It’s been 25 years since Team USA won the Ryder Cup on European soil, but that hasn’t stopped Vegas from picking the Americans as the heavy favorites this week in Paris. The U.S. team will field 9 major champions and 11 players ranked in the top-20 in the world. Playing on home soil, setting up the course to their strengths, and feeding off their passionate fans has been a winning formula for the Europeans, however, the red, white, and blue only need 14 points to retain the cup at Le Golf National. Buckle up golf fans, the 2018 Ryder Cup figures to be one of epic proportions. Here are five things you need to know about the 42nd playing of the Ryder Cup.

The First Tee

Ryder Cup First Tee

It’s been said the next best thing to winning the Ryder Cup is losing the Ryder Cup – meaning of course there’s nothing that compares to just being here. And nowhere is that more evident than on the first tee. A Ryder Cup first tee is a spine-tingling, stomach-churning, adrenaline pumping experience that has no equal in golf. It’s daunting, it’s pressure-packed, and electricity courses through your veins. It’s a stage and scene that’s difficult to describe except by those who experience it, and this year the atmosphere will be even more intense. The first tee grandstand at Le Golf National will seat more than 6,900 fans, dwarfing the 1,700 number at Hazeltine two years ago.

A Tiger-Phil Bromance in Paris?

The last time Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson were paired together in the 2004 Ryder Cup it wasn’t a pretty site. Ball issues and alpha male egos doomed this ill-fated duo right from the start. Tiger and Lefty will likely be paired together again this week, however, and it’s clear they have a different relationship this time around. From their Masters practice round together to their $10 million match scheduled for November, Tiger and Phil have engaged in a season-long bromance of sorts. Winning the Ryder Cup on foreign soil for the first time in their careers, and doing it while being paired together would be a ridiculous scenario none of us could have imagined.

Reed Rory Round Two

Rory McIlroy Patrick Reed Ryder Cup

The Ryder Cup is emotional, but two years ago in the singles match between Patrick Reed and Rory McIlroy it became a downright inferno. Nuclear combativeness and unabashed emotion were on full display as Reed and McIlroy exchanged fist pumps and primal screams in one of the most demonstrative matches in history. Reed won 1-up and will arrive in Paris expecting, and probably wanting the target on his back. McIlroy will be looking for payback, and might also have his final round Masters pairing with Reed in the back of his mind as added motivation. One thing is for sure – if we’re lucky enough to get Reed Rory II, it will be a match for the ages.

Home Field Advantage

Albatros Course Le Golf National Hole 17
Albatros Course Le Golf National Hole 17

This week marks the first time a Ryder Cup will be played in France. The Albatros course at Le Golf National has been the host site of the European Tour’s French Open since 1991 – and that clearly favors the European squad. With tight fairways, dense rough, and numerous lakes, the consensus is you don’t need to be long off the tee to score here. What you do need is extremely accurate iron play and solid shot-making to navigate around this par-71, 7,183-yard track. Throw in slow greens that are part bent-grass and part meadow-grass, and you have a course that’s very different than most American layouts.

Smackdown Holes

Albatros Course Le Golf National Hole 18
Albatros Course Le Golf National Hole 18

The four diabolical closing holes, known as the “Loop of Doom”, feature three holes with obvious risk-reward aspects, and one hole that’s an absolute brute. The par-4, 408-yard, 15th is dangerous because of water surrounding the green and potentially wicked pin positions. Playing downwind and into an undulating green that slopes towards the water, the par-3, 177-yard, 16th will trip up players if they’re not careful. The par-4, 480-yard 17th has no water or bunkers but plays completely uphill into a green with dramatic sloping. And finally, the par-4, 471-yard 18th is the most difficult hole on the course with water peril off the tee and a green that’s extremely well-guarded.

Winner Prediction

On paper, the Europeans are better ball-strikers, and Albatros will be set up to benefit their strengths and counter the Americans’ perceived length advantage. The entire US roster ranks in the top-25 in the world and brings more Ryder Cup experience to Paris. I want to believe the Americans can’t keep losing in Europe, but unfortunately, the streak won’t end this year. McIlroy’s on a mission, Ian Poulter will be Ian Poulter, and Europe’s five rookies bring plenty of winning pedigree with them. In what could easily become a runaway, Europe retains the Cup 15.5 to 12.5.