Ryder Cup Format 2012: Scoring System and Rules Breakdown

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistSeptember 29, 2012

MEDINAH, IL - SEPTEMBER 28:  Tiger Woods of the USA lines up a putt during the Afternoon Four-Ball Matches for The 39th Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club on September 28, 2012 in Medinah, Illinois.  (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
Andrew Redington/Getty Images

For most golf fans, the Ryder Cup is a bi-annual opportunity to see the best golfers in the world compete for their countries and play in true team competition.

Nevertheless, for fans who spend their nights dreaming of a possible Rory Mcllroy vs. Tiger Woods head-to-head match, understanding the format can be a daunting task. With the non-standard match styles and confusing scoring system, it can be enough for even the most strident golf fan to become intimidated. 

Luckily we're here to help. Here is a complete breakdown of the Ryder Cup scoring system and rules for you to take a look at any time you're even the slightest bit confused.

(Note: All examples are merely that and not based on actual pairings or matchups at the 2012 Ryder Cup.)

Match Formats

First and foremost, each Ryder Cup match is played using the match play format. What is match play, you ask?

Match Play - A golf scoring system wherein each hole represents a "point." A point is awarded to the player who scores lowest on each hole and no points are awarded if the two golfers have equal scores.

(Example: Tiger Woods scores a four on a par 5 hole while Rory McIlroy scores a nine. After said hole, Woods would be considered "1-up" despite scoring five shots better, as each hole is only worth one "point.")

A winner is crowned when one golfer (or team of golfers) cannot mathematically make up enough points to tie the contest.

(Example: Lee Westwood biridies hole No. 16 to put him "3-up" on Phil Mickelson. Considering the fact there are only two holes remaining, Mickelson would be unable to mount a comeback, meaning he would lose "3-and-2" with the 2 in that scenario representing how many holes remaining.)

Match Type Rules


Simple and to the point. One golfer from each team plays in a head-to-head match play contest following the rules defined above. 


Also called "best ball" format. Two players from each team play as partners in a match play format. Though playing as partners, each golfer uses his own ball and records his own score. The team whose player scores the lowest gets the point for the hole. If no player scores lower than an opponent, no point is awarded and the teams halve the hole.

(Example: Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker face off against Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood. Stricker scores a four on a hole, while the rest of the golfers score five or worse. Regardless of Woods' score, the United States would receive the point based on Stricker's score.)


Also called "alternate shot" format. Two players from each team are on a play as partners in a match play format. Players alternate shots on each hole until one team wins or the two sides halve the hole. Players also rotate who drives on each hole to avoid any unfair competitive advantage.

(Example: Tiger Woods tees off on hole No. 1. Steve Stricker would hit the second shot, Tiger the third, and so on. No matter who hit the ball last on the previous hole, Stricker would tee off at hole No. 2 and the teams would follow the same format for each subsequent hole.) 


Friday: Four foursome matches, four fourball matches (lineups chosen at coach's discretion)

Saturday: Four foursome matches, four fourball matches (lineups chosen at coach's discretion)

Sunday: 12 singles matches (every golfer must compete)

Scoring System

All in all, the rules and scoring system are quite simple. Nevertheless, let's break out the bullet points to fully explain everything in full detail.

  • There are 28 matches (12 singles and eight of both fourball and foursome competition)
  • Each match counts as one point for the victor. If teams halve the match, a half-point is awarded to both sides.
  • The team with the most cumulative points at the end of play Sunday wins the Ryder Cup, meaning 14.5 points clinches a mathematical victory.
  • In the event of a tie, the previous Ryder Cup champion will keep the trophy. Europe won in 2010, meaning 14 points secures them the title this year.


    Woods: I'm 'Right on Track'

    Golf logo

    Woods: I'm 'Right on Track'

    Tyler Conway
    via Bleacher Report

    Progress, Perspective and Tiger's Slow Build Toward Masters

    Golf logo

    Progress, Perspective and Tiger's Slow Build Toward Masters

    Bob Harig
    via ESPN.com

    Rory McIlroy Silences the Doubters

    Golf logo

    Rory McIlroy Silences the Doubters

    Joel Beall
    via Golf Digest

    Just Hit It ⛳️ — Gear Up

    Golf logo

    Just Hit It ⛳️ — Gear Up

    B/R SHOP
    via B/R SHOP