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HomeSportRyder Cup rules need changing and Tiger Woods has already helped prove...

Ryder Cup rules need changing and Tiger Woods has already helped prove it


Twenty years ago the United States golf team played the Internationals in South Africa in the Presidents Cup – the in-between years space filler when the Ryder Cup is taking a breath. The contest went the distance with the teams tied 17-17 at the end of it. But that wasn’t the end of it.

Instead, both team captains, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, nominated one man each to take part in a play-off. So Tiger Woods, for the USA, and Ernie Els, for the Internationals, went back out onto the Fancourt course to take the contest into extra time.

Max Homa, who is part of America’s Ryder Cup team in Rome this week, recalls it from his childhood as one of his coolest memories in golf. And that was just the Presidents Cup. Imagine the excitement if the main event in Italy this weekend had the same tie-breaker rule in place and went the distance.

Scottie Scheffler and Rory McIlroy toe to toe for the trophy on Sunday? The World No 1 squaring up to the World No 2 with everything on the line? Last weekend’s Solheim Cup in Spain was a thriller in its own right as Europe fought for and secured the 14-14 draw they needed to retain the cup.

Draws can be exciting as anyone who caught the action from Finca Cortesin – and Carlota Ciganda’s celebrations – would testify. But no-one with a taste for sporting drama would have minded the extra cherry on top a play-off would have delivered.

In team events like these the convention whereby the holders retain the trophy if the scores are equal means a draw never really means a draw. There is always one happy team and one sad one at the conclusion.

But when you think about it, what happened at the Solheim Cup was intrinsically unfair. Why should Europe have needed 14 points for the trophy and the US 14 and a half points? It is like a sprint final where one athlete runs 100m but another only has to cover 95m to win gold.

Europe had a built-in advantage from winning the previous Solheim Cup. The same in reverse applies at this week’s Ryder Cup. The US have a smaller target to hit than Europe to take the cup back with them across the Atlantic.

It is a legacy benefit which should not exist. What relevance should a different American team beating a different European team on a different continent two years ago hold? None.

Cricket has the same issue. This summer’s Ashes ended – thanks to the Manchester weather – in a 2-2 draw but it was Australia who retained the urn because of a previous success in a different time and place. It really shouldn’t follow. 

Test cricket is unique in its longevity and it would probably have been overly savage to ask Stuart Broad and Pat Cummins to settle a series with a bowl-off at a stump after 25 days of to-and-fro. Perhaps drawn Ashes series should simply see England and Australia share custody of the urn for a year each.

But there is no reason why golf should not use a play-off to decide its short and sharp showcase team events in the way it happily does for individual tournaments every week of the year. Perhaps the DP World Tour and the PGA of America are reluctant because of what ended up happening at that 2003 Presidents Cup.

Darkness descended with Woods and Els still inseparable after three play-off holes and the trophy was shared. But that would not be a problem in Rome where, even if the Ryder Cup goes to the final group on Sunday, there would still be two hours of light left for a shoot-out.

The Ryder Cup is one of sport’s most compelling narratives – golf to hold you spellbound even if you don’t like golf – but it is missing a trick with its ending.

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