TL/ Analysis


A data-based who’s who of the 40th Ryder Cup 2014, including player rankings, tournament experience and rankings-based match predictions.

For only the second time in Scotland, the 2014 Ryder Cup tees off at Gleneagles today. The figures below give a visual overview of the teams and players involved, based on official world golf rankings data and player experience.

2014 Ryder Cup graphic summaries player rankings and Ryder Cup experience.

Rankings and Ryder Cup Experience

The figure above: a look at rankings and experience on each side of the Atlantic. Players are listed down the page in their official world ranking position, with Rory Mcilroy top of the pile and Lee Westwood down at the bottom (44th in the world). Players are then ordered by rank within their team, from left to right, to show how the two teams square up face-to-face. Experience is shown by the squares, with 1 square for each Ryder Cup the player has taken part in. 

At the top end Europe’s big guns win out, but lower down the field USA dominates, winning 8 of the 12 virtual head-to-heads. Hence, on rankings alone USA should win the tournament  (leaving pairing selection to one side).

While Europe lose out on rankings, they win on experience. Largely thanks to the inclusion of Lee Westwood, down at the bottom of the rankings. For USA, Mickelson and Furyk seem the lynch pins, holding 58% of the team’s total Ryder Cup experience between them. Each team has 3 debutants.
2014 Ryder Cup chart showing Ryder Cup player world ranking against average tournament ranking points..


Ranking Points Emphasise Importance of Mid-field battle

The world rankings are based on points – average points won per tournament, in tournaments over the last 2 years. A look at these points gives some more insight into the expected spread across the field.

In points, Rory Mcilroy is way out ahead at rank 1. Points then drop away steeply over the first 8 ranking places. Further down the ranking table, differences in points per ranking place are much smaller – there is less margin between players further down the table.

As a more representative measure of expected performance, the shape of this curve supports the idea that the performance of the lower ranked players on the day, will have bigger influence on the overall result. So while everyone is following the high-profilers around the course, keep a keen eye on the lesser-known faces, particularly the debutants, as these could be the key battles to swing it.
2014 Ryder Cup graphic showing Ryder Cup match predictions based on player world rankings alone

Match Expectations

Partnership selections are an interesting subject, with many relevant factors. Leaving these partnership factors aside, we can take a very simplistic look at who should win the matches, based on just the rankings, and this is done above.

For each match the colour of the solid bar shows the expected result, with the bar’s width effectively showing how likely it is to happen (wider bar has bigger difference in rankings and hence is more certain).

Europe seem to have taken a different strategy to USA. Europe’s pairings are generally of very similar rank (e.g. 1-2, 3-4, 10-11), where as USA’s are more split.  Europe are playing all 4 of their best players in the first 4 matches, where USA are saving 2 of theirs. All 24 players get a match on the first day.

The rankings say it’ll be 4-4 at the end of the first day, but at this level, golf is a game of small margins. The difference in average shots per round this year between the best and worst players taking part is just under 2 shots (Mcilory, Rank 1, 68.8 shots, Westwood, Rank 44, 70.7 shots,

Will the rankings tell the tale? Either way, I can’t wait to find out.

Data from and the official Ryder Cup website. 


If you’re currently predicting scorelines for the World Cup Semi’s and fancy a flutter, a 2-1 home win seems a worth a shout…

The figure below summarises scorelines from the 60 games of the 2014 tournament so far. The area of the circles, indicate how many times each scoreline has occurred.

There have been a freaky number of 2-1 home wins – 11 in total, out of the 60 games played. This is equivalent to 18% of all games. There have been 20 different scorelines so far and almost 20% of games have had the same one: a 2-1 home win. The 2-1 home win also has more than 3 times it’s opposite number – the 2-1 away win – which has happened only 3 times.
Bubble chart Showing World Cup 2014 scoreline frequencies up to the semifinals

I haven’t looked at scoreline frequency before but, aside from the 2-1 home win, things look fairly sensible. You might expect high scoring games to happen less often and the figure below supports this. The 2-1 home win is the only outlier from this curve, by a fair way. Bizarre. (The curve shown is a second order polynomial fit to all data).


