By Ryan O’Sullivan, Rotoworld
The 10th edition of the Presidents Cup will take place at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio. The United States holds a 7-1-1 advantage. Fred Couples is back for his third lap as captain of the U.S. side, with Nick Price taking the helm for the International Team for the first time.
On paper, the United States appears loaded and ready for an eighth victory. The Yanks boast a roster filled with returning stars, along with some youthful flavor. The International Team will have its hands full.
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We will take a look at individuals on each roster, as well as explore potential pairings and make sense of just how big of a favorite this U.S. Team should be.
United States Team (in order of points)
Tiger Woods … He enters his eighth Presidents Cup with a 20-14-1 record and will be counted on as a leader for the U.S. squad again this time around. Worth noting, his record at Muirfield Village in the Memorial has been excellent over the years, so the course should suit his eye just fine. He has previously enjoyed playing with Steve Stricker, but the twosome flopped in the 2012 Ryder Cup so that could fizzle out. Jordan Spieth would make an interesting partner at some point, and don’t count out a Jason Dufner, Matt Kuchar, Hunter Mahan or Bill Haaspairing. Woods played in a group with Dufner and Kuchar during Tuesday’s practice round.
Brandt Snedeker … It’s hard to believe but this marks his first Presidents Cup venture. It would likely be hard to find a bad partner for the smooth putter, but Zach Johnson jumps off the table as a potential natural fit. Sneds paired with Furyk at the Ryder Cup last year, so without Furyk on the team we are left to guess. He went out in a foursome with Hunter Mahan, Webb Simpson and Bill Haas on Tuesday, which could be telling. That’s a foursome of guys in a similar age bracket and at similar stages in life.
Phil Mickelson … It’s no secret that Couples will trot out a Mickelson-Keegan Bradley pairing on at least one occasion, but don’t be surprised to see Lefty expand his mentorship to other youngsters. Jordan Spieth got an invite to the practice round cash game at the TOUR Championship, and that would fit Mickelson’s interests. Snedeker would also offer a potential power pairing. If he comes close to replicating his 3-0 record in partnered events at the Ryder Cup, it could be all the Americans needs to extend the gap to a victory.
Matt Kuchar … I can’t envision a bad pairing existing for him. He’s played a good bit with Dustin Johnson in both Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup competition, but DJ didn’t make the team. He paired with Bill Haas in 2012 as well as Steve Stricker, but joining Tiger Woods in a Tuesday practice round alongside Jason Dufner could be a tip as to Couples’ thoughts. Seriously, there isn’t a bad play when it comes to Kuchar.
Jason Dufner … He could easily find himself in some high-profile pairings. It would make sense to stick Keegan Bradley with him if and when Bradley takes a break from Mickelson. Duf is not a bad fit for Woods, and would slide in just fine with a Snedeker or a Kuchar pairing. Perhaps most likely is that he reunites with his 2012 Ryder Cup partner Zach Johnson. The duo went 2-1 last year at Medinah.
Keegan Bradley … As mentioned above, we know he’ll see time with his buddy Mickelson, and a Dufner pairing seems like comic relief waiting to happen. If it gets past that, how about letting him run out with Jordan Spieth and fire at the flags all afternoon in a glimpse of the new U.S. guard? As long as he’s winning points with Mickelson and the outcome of the Cup is in doubt, I don’t know that Couples does too much experimenting with this one.
Steve Stricker … The semi-retired veteran made the team on merit, but has questions to answer after a poor showing at the Ryder Cup last year. He seems to be the anointed veteran set to groom Jordan Spieth for his first minutes of action, but I don’t know that Couples will or should limit Spieth to just Stricker. Stricks won a point with Kuchar in 2011, so Couples could easily go back to that well again, and at least one lap around Muirfield Village with Tiger should be in the cards as well, if not just for ole time’s sake. No matter who he’s with, Stricker has a point to prove after last year’s Ryder Cup.
