stricker in the singles to end as the highest scorer (4pts) from either side.

2010 Celtic Manor - EUROPE 14½ USA 13½

E Molinari3L,HHalved1
Z Johnson3W,LWon2

Colin Montgomerie has a huge quandry with Luke Donald, Paul Casey, Justin Rose and Padraig Harrington all failing to qualify automatically. And then he's given an extra headache as Edoardo Molinari produces a majestic display to win the Scottish Open at Gleneagles. In the end Monty picks Molinari to partner his brother Francesco who has qualified automatically and also opts for Donald and Harrington, despite the latter's worrying form. World number nine Casey is devastated, as is Rose, a two-time winner on US soil in recent weeks. However, Donald does him proud by finishing as joint top points scorer with 3 out of 4 while Harrington does his bit with two wins from four. Molinari's two half points are also valuable with Europe winning by a single point. On the US side, Tiger Woods is a no-brainer despite his lack of recent play and to go along with the solid duo of Stewart Cink and Zach Johnson he gives Rickie Fowler a debut. Tiger emerges as joint top scorer after gelling well with Steve Stricker while Cink is unbeaten in four matches, three of them halved. Johnson wins two out of three while Fowler also justifies his pick with a sensational comeback against fellow wildcard Molinari as the young American wins each of the last four holes to claim a half.


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The 1995 Ryder Cup, when Nick Faldo beat Curtis Strange in their famous singles clash at Oak Hill, shows that the choice of wildcards can have a huge effect on the final outcome.

Strange, despite claiming one of his US Open wins at Oak Hill in the late 80s, went into the Ryder Cup without a victory in six years and with the winning habit lost it was perhaps no surprise that he caved in over the final holes against the greatest grinder in the game.

Christy O'Connor's singles victory over Fred Couples in 1989 is another great example of a wildcard playing a huge part in the outcome.

The Irishman's two-iron to the 18th green at the Belfry has gone down in Ryder Cup folklore and helped Europe halve the match and retain the trophy.

Although not as significant, Ray Floyd's singles win over fellow pick Jose Maria Olazabal in 1993 is also worthy of a mention. Had Ollie won their head-to-head the match would have finished in a 14-14 tie although America would still have retained the Cup.

In the 1999 Ryder Cup, the singles wins for US wildcards Tom Lehman and Steve Pate played a major part in the Americans' dramatic final day charge, especially with both European picks losing their singles.

At The Belfry in 2002 wildcard Sergio Garcia played a key role in the European win by partnering Lee Westwood to a hat-trick of wins in the opening two days.

And in 2004 Monty again proved a giant for Europe, holing the winning putt as Langer's men stormed to victory at Oakland Hills.

The wildcard success story continued in emphatic fashion at The K Club in 2006 where Woosie's picks, Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke, went undefeated and won 7 points out of 8 between them.

And it played a big part too when Paul Azinger's men won back the cup at Valhalla in 2008. Hunter Mahan was top scorer while JB Holmes (a Kentucky native who got huge support) and Chad Campbell also played key roles.

We also shouldn't forget the wildcards from the losing side.

Nick Faldo's then controversial pick Ian Poulter was Europe's star and top points scorer in 2008 while Stewart Cink and Scott Verplank lost just one match between them in a combined seven starts despite the Americans being on the wrong end of a record defeat at The K Club.

Whilst there are plenty of individual examples of captain's picks excelling, en masse the records of wildcards is pretty impressive too.

For both sides the winning percentage is over the magic 0.5 (i.e. they win more than they lose) and, to put that into context, the average wildcard since 1989 has a better Ryder Cup record than Tiger Woods (0.48) and Phil Mickelson (0.41). Funnily enough Tiger's record as a wildcard is better than when he qualified automatically, perhaps backing the idea of justifying a skipper's faith.

The top/joint top points scorer on the European side for the last three Ryder Cups has been a wildcard while a captain's pick also top scored for the US in the last two Ryder Cups.

The conclusion is clear. Wildcards make a difference.

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