Winning over the crowd has become a new theme in these international golf matches. At the last Ryder Cup held in the U.S. the European team was instructed to put on a nice song and dance for the American galleries in the practice rounds. I guess anything to curb the partisanship helps, and U.S. Captain (noted golf strategical genius) Fred Couples obviously buys into the notion. He dressed up his U.S. squad like the Aussie National Team for Monday’s action at Royal Melbourne. Never thought I’d see Fred in white pants, but you know, illusions get shattered and you move on…
The Presidents Cup is an event that in my opinion takes a disproportionate amount of flak. It’s an exhibition. It’s nothing compared to the Ryder Cup. The players don’t care. It’s on television at odd times when they play it outside of the United States. I’ve never really bought into this. To me, it’s obvious the players care. And, why you wouldn’t want to see 24 of the best players in the World going head-to-head, I don’t know. Do you want another vanilla stroke play event? Are you just waiting around for the Skins Game to come back? The event does get a little less publicity since it’s in Australia this year, but in the last few months the participants have been doing a great deal to try to generate some interest. Some storylines…
Tiger vs. Everyone:
Tiger finished 3rd last week at the Australian Open, playing three brilliant rounds of golf and one like he’s been playing for much of the last 2 years. Scores aside the quality of Tiger’s best shots seemed to be improved and they’re occurring much more frequently. A return to form, his haters’ worst nightmare, looks to be finally right around the corner. Of course, the getting on Woods is still good. At least for a little while, and the piling on has been ridiculous. Greg Norman took his shots, saying he wouldn’t have taken Woods and he didn’t think Woods would ever break Jack’s Major Championship record. Of course, Norman could write a book on losing majors and picked Adam Scott under almost identical circumstances 2 years ago for the International Team. Steve Williams got in a huge mess when he said the point of an interview he gave was to “shove it up [Tiger’s] black a—hole.” Williams can’t shut up and it seems inevitable that Woods and Scott will meet at some point this week. The first tee exchange alone would be worth watching.
A lot of people think the course is the greatest advantage for the International side. In 1998 the International team throttled the U.S. at this venue. It’s widely regarded as the best course in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s a beautiful, unique and challenging layout that’s going to look great on television. It also requires plenty of experience and local knowledge, something the Aussie-laden International side is full of. The story of many team competitions on foreign soil in recent years for the American side has been an inability to figure out the greens. The rest of their games are no longer so superior that it can carry them to victory. They have to putt well to win, and often times (at least in Ryder Cups) they have not.
The Veteran U.S. Players:
There’s some questions about the U.S. team’s current form. This isn’t the prime-time of the year for many American players and while the majority of them played last week, it’s likely they won’t all be razor-sharp. And, leading the list of question marks are long-time American stalwarts like Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker. Furyk had a dreadful year by his standards, Phil hasn’t put a solid week together in a long time and Stricker is getting over an injury to his neck. That of course, doesn’t factor in Tiger Woods, who may be playing the best of that foursome at this precise moment. There’s plenty of youth on the U.S. side, (Watson, Simpson, Watney, Mahan), but it might be the old guys who decide this thing.
The Fred vs. Greg Norman action is heating up a little bit. Norman was critical of Fred’s Tiger pick and then in true Fred fashion he said something like, “I don’t have any problem with Greg, but I could stand here and say Robert Allenby (a Norman pick) hasn’t won on the PGA Tour in 10 years.” So, there should be some good play between these guys and some good interviews. And, for as wishy-washy as Fred can appear he hasn’t wavered in his support of Woods, and his defense of the pick has become downright defiant. Don’t underestimate Tiger’s desire to validate Fred’s selection and the International team will be desperate to get Norman a win in his home country as well.
This isn’t the strongest International Team I’ve ever seen fielded. After an anticipated pairing of Ernie Els and Charl Schwartzel, the strength of the International team drops off a bit, especially when you factor in some of these guys’ records in this event (Ogilvy: 4-5, Scott: 8-10-2, Allenby: 8-13-3). The talent disparity swings heavily in the American’s favor the further you go down the rosters, but team formats have a way of erasing that and yielding to hot putters. I think Tiger is going to play great, and I think the Americans will be able to do enough in the 4-ball/foursomes portion to keep it pretty tight. In singles, there’s no way their depth doesn’t shine through. I’ll take the Freddie dynasty, 18-16.