Who will be paired with whom at the President's Cup?
If world rankings are any indication of strength, then the U.S. team conjures up Goliath to the International’s David as the two prepare to for their biennial meeting in the President's Cup at Muirfield GC in Columbus, Ohio.
The U.S. includes eight top-20 players in the world to the International’s three, and six of those Americans are in the top 10. Add to that the fact that the Americans hold a 7-1-1 record in the President’s Cup overall and you have all of the makings of a mythological slaughter.
This may sound like a mismatch, but hope reigns eternal for those who know how the biblical tale ended.
And that may be what the International squad is banking on: a youthfully exuberant team with the guts, energy and creativity to knock over the over-confident American behemoth.
This year marks the 10th time the two teams have played against each other in a format developed to give the world’s best non-European players an opportunity to compete in international match-play competition. The contrived but still entertaining event is basically an alternative format to the Ryder Cup.
The last time the two teams met veterans Jim Furyk and Tiger Woods led the charge as the team outscored its opponent 8-3 in foursomes, soundly beating their opponents by four points (19-15).
This year’s U.S. team, captained by Fred Couples, is spearheaded by Woods, Mickelson and Stricker with a bevy of hot players including the rising star Jordan Spieth, a captain’s pick who basically replaced Furyk.
Captain Nick Price’s International team has only this year’s Masters champ Adam Scott to lean on. That is not to say that majors winners Ernie Els and Angel Cabrera aren’t formidable, but there are seven first-time players on the team, the most in President’s Cup history, and it is a list of guys whom American golf fans barely know. If only Sweden was not part of Europe.
While the official pairings have yet to be made, herein lies a projection of best bets as the 2013 President’s Cup gets ready to tee off.
Maybe doughboy Dufner can loosen up the ever-rigid Tiger a bit. Meanwhile, Tiger’s putting, when on, should be able to offset Dufner, who is not the greatest in that area. (142nd in strokes gained putting on the Tour.)
This marks Dufner’s first time on the team, and of course, Tiger is a veteran at eight appearances.
Dufner, one of the game’s best shot-makers, should be able to get the ball close for Tiger and is also more consistent off the tee.
Although Tiger scored the winning individual round to get a win for the team in 2011, his paired team lost three of four matches. With five wins on the tour this year, he also ranks second in scoring average.
This could be a fun and highly rewarding team to watch.
This will mark Scott’s sixth appearance on the President’s Cup team and with it a mass of experience and success that will make his twosome tough to beat. Currently ranked second in the world, Scott has become very adept at putting the ball on the green in regulation, a category in which he is now ranked 11th on the tour. He also didn’t miss a cut this year.
Grace is a bit of an unknown, especially on American soil where he has played less than 30 times in three years with barely any notoriety or success. But, the 25-year-old South African already has six wins worldwide in his young career and should be a tough opponent.
Kuchar is this year’s Jim Furyk, an unspectacular, determined player who hits the ball consistently well from tee to green. In even the most stressful of situations, the ever-smiling Kuchar never looks rattled and rarely is. He is a seasoned vet who won the World Golf Championship-Accenture Match Play event this year.
Teamed with Snedeker, perhaps the best putter on the team next to Stricker, this steely pair could be unbeatable. Although he doesn’t have as much experience in match play as Kuchar, Snedeker won twice on the tour this year and finished in the top 10 nine times.
Leishman’s best finish this year was at the Masters where he tied for fourth. Not bad for the young Aussie with the big swing. A captain’s pick by virtue of some last-minute sharpshooting at The Deustche Bank Championship where he finished 13-under par, Leishman brings a whale of talent to the International team.
His youth will be offset by Schwartzel’s consistency and guile. Ranked 19th in the world, this marks Schwartzel’s second time on the International squad. He brings with it a solid year of play that includes five top-10 finishes and one of golf’s smoothest putting strokes. He finished 2-2 in the pairings last time around so he knows what to expect going into this match play event.
This is a no-brainer pairing since Mickelson and Bradley are not only friends but have competed together successfully in the Ryder Cup It was Bradley who secured the pair’s win with a clutch 15-footer on No. 15, followed by his now famous fist pump.
With the magical year that Mickelson has had (The British Open win, second at the U.S. Open, etc.), you could probably pair a high school golfer with him and they would win. But, Bradley, the 14th-ranked player in the world, is far from that.
In this relationship, it is the 27-year-old Bradley who may give his older counterpart a boost having finished in the top 20 in his last three events.
