IN truth the Presidents Cup is a good idea that has never yet quite worked. When it started, in 1994, the Americans were keen for the extra match practice, alarmed by their recent struggles in the Ryder Cup.
The International team, on the other hand, fancied a bit of the team excitement everyone was enjoying. Alas, the Americans have dominated the contest (and yet rarely transferred that form into the Ryder Cup), whilst the Internationals have struggled to gel. Any hopes of a renaissance in this year’s tussle?
Back in 2003 the two teams engaged in a ding-dong battle that ended with the scores level and the rules demanded that the two captains select a golfer each to play-off for the win. Jack Nicklaus sent out Tiger Woods and Gary Player opted for Ernie Els, but after three holes they could not be split. Darkness had descended and everyone agreed that a tie was the best result. Sixteen years on the two men are re-engaged in battle as captains themselves. The big South African will direct the action from a buggy, but Woods will perform duties on and off the course. It promises to add spice to a dish that is often a little bland.
Els has hope in the venue because Royal Melbourne is where the Internationals won their only match in the contest’s history, way back in 1998; in contrast, the Americans have won a rather daunting ten of them. Unlike the Ryder Cup there are four days of action and more matches played. A team’s weaknesses are less easy to hide and it’s been the International team’s Achilles heel – or one of them. Team USA are very short for the win. Keep the powder dry and look to the top scorers for a punt.
✅ Driver off the tee.
✅ Birdie on the card.
No. 11 is business as usual for the pros. pic.twitter.com/iy5NKFlufg
— Presidents Cup (@PresidentsCup) December 1, 2019
The brutal truth is that plenty of Internationals with experience in this event have emerged from their battles with shoddy records (only one of the five match veterans, Louis Oosthuizen, has a winning record). It’s also the case that this year’s team has a lot of debutants (seven). It makes the business of making a pick in this market somewhat tricky.
I favour the PGA Tour’s Rookie of the Year who makes lots of birdies and putts in fine fashion, which will be essential on the lightning fast greens of Royal Melbourne. It may also be a bonus that Byeong Hun An gained a late call-up after Jason Day’s withdrawal. He and Im might form a strong Korean partnership.
There will lots of attention on the Aussies in this week and Adam Scott will wear most of it. He’s a past winner at Royal Melbourne, but he’s struggled in fourballs and foursomes in this match (going 9-17-5). Marc Leishman has also fared badly when paired up – in fact his record in the event’s early matches is even worse at 1-7-2.
Which leads us to the outsider of the three, the slight figure of Cameron Smith whose only win on the PGA Tour was in a pairs event and who also has winning experience on home soil. Being able to fly a little further under the radar that Scott or Leishman might be a benefit for the 26-year-old.
The briefest look at the American roster reiterates what a huge task the Internationals have on their hands. In addition to himself Woods has the power of Dustin Johnson, Xander Schauffele, Tony Finau and Gary Woodland; the comradeship of Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler; the experience of Webb Simpson and Matt Kuchar; the promise of Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Cantlay; plus the spiky pride of Patrick Reed. It’s a daunting dozen.
Johnson and Thomas share favouritism, but I make Thomas the true top man heading in. Johnson has had form and injury issues – and we haven’t seen him on the course since September, whereas Thomas hasn’t finished outside the top 20 in nine starts, a run which includes two wins. Thomas was also the American top scorer in last year’s Ryder Cup and went 3-1-1 in his match debut. He deserves top billing.