Hollywoodbets Sports Blog: PGA Tour: 2019 President’s Cup

PGA Tour: 2019 President’s Cup

Golfer lines up iron shot

It’s once again time for one of the most difficult events in world sport to market: The President’s Cup.  

The US PGA Tour | 2019 President’s Cup
Royal Melbourne Golf Club, Melbourne, Australia
Thursday 12 December - Sunday 15 December

This event is essentially the Golden Globes to the Ryder Cup’s Oscars. It is a biennial event that has failed to gain real traction due to the overwhelmingly one-sided nature of America’s dominance. The United States have won 10 of the 12 editions, with one tie and one defeat. The International side will clearly look to draw some confidence from that comprehensive 1998 victory at Royal Melbourne- this week’s host course. Who could possibly forget Maruyama’s epic performance, one that was echoed by Francisco Molinari in last year’s Ryder Cup? Despite all this, America did romp home to victory on this same course in 2011. 

This year’s event will be hugely amplified by the presence of Tiger Woods. This will be exacerbated by his dual role as player/captain. While not quite the omnipotent figure of Tiger past, the current Masters Champion is playing great golf and looks set to resume a decades-long rivalry with International captain Ernie Els. Four-time Major Champion is perhaps the one golfer who felt the emergence of Tiger most acutely. After winning those US Opens at such a young age, he looked set to dominate the top echelons of world golf alongside the likes of Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson. But Tiger came and defined a generation in his image. Having said that, the aura of Ernie Els is not to be underestimated.  He actually holds the course record around Royal Melbourne of 60. That should make him ideally suited to take on this seemingly insurmountable task. 

Wood and Els also shared one of the defining moments in President’s Cup history. They halved that breath-taking playoff in the 2003 edition, helping Gary Player to a share of the trophy alongside Jack Nicklaus in 2003. Few will easily forget the sight of Els matching Woods in the dwindling African sunlight. Royal Melbourne measures just a shade over 7,000 yards. It is a unique layout in that it features thirteen par 4’s, with three par 3’s and only two par 5’s. In theory, this should suit an International team that probably lacks the overall firepower of this imposing American outfit. 

Order of Play
Thursday: Five Four-Ball Matches
Friday: Five Foursomes Matches
Saturday Morning: Four Four-Ball Matches
Saturday Afternoon: Four Foursomes Matches
Sunday: 12 Singles Matches

The USA

Captain: Tiger Woods
Vice-Captains: Fred Couples, Zach Johnson, Steve Sticker
Team (with President’s Cup record)
1. Justin Thomas (3-1-1)
2. Dustin Johnson (8-4-2)
3. Patrick Cantlay (rookie)
4. Xander Schauffele (rookie)
5. Webb Simpson (5-3-2)
6. Matt Kuhcar (6-8-2)
7. Bryson DeChambeau (rookie)
8. Tony Finau (rookie)
9. Tiger Woods (24-15-1)
10. Gary Woodland (rookie)
11. Patrick Reed (4-3-2)
12. Ricky Fowler (4-3-1)

It would be stating the obvious to say that this is an extremely imposing side. The five rookies on show have respective world rankings of 7, 9, 13, 16 and 17. In fact, only Matt Kuchar ranks below the International’s top-ranked player in the world rankings. Adam Scott is currently ranked at 18 while Kuchar is ranked 22nd. America will be without the services of World Number One Brooks Koepka through injury. Woods would have been concerned when Dustin Johnson withdrew from last week’s Hero Golf Challenge. Johnson just received arthroscopic surgery on his left knee and was another potential withdraw. Woods is lucky to have a veritable smorgasbord of talent at his disposal. He was able to call in Ricky Fowler to replace Koepka. 

Strengths
It’s hard to really pinpoint individual strengths of this side. They clearly have an advantage in cohesion, with many of these players situated in America permanently. Furthermore, the added Ryder Cup experience means that they just play more team golf. The pressure cooker atmosphere of that event must make this ‘challenge’ pale in comparison. This side has an excellent balance of youth and experience and there’s obviously the Tiger factor. Many of the younger players in this side have been forged in the image of the iconic American. No one will want to disappoint the alpha-dog this week as the Americans aim to add to their legacy in this event. 

Weaknesses
This is certainly tougher. I guess it is impossible to completely divorce this event from the monolith that is the Ryder Cup. In the period of time that America have eviscerated the International team they have been dominated by the European side 9-3. This has certainly resulted in some scar-tissue along the way. Many eyebrows were raised when Tiger decided to put faith in Patrick Reed. Reed is brilliant at playing the archetypal villain, often becoming something of a demented mascot in this USA side. But the fallout of Le Golf National saw him openly question the decision-making process of Jim Furyk’s side. He bemoaned the fact that he and Jordan Spieth were not paired together after tasting success in the past. Tiger opted to choose firebrand Reed over the Texan Spieth. Tiger may have a tough time keeping all these significant egos in check. 