Bill Haas … Earned his way onto the team on merit for the first time after beating out Keegan Bradley for a Captain’s Pick in 2011. Haas went 1-3-1 that year, picking up a halve with Nick Watney and a win with Hunter Mahan. Mahan makes sense as a potential partner and his Wake Forest brethren, Webb Simpson, also would seem a natural pairing. Those three along with Snedeker shared a Tuesday tee time in a practice lap, further solidifying that line of thought. Though a veteran on TOUR at this point, Haas is still relatively new to International competition so he could also earn a pairing with a veteran like Woods or Stricker.
Hunter Mahan … Loves match play and all signs point to him spending some time with Haas, Simpson and Snedeker in competition. Of all the players on the team, Mahan is the type of player that could get hot and ride a wave of momentum to three or four points in a hurry.
Zach Johnson … Missed Tuesday’s practice round due to arriving late after a bout with the flu, but is expected to be recovered for Thursday. He teamed with Dufner three times in the 2012 Ryder Cup, amassing a 2-1-0 record, making that a likely replication. As with most players on this team, the options for ZJ are nearly limitless.
Webb Simpson … He and Bubba Watson have been attached at the hip in team competitions, but Watson didn’t make the squad. (Simpson needed a captain’s pick.) Without putting much thought into it, the natural tendency would be to match him with a fellow Wake Forest Demon Deacon, Bill Haas. Judging by the two playing in the same foursome along with Mahan and Snedeker on Tuesday, that seems exceedingly possible if not likely.
Jordan Spieth … The only player on the U.S. squad without any Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup experience, and Spieth may be the hottest. He was rewarded for his form with a captain’s selection. He replicated his foursome in a practice round at East Lake on Tuesday at Muirfield Village, joining Bradley, Mickelson and Stricker for a game. It’s almost inevitable at this point that he starts out under the wing of Stricker, but any of the other members of that foursome could easily find themselves with the 20-year-old.
Captain Fred Couples … In his third stint as captain of the ship, he’s a proven winner. His mission this week is right down his alley. He has a stable of favorites, so he just needs to stay out of their way and not overthink scenarios. And let’s face it, when has Couples ever been accused of over thinking anything?
U.S. Team Summary
This team is loaded with a healthy combination of youth and experience. Included are six major winners, including the reigning Open Champion and PGA Champion, and seven members off the 2011 winning Presidents Cup team. Every member of the team is a PGA TOUR winner. They will play on their home turf and they will retain the Cup. The only question is the margin.
International Team (in order of points)
Adam Scott … It wasn’t all that long ago that Greg Normanmade Scott a highly controversial captain’s pick in an effort to boost his confidence and spur him on to the greatness for which he was destined. It worked, as the Masters champ is the anchor of an International squad that lacks depth and experience. How captain Nick Price arranges his pairings could get interesting. He could put his best players together in an effort to go all in on certain matches and hope for the best on others, or he could spread his stars out. Angel Cabrera is a rumored partner, and any other Aussie would work out just fine as well.
Jason Day … It seems problematic that the second player on the International Team has exactly one PGA TOUR win, but such is the challenge of Price’s team. Still, Day has big-time game and could usher along Marc Leishman,Graham DeLaet or make for a power pairing with Scott.
Charl Schwartzel … It seems logical to think that the five South Africans and the lone Zimbabwean will spend plenty of time together. His likely pairing will come down to strategy. He could play with Oosthuizen in a pairing that putts a bunch of eggs in a few baskets, or Schwartzel could be called upon to develop Branden Grace or Richard Sterne. If I’m Price, I stick him with a rookie in the first set of matches on Thursday and adjust from there.
Ernie Els … The Big Easy is the perfect guy to introduce Brendon de Jonge to International competition. Given de Jonge struggles in pressure situation on the PGA TOUR (a/k/a every weekend round when in contention), Els could play Phil Mickelson to de Jonge’s Keegan Bradley. Really, what’s the risk? If it doesn’t go well, there are four other South Africans that will suit him just fine later in the weekend.
Louis Oosthuizen … The million-dollar question is the health of the 2010 Open Champion, forced to bail on parts of the PGA TOUR season in the heart of the year. For the International Team to have any chance of keeping this close, let alone winning, King Louis has to be a major factor. Branden Grace makes plenty of sense, but if Price gets desperate for a point then his buddy Schwartzel will be his mate.
