Price has a mountain to climb

Features

It’s no real surprise that the USA, at 2/7, are the outright favourites to win the Presidents Cup at Muirfield Village in Dublin, Ohio, this week.

On paper at least, Fred Couples and his merry men from the US of A seem to have almost everything going for them, starting with the fact that in the nine Presidents Cup matches played to date, the Internationals, or, if you prefer, the Rest of the World (outside of Europe) have beaten the USA only once, that rare victory having come in Australia at the Royal Melbourne Golf Club way back in 1998.

The Internationals, who this year, will, for the first time, be lead by South African-born, Zimbabwe golfing icon Nick Price, have also managed to share the Presidents Cup once, this under Gary Player at Fancourt in South Africa in 2003, but over all, the US, with seven victories in nine, have been the dominant force in an event in which they played in alternative years to their much sterner, biennial Ryder Cup battles against Europe.

And that’s just for starters.

Among the numerous other pre-tournament advantages the Americans will be taking into Thursday’s opening tee-off at the Ohio golf Mecca Jack (Nicklaus) built and owns is that fact that they’ll be fielding only four new ‘caps’ to the seven Price is going to have to assimilate into a 12-man International squad made up of players from six different nations – and this in a contest that can be pretty daunting for first-timers because of the excess pressure invariably cranked up by fervently patriotic spectators

The new kids on the block in Price’s team are fellow countryman Brendan de Jonge, Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, Australia’s Marc Leishman, Canada’s Graham DeLaet, and South Africans, Loius Oosthuizen, Brandon Grace and Richard Sterne while the US first timers are Keegan Bradley, Jason Dufner, Jordan Spieth and Brandt Snedeker.

The Internationals can match the USA when it comes to the numbers of major winners in their team, these being Ernie Els, Angel Cabrera, Adam Scott, Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen as against the USA’s Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson, Kegan Bradley and Webb Simpson.

But the Americans once again have the advantage when it comes to US PGA Tour winners.

While every member of their team, including their exciting, 20-year-old rookie wild card, Jordan Speith, have won titles in what is without doubt the toughest Tour in professional golf, the same cannot be said of the internationals.

Less than half of them can claim ownership of a US PGA Tour title.

The vast majority of these titles, however, were won in stroke-play events where as the Presidents Cup, like the Ryder Cup, is all about match play.

A total of 34 points are up for grabs from a series of singles, better-ball fourball and alternative-shot foursome matches to be played on Thursday (six fourball matches), Friday (Six foursomes matches), Saturday (five morning fourball and five afternoon foursome matches) and Sunday (12 singles matches).

Should any of the matches be tied after 18 holes, each side will be awarded a half point except in the case of the singles matches which will continiue until a full point is won.

Finally, should the event finish with the two teams locked at 17 points each, they will share the Presidents Cup until their next meeting at the Jack Nicklaus Golf Club Korea in 2015.

In the meantime, we are looking at Nicklaus’ Muirfield Village (named after Muifield in Scotland where he won the first of his Open Championships) and I have to say the venue probably gives the US it’s greatest advantage.

This not only because the vast majority of the spectators will be Americans, but perhaps more so because its golf-wise owner and designer Nicklaus, the most capped of all of the USA’s Presidents Cup captains, will be perfectly placed to work with Couples and his planning team in setting up a course best suited to the Americans.

There is also the fact that the bulk of the US players will collectively know the course better than their opponents (Muirfield Village is a regular tour stop for The Memorial championship)

The USA team members have made an aggregate 88 starts at Muirfield over the years to the Internationals’ 57 – and 20 of those starts have been made by Ernie Els, the Internationals’ elder statesman with eighth Presidents Cup appearance.

From those 20 Muirfield Village starts the 42-year-old, four-time major winner has won once and finished in the top 10 a total of six times, so his experience of the course could be invaluable.

So could Jason Day’s. The young Aussie’s American wife is from Ohio and now as a local resident, Day knows the course as well as any of the Americans.

What he and Els might well tell the Internationals is that the Course is relatively open off the tee and that an aggressive game plan will be the way to go, especially since loss of a hole is the worst thing that can happen at any of them..

There was some surprise when Price named Brendan De Jongh as one his captain’s picks – until it was pointed out that while the burly Central African has yet to win in the US, he did lead the PGA Tour this year in birdies made (371) and has shown he has plenty of length off the tee so watch out USA, he could possibly be one of event’s most valuable, hidden wild cards.

Mind you it might well take a very special run of performances to top the likely exploits of one the Couple’s wild cards, namely Jordan Speith, the US PGA Tour’s Rookie of the Year and a player, who, though just out his teens, seems to be equipped with massive potential and a maturity well beyond his years.

Japan, however might want to say the same thing of their lone member of the Internationals, Hideki Matsuyama.

This 21-year-old, two-time Asia-Pacific Amateur champion, has never played Muirfield Village and has yet to win in the US, but he has not allowed himself to be intimidated in his pairings with the likes of Woods and in his first season in the west he was able to pick up top-10 finishes in both the US and British Opens.

How he and Speith perform could be as much of a highlight this week as the shows put up by established big guns of the ilk of Tiger Woods Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott and Ernie Els, but it should never be forgotten that until the 12 singles matches on the final day, this contest is all about two-man teams and how they come together.

It is also about the tactics hatched up between rounds by skippers Couples and Price and their advisory panels.

The Underdogs have not won very often at the Presidents Cup, but they have done it often enough in the Ryder Cup where sheer patriotic motivation, team spirit and the right player combinations have so often been much more important factors than sheer talent or World Ranking places.

Against a cool and confident Couples who will be coming into the Muifield Village encounter with almost all the advantages you can think of and as the captain of the last two winning American teams (at Harding Park in San Francisco in 2009 and at Royal Melbourne in Australia in 2011), Price and his men have a massive mountain to climb this week.

But don’t despair if you are a South African, Australian, Japanese, Argentine, Canadian or Zimbabwean. Underdogs can win. Europe have done it often enough.

It’s time The Internationals follow their lead.

THE TEAMS

The USA
Captain:
Fred Couples
Assistant Captains:
Jay Haas and Davis Love III
The Players:
Tiger Woods, Brandt Snedeker, Phil Mickelson, Matt Kuchar, Jason Dufner, Keegan Bradley, Steve Stricker, Bill Haas, Hunter Mahan, Zach Johnson, Webb Simpson (Captain’s Pick), Jordan Spieth (Captain’s Pick)

The Internationals
Captain:
Nick Price
Assistant captains:
Shigeki Maruyama, Mark McNulty, Tony Johnstone
The Players:
Adam Scott AUS, Jason Day AUS, Charl Schwartzel RSA, Ernie Els RSA, Louie Oosthuizen RSA, Hideki Matsuyama JAP, Branden Grace RSA, Graham DeLaet CAN, Richard Sterne RSA, Angel Cabrera ARG, Marc Leishman AUS (Captain’s Pick), Brendan de Jonge ZIM (Captain’s Pick)

NOTE:

For all the bookies’ winning odds, you should go to Oddschecker.com:

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