While it still lacks the immense prestige and vast history of the Ryder Cup, the 10th Presidents Cup promises to deliver the same level of intensity, pressure and quality play this weekend at Muirfield Village Golf Club.
The veteran and tested United States team looks to continue its dominance over the Internationals, who have managed to win just one of the previous nine matches between the two sides.
That victory came way back in 1998, and the Americans have won five matches since then, a run interrupted only by a tie in 2003.
The Americans won last year’s Cup 19-15 down in Australia.
This year’s team, which is led by captain Fred Couples for the third straight time, not only has home-field advantage but an edge in experience as well. The Nick Price-captained Internationals have seven rookies on its team compared to only a quartet for the United States.
While the advantage then would appear to be with the United States, competitions such as the Presidents Cup sometimes go against conventional wisdom considering the amount of passion and pressure they generate.
The four days of intense competition opens on Thursday with four-ball matches and runs through Sunday’s singles battles, which always generate great drama.
Whichever flag you follow, read on and get yourself ready for the competition as we preview key aspects of the latest installment of this growing international team rivalry.
As the host course to the prestigious Memorial Tournament every year, Muirfield Village is by no means a mystery to the 24 golfers that will compete in the 10th Presidents Cup this week.
In fact, those players know just how worthy the course is of hosting such an important international competition.
The Jack Nicklaus-designed Muirfield has been a fixture on the PGA Tour since 1976, challenging the game’s best players and crowning champions of the ilk of Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Greg Norman, Tom Watson and Nicklaus himself.
In addition to the Memorial, Muirfield has hosted multiple amateur and team competitions including the 1986 U.S. Junior Amateur Championship and the 1998 Solheim Cup.
In 1987 the club successfully hosted the prestigious Ryder Cup, proving along the way its ability to challenge the best players in the world in a such a significant event.
Now with the Presidents Cup, which returns to American soil for the first time in four years, Muirfield again has the opportunity to serve as the arena for the passionate and energetic golf that has been the staple of the event since it began in 1994.
With its unique design, it will serve as the perfect setting for match-play competition. Nicklaus built the course to include natural amphitheaters created by significant mounding that makes for optimal viewing areas throughout the layout.
Given that, the atmosphere around Muirfield Village is going to be electric, and there’s no doubt Nicklaus’ prized course is up to the task as the arena for that action.
The 2013 Presidents Cup will be played over four days, five sessions and in three different formats with both teams competing for a total of 34 points.
The competition will feature two sessions of foursomes, two of four-ball and then 12 singles matches to close the event.
While the four-ball and foursome matches can end in halves, the singles cannot. Any singles match tied after 18 holes will go to a sudden death playoff.
In the event of an overall team tie at the close of singles play, the competition will be considered a draw, and both sides will share the Presidents Cup.
It takes at least 17½ points to claim the Cup outright.
Thursday—Six four-ball matches
Friday—Six foursome matches
Saturday morning—Five four-ball matches
Saturday afternoon—Five foursome matches
Sunday—12 singles matches
With at least 27 hours of live coverage slated for the four days of the Presidents Cup, the passion, energy and excitement of the event will be witnessed by golf fans around the world.
The Golf Channel and NBC will combine to air all 34 contests of the 10th Presidents Cup, which begins at noon on Thursday with six four-ball matches and culminates late Sunday afternoon with the conclusion of the singles portion of the competition.
Only the most fortunate can be there live for the action at Muirfield. The rest of us, however, still have front row seats via television for four days of unbelievable competition this weekend.
Noon to 6 p.m. ET—The Golf Channel (four-ball matches)
1 to 6 p.m. ET—The Golf Channel (foursome matches)
8 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET—NBC (four-ball and foursome matches)
Noon to 6 p.m. ET—NBC (singles matches)
To call the still relatively brief history of the Presidents Cup a lopsided affair would be an understatement to say the least.
Just as the United States team has struggled in the more prestigious Ryder Cup, they've owned the Internationals, going 7-1-1 in their nine previous battles.
In fact, the U.S. hasn't lost a President’s Cup since 1998, a period covering six matches in the biennial event pitting the top U.S. golfers against international players from anywhere outside of Europe. The event is staged in non-Ryder Cup years.
The lone bright spot for the Internationals during that dominant United States run is a tie in the 2003 matches played in South Africa.
In a terrific show of sportsmanship, then-captains Nicklaus and Gary Player agreed to the tie when daylight expired with Tiger Woods and Ernie Els locked in a tie after three holes of a sudden death playoff.
Part of the United States dominance, which began with a victory in the inaugural matches in 1994, is due to its impressive captains who have led the way over the years. Hale Irwin captained that first team, and has been followed by legends Arnold Palmer, Nicklaus, Ken Venturi and Couples.
