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Across the Pond

Presidents Cup Preview

by Dave Tindall
Updated On: December 9, 2019, 8:29 am ET

The Presidents Cup is 25 years old this year but, in terms of a contest, well… it hasn’t been much of one.

The United States leads the series 10-1, while there was one tie.

The format (more on that below) may be almost the same as the Ryder Cup but over that same 25-year period, the US has been hammered 9-3 by the Europeans.

Go through player records and there’s a strong pattern. American golfers virtually always have winning records in this event but losing records in the Ryder Cup.

To pluck out an example, Tiger is 24-15-1 in the Presidents Cup but 13-21-3 in the Ryder Cup. You want that in percentages? 61.25% to 39.19%.

It means we have to question the validity of using Ryder Cup records as a predictor for outcomes in this event. They’re like chalk and cheese.

While the Internationals have just one win, the good news for Ernie Els’ team is that it came at this week’s venue, Royal Melbourne, in 1998. Bizarrely, it wasn’t even close as the hosts smashed the United States team 20.5-11.5.

But if Els wants to use that as motivation, U.S. skipper Tiger Woods could just as easily point to the 2011 event, also played at Royal Melbourne. On that occasion, Fred Couples’ team gained revenge over the Greg Norman-captained hosts, sealing a 19-15 victory.

Since the 2003 match at Fancourt in South Africa, the Americans have won seven straight, their biggest victory in that sequence coming at Liberty National in 2017 when cruising home 19-11.

 

The Format

Thursday – 5 Four-ball matches
Friday – 5 Foursomes matches
Saturday morning – 4 Four-ball matches
Saturday afternoon – 4 Foursomes matches
Sunday – 12 Singles matches

Something worth bearing in mind when choosing your line-ups or having a bet on top points scorer … “In 2019, a minor format change will be implemented, stating each player shall only be required to play a minimum of one match prior to the final-round singles matches. This is a change from previous years when players were required to compete in two matches prior to singles matches.”

 

The Course

Famed Royal Melbourne is regarded as one of the classics, often being ranked in the top five courses in the world. It measures 7,055 yards and will play as a par 71. Somewhat unusually, it has 13 par 4s but just two par 5s and three par 3s. As with many of the ‘sandbelt’ courses in the area, it plays firm and fast and the conditions are magnified if the wind picks up. International skipper Els holds the course record of 60 although it’s been lengthened since he shot that number in 2004.

 

USA

Captain: Tiger Woods

Captain’s Assistants: Fred Couples, Zach Johnson, Steve Stricker

Justin Thomas

Played: 1

Record: 3-1-1

Top U.S. points scorer in the Ryder Cup at Le Golf National. That’s not saying much although it was reward for JT going over their earlier in the year to contest the Open de France. It’s his first time in Australia but Thomas should enjoy the test and arrives on the back of two wins in his last six starts. Won’t have a shortage of teammates wanting to pair up with him and rumours suggest a likely candidate is Tiger.

Dustin Johnson

Played: 3

Record: 8-4-2

DJ had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in early September and hasn’t teed it up since. That puts a question mark over not just how many matches he may play but the sharpness of his game. This is no arena for a cold putter. DJ is a global player but last competed in Australia in 2013, finishing T12 in the Perth International. He does have experience at Royal Melbourne from 2011 although he won just one of his five matches (1-3-1 overall).

Patrick Cantlay

Played: Rookie

No-one can argue about the quality of his game although Cantlay was strangely subdued when 17th of 18th in the Hero World Challenge. This is his first team competition since the 2011 Walker Cup and Cantlay’s quiet nature suggests he won’t exactly be the life and soul of the locker room. However, he’s teamed up with Patrick Reed in the last three Zurich Classics so could see plenty of action if Woods sees that partnership working early.

Xander Schauffele

Played: Rookie

It’s hard to believe that he didn’t make the last Ryder Cup team in France although at least he saved himself some scar tissue. A big-time player though with wins at the Tour Championship and WGC-HSBC Champions in China as well as second places in The Masters and Open Championship. Strong performer overseas although this is his debut in Australia.