What do you get when you match up the leader in birdies on the tour in De Jonge and the fifth-ranked player in greens in regulation in Oosthuizen? A lot of chances at birdies and a tough team to beat.
While Oosthuizen is fighting some back and neck issues that left him without a win in 12 tour appearances, De Jonge had a consistently solid season in which he finished more than half of his 25 events in the top 25. Like his playing partner, he gives himself a lot of chances by hitting over 68 percent of his shots on the green in regulation.
This is not just a match of age and youth, but one that puts two very hot golfers together in an effort to blow away whomever they may face.
Stricker and Spieth tied for second at the Tour Championship and moved so rapidly and assuredly up the leaderboard on the last day, that only a steadfast Henrik Stenson was able to stave them off.
Stricker played the FedEx Cup as if he owned it with three top-five finishes in three events. In a truncated season, he finished second four times and currently ranks first in scoring average, second in birdie average, second in greens in regulation and third in driving accuracy.
Meanwhile, Spieth has been the rock star of the tour this year. He was an easy pick for Captain Couples. He won his first tournament at the age of 19 and followed that with a masterful FedEx Cup performance that included a tie for fourth at The Barclays and a 64 on the final day at the Tour Championship.
Both Stricker and Spieth make a good case for the idea that excellent golf is not a matter of age but of attitude.
You could describe this young and tremendously competitive team as lightening in a bottle. You just never know what you may get, but it has the ability to be very explosive.
There is little question that Day is one of the best money players out there despite not having won an event this year. But put him on the biggest stage and he performs like few others as shown by his third-place finish at the Masters, tie for second at the U.S. Open and tie for eighth at the PGA Championship. Oh, he came in tied for fourth at the recent BMW Championship.
Now match that with DeLaet, the Canadian who had a breakout season this year which included seven top-10 finishes. Moreover, he had some great stats including being third in greens in regulation and first in total driving.
Day will look to avenge his three losses in 2011 and, along with DeLaet, will be a force to be reckoned with.
Playing in 23 events that resulted in four top 10s and 13 top-25 finishes, including a playoff loss at the RBC Heritage, Simpson continues to move up the pro golfing ranks. One of six rookies on U.S. Presidents Cup team in 2011, he posted 3-2-0 record for the victorious squad captained by Fred Couples
He would be a natural pairing with fellow Wake Forest alumnus Bill Haas, who, despite being one of the younger guys on the team, is a proven champion and the 2011 winner of the FedEx Cup. A captain’s pick on the 2011 team, he finished 1-3-1 for the United States Presidents Cup squad.
In Cabrera, we have one of the most gifted golfers but one who is also a bit of a wild card. Entering his fourth President’s Cup he brings experience and knowledge but being the only Spanish-speaking player, it may be difficult for him to share his expertise. So he will have to do it on the course.
A consummate gambler with a powerful swing, Cabrera is no stranger to the tension that goes with playing on the most visible stage. With 51 professional wins, including a Masters and a U.S. Open, he obviously has the game that can match any type of course.
While the South African Sterne makes his inaugural appearance on the International team, he brings stability to his pairing via a final-round scoring average of 69.5 which would rank him sixth on the tour, if he qualified.
Last time around, Mahan was teamed successfully with Haas at the President’s Cup in 2011.
Teaming Mahan with Johnson puts a long hitter with a pinpoint ball-striker. Mahan, who will appear on his fourth President’s Cup team, averages over 290 yards off the tee, but Johnson will provide accuracy when you need it, as he is ranked eighth in driving accuracy on the Tour. He is also 15th in greens in regulation. Mahan is a former Accenture Match Play champ as well.
Johnson has had a great year, finishing in the top 10 in seven of his last eight tournaments, including a decisive win at the BMW Championship. He brings a ton of momentum to Muirfield and should provide a nice balance to Mahan’s go-for-it mentality.
Els, at 43, and Matsuyama, at 21, are actually not that far apart when it comes to their performances this year. The ageless Els included a tie for 13th at the Masters and tie for fourth at the U.S. Open. Matsuyama also performed well at the majors, including a tie for sixth at the British Open and a tie for 10th at the U.S. Open.
This will be Els eighth President Cup appearance and, as we know, he brings calmness and confidence with him that will help balance his young playing partner’s naiveté. But Matsuyama also brings the self-assurance that comes with four wins on the Asian circuit.