Couples is returning for his third tour of duty with the American squad this year and will be faced by Price, who is making his debut as captain.
Considering how much they've struggled in the Ryder Cup, it’s hard to figure out why the United States has dominated the Internationals so convincingly through the first nine matches of the Presidents Cup.
Yet with a 7-1-1 record in the history of the event, the Americans have clearly been the alpha dogs. That leaves this year’s edition of the International squad to prove they have what it takes to break through and win the Presidents Cup on U.S. soil for the first time ever.
Considering the Internationals have seven rookies on its 12-man team, that could prove to be a tall order indeed.
Five first-time players earned automatic bids to the squad, and then Price went against conventional wisdom and tapped two more rookies—Marc Leishman and Brandon de Jonge—as his captain's picks. Two other players—Jason Day and Charl Schwartzel—have only played in one previous Presidents Cup.
By contrast, the United States has only four rookies on this year's team, and two of those—Jason Dufner and Keegan Bradley—are major championship winners.
For Captain Couples, the glaring question is the form of the two biggest stars on his team. Both Woods and Phil Mickelson struggled down the stretch and throughout the FedEx Cup playoffs, and it’s fair to question how much is left in their respective tanks.
If those two players are in solid form this week, it will undoubtedly lift the energy and confidence of the American team and serve their playing partners well in both the four-ball and foursome matches.
If they continue to struggle, however, it will put added pressure on the bottom quarter of the team, which could prove difficult to overcome.
Fred Couples—United States
Nicklaus is never an easy act to follow, but it's safe to say that Couples has done a sterling job since succeeding the living legend as the three-time steward of the United States team.
Couples assumed the captaincy for the 2009 Presidents Cup at TPC Harding Park and promptly went out and led his squad to a convincing 19½ to 14½ victory over the Greg Norman-led Internationals.
He returned to the post two years later and again bested Norman as the Americans won their seventh Presidents Cup, 19-15 down in Australia.
For reasons even beyond those results, Couples is the ideal captain for this team. At the Ryder Cup, the Americans deal with a tremendous amount of pressure. Yet in the Presidents Cup things aren't quite as intense, and Couples’ laid back, easy-going nature is the perfect fit.
Nick Price—International Team
Price is undoubtedly one of the classiest golfers to ever play the game. The three-time major champion is also one of the most competitive, and the International team is likely to feed off that at Muirfield this week.
While he’s making his Presidents Cup debut as a captain, Price is well versed in the pressure and emotion that comes with the event. The South Africa native played on five International teams, including the 1998 edition that remains the only one to win the event outright.
Like Couples, Price is a smooth customer who will have the ear and the respect of his entire team. His presence won’t be nearly as overshadowing as Norman’s seemed to be the past two Cups.
Ultimately, his experience and strong voice will prove a great asset when the pressure builds over the weekend for his underdog team.
Adam Scott—The reigning Masters champion isn't the most outspoken or emotional golfer, but Scott needs to be the leader of this team inside the ropes.
The Aussie will look to improve on his 2011 showing in which he won only two points and finished the competition 2-3. This will be Scott’s sixth Presidents Cup.
Jason Day—Day challenged multiple times in majors this year and is quickly becoming one of the finest young players in the game. The 25-year-old is making his second President Cup appearance and looks to better his 1-2-1 outing two years ago in his home country.
Ernie Els—His best years may very well be behind him, but there’s no understating Els’ importance to this team. The four-time major champion is making his seventh start in the competition, and the Internationals will rely on his experience and steady hand in attempting to win the Presidents Cup for the first time ever on U.S. soil.
Charl Schwartzel—Of all the players on the International team, Schwartzel may well be the most dangerous. The South African was solid in the 2011 Cup, going 3-1-1 for the Internationals. Price is hoping for that same high level of play this week at Muirfield to lift his young team.
Angel Cabrera—Cabrera nearly won the Masters and played well at the British Open but wasn't much of a factor anywhere else. The Argentinian earned the 10th and final automatic spot on the team but will play a big role as one of only five players with Presidents Cup experience.
Louis Oosthuizen—The former British Open champion has had a difficult 2013 from a health standpoint but promises his neck and back issues are behind him. If that’s the case, watch out for Oosthuizen to make a big impact this week in his first Presidents Cup start.
Hideki Matsuyama—A terrific young talent from Japan, Matsuyama has the game to take this Presidents Cup by storm if Price can find the right partner for him to ease into the competition with. The 21-year-old posted top-10 finishes at both the U.S. Open and Open Championship this season.
Brendon De Jonge—One of two rookies taken with captain picks, De Jonge can get hot in a moment’s notice and has the power and accuracy to handle Muirfield Village. He led the PGA Tour in birdies in 2013, racking up 399 of them.