Hideki Matsuyama … There always seems to be one guy that doesn’t have a natural partner in team competitions. He’s that guy. It has nothing to do with his ability, but more what is perceived to be a comfortable fit. He played withAdam Scott on Tuesday morning, which could be a hint, but there are plenty of directions Scott’s coattails could be tugged. Els is a veteran that has teamed with Ryo Ishikawa in the past, so that’s another possibility. Whatever the pairing, captain Price needs him to bring his A-game.
Branden Grace … A Presidents Cup rookie, the South African spent a little time in the U.S. for some of the bigger events in 2013 and never really made much noise. That inability to adapt could be problematic, and this is where the International Team’s lack of depth begins to show up in the standings. It’s possible that he will be thrust into action with Richard Sterne in a “hope for the best” scenario, or he could be under the wing of a Schwartzel, Oosthuizen or Els.
Graham DeLaet … Perhaps the most intriguing rookie on Nick Price’s team, he’s played more than his fair share of golf on the PGA TOUR the last few years and has steadily increased his stock. He’s on the short list of players expected to pick up a breakthrough win in the very near future, and this stage could be a major stepping stone. He has length to spare, which is generally good at Muirfield Village. He could be the International answer to Hunter Mahan, and would likely fit in well with a broad range of partners.
Richard Sterne … A virtual carbon copy of the Grace breakdown, as he has little success on American soil and is making his Presidents Cup debut. Price could do worse than sticking the two South African rookies together and watching to see what happens.
Angel Cabrera … This format would seem to suit the Argentine, as he possesses a little bit of an all-or-nothing flair. Played with Marc Leishman in a practice round early in the week, so Cabrera could introduce the captain’s pick to team play on Thursday, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in a higher-octane pairing on Saturday if the International Team is in the thick of contention. Maybe even Adam Scott.
Brendon de Jonge … He’s Price’s boy (and captain’s pick), much like Greg Norman took Adam Scott under his wing in the past. The expectation would be that Price would protect de Jonge early in the week, and his practice round with Ernie Els on Tuesday supports that line of thought. Going for de Jonge are his years of experience on the PGA TOUR and his ability to make plenty of birdies, but his stomach for the big moment is a massive question.
Marc Leishman … Unlike de Jonge, this captain’s pick does own a PGA TOUR win and has dipped his toe into major championship contention. He was part of the Aussie surge, along with Jason Day, when Adam Scott slipped on the green jacket at Augusta National. Like de Jonge, Leishman offers plenty of PGA TOUR experiences which is a plus since Muirfield Village is a TOUR stop. Mentioned above, his practice round with Cabrera serves as a peek into Price’s mind. Not only is Cabrera a seasoned potential mate, but they have similar games, as each play long.
Captain Nick Price … In his first International Team Captaincy, he has a tall task. He is outmanned on enemy soil and can’t afford a misstep. His philosophy of sending out big guns in tandem versus splitting up his veterans to guide the rookies will prove pivotal. He must have his finger on the pulse of his team from the time the first ball is in the air on Thursday and be able to adapt to what’s working and what isn’t. He also may have to make the tough call on sacrificing a point by sending two slumping players out together for the greater good, rather than potentially jeopardizing two points.
International Team Summary
Standings out, is that only six of his players have won on U.S. soil (Scott, Day, Schwartzel, Els, Cabrera and Leishman). Of those, Day, Schwartzel and Leishman each have just one career win. Further, only Scott won in the U.S. this season. If you are holding a flag that isn’t red, white and blue, that should be a scary thought. To have any chance, this team will have to be exactly that. A team. They must embrace their underdog status and depend solely on each other. In the end, it just won’t be enough.
There are 34 points on the line this week, and a U.S. squad that wasn’t quite as deep won 19-15 two years ago in Australia. It’s hard to think they won’t perform at least that well at home against a squad with serious depth issues. Only four players return off that aged International Team, which could be a good or a bad thing. I’ll swing one more match the Yanks way, and say Team U.S.A. wins it 20-14.
Normally I close with “best of luck to all,” but this time it’s “GO U.S.A.”
Ryan O’Sullivan joined Rotoworld in 2012. The Clemson grad blogs as The Golf Aficionado.