Key Players

Tiger Woods, Justin Thomas and Patrick Reed

Clearly, this week will be judged through the spectrum of Tiger Woods. Woods has been in inspired form of late and has always been a strong competitor in this event. Justin Thomas enters this event in great form, having tasted success in the CJ Cup on the Asian Swing. He also flirted with contention at last week’s event in the Bahamas. Thomas was the best performer for the States at last year’s Ryder Cup and will be a huge presence this year. Lastly, I can’t look past the burly presence of Patrick Reed.  Reed has been in terrific form of late, playing well all around the world. His recent conversion to International Man of Golf makes him a compelling presence during this away tie. He is also the heart and soul of the American juggernaut and will galvanize the American supporters. 

Possible Weak-links 

Matt Kuchar and Bryson DeChambeau

Matt Kuchar largely qualified for this event on the basis of a dominant first half of 2018. Perhaps one of the potential weaknesses of this American side is that their period of point accumulation dates back to the 2017 BMW Championship. This does leave the door open to slightly undercooked players. Furthermore, Kuchar is the only American player with a negative win-loss ratio in President’s Cup golf. And then you have the enigmatic figure of Bryson DeChambeau. He has been relatively quiet of late and had a simply disastrous outing at Le Golf National. He is a divisive figure who doesn’t seem to play well with others. 

The Internationals

Captain: Ernie Els
Vice-Captains: Mike Weir, Trevor Immelmann, KJ Choi, Geoff Ogilvy
Team (with President’s Cup record)
1. Mark Leishman (3-7-3)
2. Hideki Matsuyama (4-6-3)
3. Louis Oosthuizen (7-5-3)
4. Adam Scott (14-20-5)
5. Abraham Ancer (rookie)
6. Haotong Li (rookie)
7. CT Pan (rookie)
8. Cameron Smith (rookie)
9. Joaquin Niemann (rookie)
10. Adam Hadwin (0-2-1)
11. Sungjae Im (rookie)
12. Byeong Hun An (rookie)

One simple way to gauge the enormity of Ernie Els’ task is looking at their relative President’s Cup records. Matt Kuchar is the only American with a negative win-loss ratio in President’s Cup golf. Louis Oosthuizen is the only International with a net positive. The late withdrawal of former World Number One Jason Day was a devastating loss to Els. The Major Champion was primed to be a pillar of this side alongside Louis Oosthuizen and Adam Scott. The likes of Erik Van Rooyen and Justin Harding may have been hoping for a call-up from their fellow countryman. Byeong Hun An was a far more sensible choice and actually made me believe that the International side are in good hands. 

Strengths
For all the negativity surrounding rankings and points, this is still a very exciting, youthful side. Yes, there are many rookies. But perhaps the International side has put a little too much faith in established players over the years. Just look at the likes of Joaquin Niemann, Abraham Ancer and Sungjae Im. These are guys that are perennially atop PGA leader-boards. I think that Ernie may have been tempted to load his picks with fellow South Africans. I think he has smartly avoided this course of action and gone for immediate form. The three-man Aussie contingent - in conjunction with course master Ernie Els - could provide some penetrating insight into the challenges of Royal Melbourne. 
                                       
Weaknesses
This side has several issues outside of the obvious gulf in quality. The International side has always had to overcome the impression of forced camaraderie. This is their only real team-event and they often come far far-flung, disparate places. Just how much do CT Pan and Joaquin Niemann have in common? That issue of cohesion has been a perennial issue for the side. Another massive problem looking at the composition of their side is inexperience. Seven rookies are a large number and adds to the possibility of this side being starstruck.                     

Key Players

Louis Oosthuizen, Adam Scott, Sungjae Im
Former Open Champion and runner-up in all four Majors, Louis Oosthuizen is the class act in the international field. Oosthuizen is one of the most consistent players in Major Championship golf and is the only player with a positive win-loss ratio in the President’s Cup. He enters this event in exceptional form, finishing 3rd behind McIlroy and Schauffele at the WGC. He also finished runner-up in last week’s event in Australia. Adam Scott is a totemic figure in the side and the pride of Australia. If he plays well it could give some positive momentum to the side. Sungjae Im was the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year last season and will not be daunted going into this event. 

Possible Weak-links

CT Pan and Haotong Li

Haotong Li really qualified for this event on the basis of a hot 2018. His form this season has been largely unspectacular and it’s hard to see him being too competitive against the likes of Thomas and Schauffele. CT Pan is the first player to ever qualify for this side from Chinese Taipei. His recent form has been non-existent and I struggle to see him making a huge impression this week. 

The Verdict
The International side simply have to enter the singles matches with some form of advantage. It will be interesting to see how Ernie shuffles his deck. Will he split his marquee players or pair them for the maximum chance of picking up points? Ultimately, I think that America will win fairly comfortably. I think that the International side will perform slightly better than the Liberty National horror-show. But the Americans, led by the indomitable Tiger, are all set to dominate again. Look to Oosthuizen and Sungjae Im to be the most fiercely competitive of the International side.  

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