Richard Sterne—Talk about inexperience: Sterne has played only seven times on the PGA Tour this year. That said, in five of those starts the South African managed five top 25s. He could be one of those unknown players who makes a name for himself at his first Presidents Cup.
Marc Leishman—Price’s other captain’s pick, the talented Australian burst onto the scene earlier in the year by challenging for a green jacket. Now Leishman hopes to finish 2013 on a similar note as a key component to an International team victory at Muirfield.
Graham DeLaet—The Canadian had a coming-out party of sorts in the FedEx Cup by finishing in a tie for second at The Barclays and third the following week at the Deutsche Bank Championship. DeLaet’s shot-making skills and great attitude are perfect fits for the team competition.
Branden Grace—Yet another South African making a first start in the competition, Grace has only been a pro since 2007. The 25-year-old made 12 starts on the PGA Tour this year and missed the cut in five, but he did manage a tie for 18th at the Masters.
Tiger Woods—The 2013 Player of the Year is making his eighth Presidents Cup start and needs to regain his top form to give the Americans the best shot at winning.
Phil Mickelson—Lefty seemed to be running on empty at the end of the year and never really challenged after his Open Championship victory in July. Just as it does with Tiger, the United States needs a rejuvenated Mickelson to fully capitalize on its talent advantage over the Internationals. The five-time major champion is 18-14-10 in nine previous appearances in the competition.
Steve Stricker—Stricker played a limited 2013 schedule, so he should be among the fresher golfers during the four days of this competition. His putting is a huge weapon in four-ball and foursome matches, especially if he is paired with good friend Tiger, who has struggled lately on the greens. The popular golfer is 11-8-0 in four Presidents Cup appearances.
Matt Kuchar—The six-time PGA Tour winner is among the most consistent golfers on the PGA Tour and can be successfully paired with myriad of players. He will look to improve upon his first Presidents Cup two years ago in which he went 1-3-1.
Zach Johnson—The former Masters champion is a top-flight player by any standard, and on this loaded American team, his accuracy and solid short game will be well appreciated. Despite a 4-5 record in two previous Presidents Cups, Johnson enters this event in solid form after winning the BMW Championship just a couple of weeks ago.
Hunter Mahan—The Texan just missed being a part of last year’s Ryder Cup team, so his motivation to play well in this competition is sure to be elevated. While Mahan hasn't won this year, he’s played well in big tournaments and will be counted on significantly this weekend.
Webb Simpson—The first of two captain's picks by Couples, Simpson nearly made the team on his own and was a natural selection. The 2012 U.S. Open champion made his first Presidents Cup start two years ago and tallied three points in five matches for the winning team.
Bill Haas—The 2011 FedEx Cup champion looks to redeem himself after a poor 1-3-1 showing in his first appearance in the competition two years ago. Haas may be the toughest member of the team to predict. When he is playing well he can score with the best. When he struggles he can disappear quickly.
Jordan Spieth—Knowing he had a veteran-laden squad, Couples took the popular gamble of adding Spieth as a captain’s pick. The 20-year-old becomes the first-ever PGA Tour rookie to make the Presidents Cup, but the Texan has already shown he has the moxie to handle big-time pressure.
Brandt Snedeker—It’s really hard to consider one of the best American golfers over the past couple years a rookie, but that’s what he is in terms of Presidents Cup experience. Expect the 2012 FedEx Cup champion to play anything but like a first-timer at Muirfield.
Keegan Bradley—The former PGA champion might not have Presidents Cup pedigree, but he made for a strong pairing with Phil Mickelson in the Ryder Cup last year. Expect him to be paired with Lefty this week and to deliver some key points for the Americans.
Jason Dufner—A mere two months after winning the PGA Championship, Dufner gets an opportunity to shine on the team stage in his first Presidents Cup appearance. The unflappable golfer will be a steadying force on Couples’ team.
It’s fair to say that both the United States and International teams boast significant talent, especially in the top half of their impressive lineups.
That said, it’s hard to imagine seven Presidents Cup rookies coming to Muirfield and outplaying the deep, talented and experienced United States team, which has simply dominated the competition for nearly two decades.
Even the four American rookies have major championship or otherwise elite pedigree. That, coupled with the star power at the top of Couples' lineup, makes for a formidable opponent for the Internationals to say the least.
Factor in home-field advantage, and the recipe for an eighth United States victory is indeed a tasty one.
With its significant depth, the Americans clearly have the advantage in the singles portion of the competition, which will put pressure on the Internationals to forge a lead of some kind at the conclusion of the four-ball and foursome matches.
In the Presidents Cup, however, there are more of those matches than in the Ryder Cup, meaning it’s more difficult to hide struggling or overwhelmed players in critical sessions. That will prove difficult for Price to overcome as the matches wear on into Saturday afternoon.
Bottom line, it all adds up to an 18-15 victory for the United States and continued dominance over the Internationals at Muirfield Village.