Webb Simpson

Played: 2

Record: 5-3-2

Simpson will have good memories of Royal Melbourne from 2011 after he won three of his four matches alongside Bubba Watson. That said, he did lose the singles to K.T. Kim. Had three second places in his last seven starts, the latest in last month’s RSM Classic, so rust won’t be an issue.

Matt Kuchar

Played: 4

Record: 6-8-2

A rarity, an American player with a losing Presidents Cup record. He and Woods were 3-1 at the 2013 edition but Kuchar has lost all four of his singles matches. Was only 1-3-1 in the 2011 showdown at Royal Melbourne but returned to the course in 2013 to finish runner-up to Adam Scott in the Aussie Masters. Also contested last year’s Australian Open (T23) but recent form has been below his usual consistent best.

Bryson DeChambeau

Played: Rookie

Had a nightmare in the 2018 Ryder Cup, losing all three matches – although being paired with an out-of-sorts Phil Mickelson did him no favors. Played two events in Australia as an amateur in 2015, finishing runner-up in the Australian Masters in Melbourne and T30 in the Aussie Open.

Tony Finau

Played: Rookie

One of the few Americans to emerge with some credit from the 2018 Ryder Cup, ending 2-1-0 despite finding water with his opening tee-shot. A captain’s pick, he’ll be a popular presence in the dressing room and, after a few form worries, finished strongly in the Hero World Challenge (just one shot higher than winner Henrik Stenson over the final 54 holes).

Gary Woodland

Played: Rookie

The U.S. Open champion gets his first taste of Presidents Cup action but has the tools to shine on debut. Reached the final of the WGC-Match Play in 2015 and won the 2011 World Cup of Golf in China alongside Kuchar. Two early top fives this season and was the 54-hole leader at the Hero World Challenge before a poor closer.

Patrick Reed

Played: 2

Record: 4-3-2

Reed owns a winning record but doesn’t quite have the same eyeballs out approach he does when taking on Europe – probably as it’s been too easy. However, Reed’s ‘incident’ at the Hero World Challenge won’t have been lost on the locals and they’ll likely let him have it with both barrels. Of course, being cast in the role of villain could just play into his hands. In fine form.

Tiger Woods

Played: 8

Record: 24-15-1

As noted in the intro, Tiger’s record in this event is far superior than his disappointing Ryder Cup stats and he absolutely deserves to on the team as a player, the first to do so since Hale Irwin in the inaugural Presidents Cup in 1994. How many times will he play? Well, his vice-captains can carry plenty of load and four out of five seems a reasonable guess.

Rickie Fowler

Appearances: 2

Record: 4-3-1

Didn’t get a captain’s pick but was the next cab of the rank and got his chance when Brooks Koepka withdrew due to injury. Fowler returned from a three-month break to play last week’s Hero World Challenge and shook off some rust by finishing solo ninth. Runner-up in the Aussie PGA in 2013 and should enjoy the firm, fast test.

 

INTERNATIONAL TEAM

Captain: Ernie Els

Captain’s Assistants: K.J. Choi, Geoff Ogilvy, Trevor Immelman, Mike Weir

Marc Leishman (Australia)

Played: 3

Record: 3-7-3

A fourth straight appearance for Leishman and, as one of three Aussies, there will be plenty on his shoulders. Like most of his teammates, he has a losing record overall but he’s 2-0-1 in the singles. He didn’t play the 2011 event but was T7 on his one competitive start at Roya Melbourne in the 2013 Aussie Masters and, as a local Victorian, has vast experience of this type of track.

Hideki Matsuyama (Japan)

Played: 3

Record: 4-6-3

Like Leishman, he’s only ever tasted defeat in this event since making his debut as a 21-year-old in 2013. Only once outside the top 16 in his last eight worldwide starts so he’s one of the in-form Internationals. If the hosts are to have any hope, Matsuyama surely has to shine. Aussie experience? Was T6 in the 2018 World Cup of Golf alongside Ryo Ishikawa.

