The Loop

Why there are 170 MILLION match-play outcomes, and how Europe is a 93-percent favorite on Sunday

September 28, 2014

GLENEAGLES, Scotland -- No match is exactly the same, either at the Ryder Cup or when you're playing with your weekly foursome. But did you know just how many different outcomes are possible?

The answer is a staggering 170 million -- yes, MILLION -- according to Todd Schneider, a software developer for Genius. Well, technically, 169,688,089, but we rounded up.

Schneider, who graduated from Yale with a double major in applied math and electrical engineering, crunched the numbers and then used his data to examine all the USGA Amateur Championships from 2010-2014. Of the 3,112 matches played in those events during that period, only two had the exact same path.


What does all of this have to do with 12 Ryder Cup Sunday singles matches? Not much, but it's pretty interesting, nonetheless. Many are giving the U.S. no chance of coming back, but a far, far more unlikely scenario is that any two of the matches play out in the exact same way.

If you're interested (and really like looking at complicated formulas), you should read Schneider's full breakdown. However, on this particular Sunday, you might be more interested his Gambletron2000, a tool that tracks the live odds of sporting events. The site -- great name, by the way -- constantly updates so you can see the real-time odds of any player winning his match at any time. Pretty cool.

Before the matches started, Schneider's model gives Rory McIlroy a 53-percent chance of winning his highly anticipated match against Rickie Fowler, who is only given a 34-percent chance (13 percent of a halve). The most lopsided match-up is Justin Rose (54 percent) against Hunter Mahan (33 percent).

Gambletron2000 -- for now -- predicts the U.S. will win four matches, lose seven and halve one, and it gives the Americans a scant 7-percent chance of winning to the Europeans' 87. Of course, that other 6 percent, a tie, would mean Europe retains the Ryder Cup.

So really, the Europeans only have a 93-percent chance of celebrating at day's end. See? There's hope, America!