Other notes:

  • Out of 20 different results, 1/3 of all games have either been 0-0 or 2-1 home win.
  • Several sources state, without data, that 1-0 is the most common world cup scoreline with 0-0 in second place. So far 2-1 is beating both of these in this world cup.
  • The winners of the high goal games are fairly imbalanced, with the away team’s winning much more often. The Away team has won roughly twice as many games as the home team (11-6), when 3 or more goals have been scored.

I’m sure the wise will prefer to weight their predictions toward the specifics of the new pairings involved in the forthcoming games and will also be aware that the World cup home advantage (excluding the hosts) shouldn’t count for much at this stage. But perhaps there’s something in the Brazilian water and as I’m not very wise – I think there’s probably enough to warrant a little flutter…



Where did all the goals go? The 2014 World Cup set off to a flying start, but the knockout phase has been a relative drought, with just half the normal-time goals per game of the group stage.

The world cup flew out of the blocks, with 14 goals in the first 3 games. While this rate was unlikely to last, the group stage still bagged a very respective 2.83 goals per game – the highest average seen in the group stage since 1958. But then this seemed to flip on its head in the knockout phase.

The 12 knockout games so far (the last 16 + quarter finals) have provided great entertainment, but weigh-in at a measly 1.33 goals per game, in normal time. Less than half the goal scoring rate of the group stage. As a result, half of the all the knockout games (6/12) have been forced into extra-time.
Bar Chart showing World cup 2014 goals per game in normal time in the different stages of the tournament


Is this normal?

My first thought was whether a reduction in goals per game through the tournament was just normal. Plausible reasons seemed to include – more evenly matched teams, tactical response to the games being knockout and various consequences of more increasing pressure in the later stages.

The historic averages below are based on The Ecomomist’s great all-time World Cup goal-time interactive. Data goes back as far as 1986, such that all competitions have a single group stage and either 52 or 64 competing teams. Quarter finals have not been included, as 4 games seems too few to form a very meaningful average for comparison, in this case.
Figure showing the change in average world cup goals per game between group and last, for world cups between 1986 and 2014 inclusive

Looking back to 1986 the camp is divided, with 4 tournaments having an increased last 16 average – 4 decreased. So, no clear answer on whether ‘fewer goals per game in the last 16 is normal’ based on this set, but enough to show that 2014 is definitely extreme. This year’s tournament switches from the highest goals per game in the group stage, to the lowest normal-time goals in last 16 phase.

2014 Last 16 goals – more in added and extra time, than in the first 90 mins

The pie chart below shows the split of goal-times in this years knockout phase to date (12 games of last 16 and quarter finals). To seemingly emphasise the normal-time relative drought, there have been more knockout phase goals scored in added time and extra time than in first 90 mins of normal time – 11 vs 8. Later goals may be more common, but such a high ratio is surely extreme – more analysis is required to be sure.
Pie chart showing Split of goal times in 2014 world cup last 16 and quarter final games

Why is 2014 so extreme?

More analysis is required to answer this one. One extreme factor for 2014 is the tough ambient conditions. Is it plausible that teams astutely eyed an opportunity to overhaul technically superior teams on fitness grounds, if tactically, games could be extended into extra-time? It would be interesting to compare 2014 playing conditions at the other low goal average tournaments (1990, 2002, 2006) to see if this stacks.

Despite such few normal-time goals, the knockout phase has produced some awesome entertainment. Much like the old ‘overtaking in Formula One’ debate, perhaps showing that you don’t need goals for a good game – particularly with penalties lurking at the end! It will be interesting to see if the final 4 games continue in the same vain.



Roger Federer is in a class of his own – an outlier amongst the world’s best tennis players.

If pushed, my ‘greatest ever sportsman’ would be Roger Federer. Not just for his on-court achievement, but also for his attitude and conduct, both on and off it. In today’s Wimbledon final he has a chance to win his eighth Wimbledon title and add another record to his tally – by winning it more times than any other man in history.

