The Ryder Cup is a match play event, with each match worth one point. The competition format used in 2008 was as follows:
Day 1 (Friday) — 4 foursome (alternate shot) matches in a morning session and 4 four-ball (better ball) matches in an afternoon session
Day 2 (Saturday) — 4 foursome matches in a morning session and 4 four-ball matches in an afternoon session
Day 3 (Sunday) — 12 singles matches
With a total of 28 points, 14½ points are required to win the Cup, and 14 points are required for the defending champion to retain the Cup. All matches will be played to a maximum of 18 holes.
The format for the event differs from the last two Ryder Cup Matches. For the first time since 1999, the opening matches will feature the alternate-shot format. United States captain Paul Azinger, hoping to give his team an early advantage in Kentucky, announced the change on January 30 at the PGA Tour'sFBR Open in Phoenix.
Alternate shot, or foursomes, had been used in the first sessions every year since 1981 until European captain Seve Ballesteros opened with better ball (fourballs) in 1997 at Valderrama. U.S. captain Ben Crenshaw switched back to alternate shot in 1999 at Brookline, but the last three Ryder Cup matches have started with better ball.
Los mejores jugadores de ambos equipos son elegidos mediante un sistema de puntuación en el que se contabilizan los resultados en diversos torneos. En Estados Unidos se seleccionan a los 8 mejores y en Europa a los 10. El resto de jugadores son elegidos por el capitán de cada equipo, hasta completar los 12 de cada equipo.