On the face of it, the upcoming Presidents Cup looks to be another one-sided affair in which the veteran-laden USA team waltzes past an International squad packed with rookies.
The USA has a 7-1-1 record in the biennial match-play event that alternates with the more competitive Ryder Cup.
But, as with any sporting contest, there will be many surprises at Muirfield Village where the two teams will meet.
What the Presidents Cup lacks in the intensity and overt drama that characterizes the Ryder Cup, it could make up in outright, top-notch golf. The International team’s seven rookies will definitely have to play above their heads in order for their team to beat a USA squad with six top-10 players, but stranger things have happened on a golf course.
And that is why they play the game.
Here are some bold predictions for the Presidents Cup which is looking to emerge from the shadow of the Ryder Cup.
Down 9 to 13 on the final day of the 2011 Presidents Cup, the International squad clicked off four quick individual wins as it sought to rally its team to an upset victory.
It was not meant to be, as veterans Tiger Woods, David Toms, Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk closed the door on their competitors by winning out.
Match play is like no other event on the tour. A player with a hot putter can beat anyone at any time. It is sort of the equivalent of football credo, “On any given Sunday…” With that in mind, the undermanned International team has more chance to make this thing competitive than you may have originally thought.
There are a bunch of questions about how the International team with seven rookies will play on the world stage this time around, but it should be a lot of fun to watch and could even be quite competitive.
Should any of those newcomers get hot and create some early upsets, it could embolden their team and show them they have a real chance to win.
And the competition should heat up if Woods, Phil Mickelson and Stricker are pushed by the likes of Ernie Els, Angel Cabrera, Adam Scott and Charl Schwartzel, all majors winners.
Even more exciting will be a showdown between a few of the new players—say Hideki Matsuyama vs. Jordan Spieth or Jason Day vs. Jason Dufner—in a crucial round.
The International team definitely has its back against the wall going in and for that fact alone, the Presidents Cup could be equally high-quality golf and competition.
Tiger Woods will be looking for redemption. How could that be for someone who just won the Player of the Year award and who is coming off one of his best statistical performances in years? Oh, and he is also the No. 1 player in the world rankings.
Well, Tiger always looks for fuel to add to his fire, and the Presidents Cup offers him a chance to put to rest any questions about his status as the game’s best and most feared, and fearsome, player.
In match play, his record is somewhat of a mixed bag of success. He has won the Accenture Match Play three times and has only been bumped in the first round once. But his Ryder Cup experience has left him wanting. In 29 total matches, his record is only 13-14-2.
In the Presidents Cup, he has been more dominant, however, with a record of 20-14-1.
Tiger ended the season on a downtick. He had a very real chance to win the FedEx Cup but failed to rally at the end by tying for 22nd at the Tour Championship.
He now goes into the Presidents Cup with a bit of a chip on his shoulder. His desire to win could push him to new heights.
Look for him to dominate in both team and individual matches
Rookie of the Year Jordan Spieth has had a magical year and goes into the Presidents Cup riding higher than just about any player on the USA team. The 20-year-old won his first pro tournament earlier in the year at age 19, the youngest to win in 82 years.
He finished in the top 10 nine times, including three top-five finishes in his last five events of the year.
But, as 20-somethings go, he will meet his match in Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama. You may remember that at age 18, Matsuyama became the first Japanese amateur to compete in the Masters, where he was the low-scoring amateur.
Matsuyama is a seasoned competitor on the worldwide tour. He has won four times on the Japan Golf Tour and this year tied for 19th at the PGA Championship, sixth at the British Open and 10th at the U.S. Open.
It would be great to see him play head-to-head against Spieth, a match that could foreshadow future competitions between the two.
He is an aggressive player with a big swing who could surprise some people at the Presidents Cup.
Johnson has had an exceptional year that should carry over into the Presidents Cup.
Anyone who has watched the former Masters champ play, knows he is a sure-handed golfer with the easy-going temperament that suits match-play events.
This marks his third Presidents Cup team appearance. In 2009, he finished with a 2-2-0 record.
Johnson may be the hottest golfer on the USA squad with eight top-10 finishes in the last nine events. He won the BMW Championship and is now ranked 11th in the world rankings.
Johnson is one of those quiet guys who consistently hits the ball straight (he is eighth in driving accuracy percentage on the tour) yet knows how to win at the highest level.
