Billy Horschel wins WGC Match Play and US dominate the last four: Does it suggest Ryder Cup glory?

The 34-year-old from Florida completed a 2021 World Golf Championship 1-2 with victory over compatriot Scottie Scheffler at Austin Country Club.

There was a touch of after-the-Lord-Mayor's-show about Sunday at the WGC Dell Match Play.

Most of the week had been electric - two aces, a series of outrageous drives at short par-4s, and the top seeds tumbling likes clowns on a greased-up surface.

On Sunday morning, however, the final four appeared to wake tired and leggy.

The semi-finals were sluggish affairs and the final itself dragged like a long wait at A&E.

Not that Billy Horschel will care.

He hadn't claimed individual glory since 2017 and desperately wants to make a Ryder Cup debut this year - his 2&1 victory in the final over Scottie Scheffler has gone a long way towards making that dream a reality.

It's not only that he's proved himself a quality match play performer, he also amassed plenty of qualification points, adding to the many he also earned when finishing second in the first WGC event of the year last month.

Horschel has been superb in 2021.
Horschel has been superb in 2021.

Scheffler, too, departed Austin with his reputation enhanced.

The 24-year-old is still seeking a first win on the PGA Tour, but he has finished fifth and second in those 2021 WGC events and, added to his tied fourth at last year's PGA Championship, it hints at a very bright future at the highest level.

Talking of hints, what can we make of the fact that, in a Ryder Cup year, an American won the event, two Americans made the final, and three of the last four men standing were also from the US?

Paddy Power make USA 4/6 favourites to regain the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits in September, with Europe 6/4 and the tie 10/1.

Let's take a closer look at the potential link between WGC form and Ryder Cup reality.

Ryder Cup hints: The WGC Match Play

There are perhaps three ways to look at this …

The winner

Has the nationality of the man lifting the WGC Match Play predicted the winner of that year's Ryder Cup?

It did in the first of them, in 1999, and, if you want to believe that Jeff Maggert's success had an impact on the great Brookline fightback, feel free.

Ian Poulter's defeat of Paul Casey prompted positive talk of Ryder Cup omens in Europe in 2010 - and it did indeed triumph that year.

But those two instances are the only examples of the winner of both events coming from the same continent.

Prediction value: 3-out-of-10.

The finalists

This one's a little better.

Maggert toppled Andrew Magee in 1999, we've got that 2010 match-up, and there are two more successful examples: the Tiger Woods-Stewart Cink final of 2008 and Victor Dubuisson's runner-up finish to Jason Day in 2014.

But it's still a less than impressive pointer.

Prediction value: 4-out-of-10.

The semi-finalists

Let's branch out a little - to the last four.

Or, then again, maybe not.

Because, frankly, there's not a lot of point beating about the bush: this is the worst of the lot.

Prediction value: 3-out-of-10.

Ryder Cup hints: World rankings

If the WGC Match Play is a pretty risible indicator, are they any other possibilites we could lean on?

World rankings is commonly discussed. Indeed, ahead of the last encounter in Paris, it was widely deemed to be the reason so many expected a strong showing from Team USA, who held all the aces in that regard.

Tommy Fleetwood and Francesco Molinari helped Europe win in 2018.
Tommy Fleetwood and Francesco Molinari helped Europe win in 2018.

So let's dig a little deeper.

Most top 10 ranked players

Another rotter.

Team USA routinely has more world top 10 performers in its ranks and also, of course, has the poorer Ryder Cup record since 1999.

True, there have been three successful match-ups, but it's not one to trust.

Prediction value: 3-out-of-10.

Most top 20 ranked players

This is where the omens lurch from being simply poor to being slightly absurd.

Once again, there is total US dominance in numbers of players ranked in the world's top 20, but it does not reflect success in the match.

Only twice has Europe had more top 20 golfers than America.

The first time was in 2006 and the US team that visited Ireland that year actually had its lowest number of both top 10 and top 20 ranked players in the field.

They were trounced.

But two years later they still trailed in top 20 performers - and Paul Azinger's pod system helped them regain the trophy.

Ultimately? Another duff forecaster.

Prediction value: 3-out-of-10.

Ryder Cup hints: That year's Major count

So, to the last hope of Ryder Cup portent and prophesy.

Again, in the summer of 2018, there were fears that recent American control in the Major Championships was bad news.

But the fears were to prove unfounded.

Was it a one-off?

No.

In fact, Major count is the worst Ryder Cup omen of them all.

Phil Mickelson and Team USA have not had a great time in recent Ryder Cups
Phil Mickelson and Team USA have not had a great time in recent Ryder Cups

Only in 2010, when Phil Mickelson, Graeme McDowell and Martin Kaymer won Majors, has it been any good whatsoever at pointing us in the right direction.

Prediction value: 1-out-of-10.

Conclusion

Sometimes it's simply a matter of looking at something from a different angle.

What if you select the least-successful of our Ryder Cup hints (Major count) and flip it?

Every time, since 1999, that there have been more American Major wins in the year than European ones, Europe has won the Ryder Cup.

Moreover, Europe's four best performances in Major count have reaped its three worst Ryder Cup performances.

In 1999 and 2016 the count was tied 2-2 and Team USA won both times.

In 2008 Europe won the Major count 2-1 - and lost the Ryder Cup.

Only in 2010 were the two results in line.

So keep your eyes peeled at Augusta National, Kiawah Island, Torrey Pines and Royal St Georges this year.

Note the continental count - and then don't draw the obvious conclusion.

A reminder of those Paddy Power prices: USA 4/6, Europe 6/4, Tie 10/1.

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