Louis Oosthuizen (South Africa)

Played: 3

Record: 7-5-3

Owns a winning record thanks to banking four points in tandem with Branden Grace in 2015. The downside is that there’s no Grace to team up with this time. Oosthuizen has found form at just the right time though and was runner-up at the Australian Open on Sunday. Also a winner of the 2016 Perth International in 2016. Els will surely lean on his compatriot and play Oosthuizen in all five matches.

Adam Scott (Australia)

Played: 8

Record: 14-20-5

A ninth appearance will be a record for an International player although the quality hasn’t always matched the quantity and, remarkably, he hasn’t won a four-ball match since 2005. That said, Scott has five wins in singles play and has a victory in the Australian Masters at this course. He’ll have to come up big and Els will surely suit him up for all five matches.

Abraham Ancer (Mexico)

Played: Rookie

Not just a rookie but the first Mexican to ever play on the International team. Qualified at No. 5 and has some notable form in this part of the globe. Ancer won the Australian Open in November 2018 and also guided Mexico (with little-know partner Roberto Diaz) to T2 in the 2018 World Cup of Golf at Metropolitan – another ‘sandbelt’ course in Melbourne.

HaoTong Li (China)

Played: Rookie

As with Ancer, Li becomes the first player from his nation to play in the Presidents Cup. The Chinese star certainly shouldn’t be underestimated having already finished third in an Open Championship (paired with skipper Els when shooting a closing 63) while he also made the top 25 in the two final WGC events of 2019 (St. Jude and HSBC). The two-time European Tour winner boasts some local form after finishing T2 in the 2016 World Cup of Golf in Melbourne.

C.T. Pan (Chinese Taipei)

Played: Rookie

Probably not necessary to say that he’s the first player from Chinese Taipei to play in this event but, just for the record, he is. Pan won The Heritage at Hilton Head earlier this year and finished T11 in Mayakoba two starts ago. And here’s a nugget – he played in the 2014-Asia Pacific Amateur Championship at Royal Melbourne and finished T5.

Cameron Smith (Australia)

Played: Rookie

The third of the home contingent but the only rookie. Smith has a bunch of top form on home soil, with back-to-back victories in the 2017/2018 Australian PGA Championships while he teamed up with Leishman to finish T2 in the 2018 World Cup at nearby Metropolitan. Third in the CJ Cup and hot short game suggests this format will suit.

Sungjae Im (South Korea)

Played: Rookie

One of the seven rookies on the International team and still just 21 but had a superb first season on the PGA Tour, appearing on leaderboards virtually every week. Loves a heavy workload so, if Els wanted to play him in every match, Im would be more than willing.

Byeong Hun An (South Korea)

Played: Rookie

A second Korean rookie so, in theory, An and Im make an obvious pairing (compatriot Choi is also one of the vice-captains). Got the nod from Captain Els following the withdrawal of Jason Day in late November. He’s a former U.S. Amateur champion so has some matchplay pedigree and has form of 6-8-14 in his latest three starts.

Adam Hadwin (Canada)

Played: 1

Record: 0-2-1

Didn’t manage a win at Liberty National in 2017 when he became the third Canadian to play on the Presidents Cup team but should feel more at ease this time. Started the new PGA TOUR season with a second and a fourth and finished T4 (with Nick Taylor) in the World Cup of Golf at Metropolitan last year.

Joaquin Niemann (Chile)

Played: Rookie

If Els is doing this by region, then Niemann forms an obvious pairing with fellow Latin American Ancer. Another of the team’s babies at just 21 although he’s already a PGA TOUR winner after landing September’s A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier. Captain’s pick.

By region: Australia 3, Asia 5, South America: 2, South Africa 1, Canada 1

Dave Tindall
Dave Tindall is former golf editor at Sky Sports.com in the UK and has been writing betting previews for the European Tour since 1997. He can be reached via e-mail on tindall_david@hotmail.com and on Twitter @davetindallgolf.