When I found this great representation of tennis players’ career performance, on the blog, I was instantly struck by the data point in the top right hand-corner. As a long standing Federer fan, I optimistically shot over there to discover that it was indeed my man Rog.


Tennis player career win percentage vs games played - Roger Federer is in a class of his own

Regeneration of a figure created by, a web data extraction tool. See for more information.

The figure shows over 10000 professional tennis players, since around the turn of the century who have played over 50 games. Only 9 of these 10000, have a win percentage above 80%. Of those 9, Federer has played more than 250 matches (around 25%) more than the next closest.

Federer’s trophy cabinet pretty much speaks for itself but I thought this was a great visualisation to instantly strengthen his case. The man is effectively an outlier amongst the world’s greatest tennis players. An outlier amongst outliers.

It’s a great visualisation example. Obviously there are many other relevant factors in characterising career performance, but bottom line, this concise representation says a great deal, and that for me, is what it’s all about.

My version above is tailored to highlight Roger Federer’s ridiculous position in the pack, or more correctly – out of it. However, a number of other things jump out of the graphic straight away and I’d love to have time to dig into these in a bit more detail.’s original version is interactive allowing you to pinpoint your other favourite players. It also has data set links and some great detail about how their demo app was created. So if you’re interested, head over to for more information.

In terms of today’s Wimbledon final, grass career stats look good for Federer, with a much higher win ratio than Djokovic (87% vs 79%) and around twice as much experience (145 grass matches vs. 76 for Djokovic). Whoever wins, Federer will still be the greatest.



World Cup team performance summary at the end of the group stage, to see who’s been the best so far.

Visualisation of the World Cup End of Group Stage standing. Teams are ranked by tournament rank = points, goal difference, goals scored

Some Notes:

  • Uruguay did pretty well to get 6 points from a goal difference of 0.
  • Spain are the only seeded team (Pot A) to leave the tournament.
  • FIFA may be happy that 3 teams from each of the other pots (B,C,D) qualified.
  • Algeria were the set piece specialists – 3 set piece goals and a penalty, out of their 6 goal total.
  • The gods were perhaps with the Greeks. They managed to qualify without scoring a single open play goal and with a net goal difference of -2 (England returned just 1Pt from the same goal difference). They were good at hitting the woodwork through – doing this 4 times – more than any other team and twice as many times as the goals they actually scored.
  • Switzerland games have been great for goals, with 13 in 3 games, averaging at more than 4 a game. Top tip.
  • No Asian teams made it out of the group stage.
  • There is a cluster of crucial set piece goals around the mid-table teams.
  • Croatia put six onions in the proverbial bag but still didn’t qualify. Half the teams that qualified scored fewer goals!
  • Ecuador however may feel most hard done to. They scored the same points and better goal difference than Greece but still didn’t qualify.


In the figure, teams are ranked from top to bottom, by tournament end of group standing i.e points > goal difference > goals scored. Change in relative team position since the start of the tournament is also shown in colour, along with a breakdown of how goals were scored.

I’d planned to include some shot information, but then noticed a big discrepancy between FIFA and BBC numbers. Will do this analysis later if I can understand why the two are different.

Obviously the above ranking is done in the eyes of the tournament rules and doesn’t take into account the relative ease of the groups when ranking performance thus far. For example, a team that has beaten 3 good teams has arguably performed better than a team of similar rank, that has beaten 3 poor teams. The two would be ranked the same above. Weighting each result by standard of opposition (ranking), much like the official FIFA ranking points, is probably a better indicator. I’ll try to produce this comparison to follow.



As we head into the third and final batch of group games, a quick look at who’s through, who’s heading home and who’s still fighting.

After two group games, 6 out of the last 16 places have already been snapped up. Over the next 4 days, 21 countries will be fighting it out for the remaining 10.

Just over a third of the teams already know their fate, with 6 cruising through and 5 heading home on the early bus. By the end of play Thursday, the 16 spots in the knockout phase will have been decided. Last 16 games start on Saturday.


World Cup Standings After Two Group Games - Who's qualified and who's going home



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