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What is the format of the Ryder Cup? Fourballs, foursomes and simple ones explained

The Ryder Cup sets itself apart from the biggest events in professional golf by bringing together the world’s elite players in a team environment.

The United States has not won the Ryder Cup on European soil since 1993, and a dozen Americans will travel to Rome in September to try to change that record.

Europe suffered a bruising defeat at Whistling Straits last time out and will need a new core of young players to solidify if captain Luke Donald is to lead them to victory.

Fears of another drubbing have eased with Tyrrell Hatton, Viktor Hovland and Tommy Fleetwood showing good form and Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy leading from the front.

This is how the Ryder Cup format works.

How does matchplay work?

Golf’s four major championships and the vast majority of tournaments are stroke events, where the course plays 72 holes and the player with the lowest cumulative score is crowned the winner.

The Ryder Cup is not a stroke game, but matchplay, meaning pairs or individuals compete against each other. The pair or player with the lowest score on the first hole wins the hole and is therefore considered to have an advantage. If they win the next hole, they will be two points ahead. If their opponents win the next hole, everything will return to square and so on.

The match is won when a pair of players lead by more holes than remain (if they are three up after 16 holes, they will have won 3&2 because they are three up with only two holes remaining).

Another feature of matchplay is that players can choose to concede point-blank putts to their opponents, which can become a source of mind games.

How does the Ryder Cup scoring system work?

Europe and the United States will face off in eight fourball matches, eight foursomes matches and 12 singles matches. Each match is worth one point, with tied matches worth half a point for each team. This means that 14 and a half points are needed to win the Ryder Cup. If the United States, defending champions, reach 14 points, they will be assured of a draw and will therefore retain the Ryder Cup at worst.

Friday and Saturday there will be four four-ball matches in the morning and four four-ball matches in the afternoon. That means that during a session, each team will have eight of its 12 golfers on the course, so team captains Donald and Zach Johnson must decide who to select and who to leave out. Calculating which players should be paired is also an important part of the captain’s job.

The 12 singles matches will take place on Sunday, when all golfers play on the day the Ryder Cup is decided.


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