He could easily be the surprise star of the USA team.
Ernie Els and Angel Cabrera could not be more different in their style and presence. You have the Big Easy from South Africa whose tempered stroke has not changed in 24 years as a pro. Then you have the gregarious Argentinean Cabrera who never met a fairway he couldn’t conquer with his powerful drives.
Together they account for six major titles. Cabrera has won both the Masters and the U.S. Open. Els has won the U.S. Open twice and the British Open twice. Both men, now in their 40s, have been in the top five of majors a number of times.
Both of these veterans will be called upon to lead their youthful teammates, and the best way to do that will be to win some matches.
While neither player has had the best of years, there is no substitute for experience and know-how.
You couldn’t ask for two more laid-back and confident pros to set the tone for their team. Together they provide a powerful source of accomplishment that will give them a leg up over any of their competition.
When Seve Ballesteros led his team to victory in 1987, the European team was winless on American soil in the Ryder Cup. But the fiery Spanish legend rallied, pushed and cheered his team to a 15-13 victory. It was a benchmark victory that led to years of great competition.
As the titular head of the International team, Adam Scott needs to channel a little Seve or even, dare we say, Ian Poulter. Both men are known for rallying the troops with impassioned excess.
We cannot expect the ever-calm Scott to leave his GQ pose, but a little fire could go a long way to help his team win.
We definitely saw some of that when he won the Masters this year and raised his arms and screamed exuberantly in relief as he knocked in his birdie on the 18th for the win.
If he can bring some of that passion to bear, who knows what it could mean for his team.
As rivalries go, the one between Mickelson and Tiger Woods has had its share of combative and uncomfortable moments. As fans, we love to watch the big lefty versus the wily uptight Tiger.
But what if they played alongside each other? How great would that be?
This could easily be Mickelson’s last appearance on the Presidents Cup. That is until he is named captain in a few years. So why not team him up with Tiger?
The USA has a boatload of talent on its team, so it probably won’t matter who gets matched with whom in terms of the final score.
The Presidents Cup is not the Ryder Cup when it comes to drama and watchability. If for nothing other than driving some more television ratings, Captain Couples should team up two of our favorites.
Wouldn’t you just love to see them smile and pat each other on the back for a change?
Now, that would be great golf and great TV.
One of the International team’s unknown factors will be the play of Oosthuizen, who has missed the last three majors due to injury.
He returns to play at the Presidents Cup, but it remains to be seen just how well he will be able to play.
Yet the man with the unpronounceable name also possesses one of the sweetest swings in golf. And that swing turned him into a winner at the British Open in 2010. The 31-year-old South African has only played in 12 events the entire year, missing the cut four times. If anyone is looking for a fresh start and a chance at proving himself, it is Oosthuizen.
Although a rookie on the Presidents Cup team, Oosthuizen brings a world of experience and the cool demeanor that match play demands.
This is not so much of a bold prediction as it is a necessity. If the International team is to survive, its seven rookies have to thrive.
That means guys like Marc Leishman and Brandon de Jonge, who are captain’s picks, will have to show why they made the team.
Canadian Graham DeLaet will have to keep hitting greens in regulation (he ranks third on the tour in this category).
Branden Grace has to bring some of the firepower that led him to six worldwide wins.
Richard Sterne, with one win this year, is at least familiar with Muirfield, where he finished in a tie for ninth at the Firestone.
Matsuyama and Oosthuizen will have to live up to their stellar resumes.
Being unknown and unheralded can work in their favor or they could cave under the pressure.
For the sake of the International team, let’s hope it’s the former.
To make things simple, fun and even dramatic, here are some bold matchups we would like to see:
Tiger Woods/Phil Mickelson vs. Adam Scott/Ernie Els: This is a powerhouse matchup. Els has been a thorn in Tiger and Phil’s side for so long and Scott is playing as well as anyone.
Jordan Spieth/Keegan Bradley vs. Hideki Matsuyama/Graham DeLaet: Four great young players showing off their stuff.
Charl Schwartzel/ Louis Oosthuizen vs. Hunter Mahan/Brandt Snedeker: A great matchup of four elite players in the prime of their careers.
Angel Cabrera vs. Jason Dufner: Two guys just out there having some fun.
Tiger Woods vs. Adam Scott: The two best players in the world go against each other.