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Which Ryder Cup team has the edge? Let's run the numbers

Photo: Morry Gash/AP

Muhammad Ali and his wife, Lonnie, greeted guests after a welcoming ceremony on Wednesday. Will Louisville's favorite son be enough to inspire the Americans?

Nearly everyone says the Europeans are heavy favorites this week, but my pseudo-scientific research indicates that it might be closer than the experts think. Here's a checklist of the facts, figures and intangibles that may decide the outcome of these matches. (Unless, of course, they don't.)

U.S. 297 (Mickelson 2; Stricker 8; Furyk 9; Kim 10; Cink 11; Perry 20; Leonard 23; Curtis 30; Weekley 35; Mahan 36; Holmes 56; Campbell 57)
Europe 266 (Harrington 4; Garcia 5; Stenson 7; Westwood 12; Rose 13; Karlsson 17; Jimenez 19; Poulter 29; McDowell 32; Casey 38; Hansen 42; Wilson 48)
Analysis: The Americans have five players ranked in the top 11. The Euros have five of the top 13. It's a push, but I'll give the nod to Europe for Padraig Harrington's consecutive major wins.
Advantage: Europe

U.S. 11 (Cink; Holmes; Kim 2; Leonard; Mickelson 2; Perry 3; Weekley)
Europe 8 (Garcia; Harrington 2; Jimenez 2; Karlsson; McDowell 2)
Analysis: Both teams have three multiple winners, but the Euros have seven players who are winless this year to the Americans' five. Clearly, captain Paul Azinger's new selection system has made a difference for the U.S.
Advantage: United States

U.S. Azinger used his four picks on Chad Campbell, Steve Stricker, Hunter Mahan and J.B. Holmes. Key players he passed over: former Masters champ Zach Johnson, U.S. Open runner-up Rocco Mediate; D.J. Trahan; veteran Scott Verplank; Presidents Cup hero/mascot Woody Austin.
Europe European captain Nick Faldo selected Ian Poulter and Paul Casey. Key players he passed over: Darren Clarke; Colin Montgomerie; Carl Pettersson; Daniel Chopra; Martin Kaymer.
Analysis: Johnson never showed his Masters-winning form in '08, Mediate slumped in August, Trahan shot 80 in the PGA's final round, Austin kicked away the Buick Open with poor putting and Verplank didn't get himself into contention enough. Azinger's choices were limited, and he did the best he could. Faldo lost the most popular player on the European side in Clarke, who was coming off a recent win and apparently in form. That decision could come back to haunt Faldo.
Advantage: United States

U.S. 6 (Mickelson 3, Leonard, Curtis, Furyk)
Europe 3 (Harrington)
Analysis: It's surprising how few major champions are here. Then again, it's surprising how few major champions there are, period, thanks to Tiger Woods.
Advantage: United States

U.S. So far, it looks as if Azinger is seriously outsmarting Faldo. Zinger fixed the obsolete selection system and gave himself four wild-card picks, a good move even though no contenders truly distinguished themselves in late summer. He has mingled with players all year; he's one of the guys and has created team chemistry.
Europe Faldo has alienated the old guard in Europe by dismissing Monty and snubbing the popular Clarke. He doesn't mingle. He doesn't know his players, and they don't know him. That could backfire, or it could turn out to be Herb Brooks-genius.
Advantage: United States

Analysis: Let's limit this to what's relevant, the matches since 1979, when Great Britain and Ireland were joined by the rest of Europe. The Americans are 6-7-1 against the continent, with Europe leading on points, 201-191. Recent results, as everyone knows, have been one-sided. The U.S. is 1-5 in the last six Cups and 3-7-1 in the last 11. The Americans' big three of Woods, Furyk and Mickelson have failed to play anywhere near their best in the last three Cups. The Euros are on a roll, and they're quietly turning their roster over with young stars like Rose, Poulter and McDowell.
Advantage: Europe

U.S. 6 (Holmes, Weekley, Stricker, Curtis, Kim, Mahan)
Europe 4 (Rose, Wilson, Hansen, McDowell)
Analysis: Given the Americans' losing streak, a bunch of rookies may be a plus because they haven't known the trauma of the last three Ryder Cups. Also, Perry and Stricker are in their 40s so they're hardly inexperienced. But rookies are still rookies.
Advantage: Europe

U.S. Tiger Woods, Zach Johnson
Europe Luke Donald, Darren Clarke, Colin Montgomerie
Analysis: The Americans can't replace Tiger, but it's not a fatal blow. He still hadn't hooked up with an obvious Ryder Cup partner, and every time he lost (10-13-2), it was a momentum boost for the Euros. Donald was a frequent partner for Sergio Garcia. Clarke was attached at the hip to Lee Westwood, and Monty was one of Europe's all-time greats. That leaves Europe without several proven pairings, but they'll forge new ones.
Advantage: Europe

U.S. Azinger had his team visit the Muhammad Ali Museum and brought in former Notre Dame Coach Lou Holtz as a speaker. And despite his denials, Tiger could make a surprise fly-in with his pal Michael Jordan. How about the players? Curtis could use his superior scrambling ability to win a few unexpected points.
Europe Who knows what lurks up Faldo's sleeve? But Oliver Wilson, who played college golf at Augusta State, and Graeme McDowell, who played at Alabama-Birmingham, are dangerous.
Advantage: Europe (Lou Holtz? Really?)

Analysis: The Ryder Cup has never seen crowds louder or better than the ones at the K Club in 2006. The roars for the widowed local hero, Clarke, were astonishing. But thousands of enthusiastic Kentuckians will lend their whooping and hollering to natives J.B. Holmes and Kenny Perry, as well as the rest of the American side. The Euros had better wear earplugs.
Advantage: U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!

Analysis: The Americans absolutely, positively have to win. If the Euros lose, so what? They've had a nice run. If the Americans lose, they're looking at permanent scars, and U.S. interest in the Ryder Cup could begin to seriously decline. Harrington said it best recently: "If I was non-partisan, I'd say it would be good for the Ryder Cup if the Americans win. But I'm not non-partisan." Desperation is a great motivator.
Advantage: United States

CONCLUSION: It's the U.S. by a nose. (Margin of error: 99.8 percent.)

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