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David verses Goliath at Presidents Cup?

(Photo: Bruce Young)
While the Presidents Cup has not yet reached a crisis point it is clear that this year’s event could well provide the catalyst for the event’s ongoing success or otherwise.

With just one victory and one shared result in its first ten stagings, it is important for the International side to at least do well if the event is to be seen as a genuine enough contest for it to develop the world wide interest it should attract.

It is true that the Ryder Cup took as long as 55 years to become a genuine contest but given the different dynamic that exists in world golf in the modern day the expectations on the Internationals to successfully challenge the Americans are now greater.

This year the Jack Nicklaus designed Jack Nicklaus Golf Club in Incheon near Seoul in South Korea plays host and that fact alone might help neutralise some of the American’s advantage. Mind you that thought was prevalent when the two sides clashed at Royal Melbourne four years ago and the Americans won convincingly.

Such is the changing nature of world golf, namely that Americans travel more widely now than ever before, that they are competing on foreign soil is hardly a disadvantage to them.

It is true that the Internationals will have the advantage of greater support than the US side purely through the geographical make-up of their side and if they can build momentum from early success on day one then it might go a long way to carrying them to one of their better results if not victory.

On paper however the US side is significantly stronger in terms of their collective standing in the game.

Four players on each side have won major championships, some more than one, but the current world ranking highlights the gap in terms of strength of the respective sides.

Five of the Americans (Jordan Spieth, Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson and Zach Johnson) are inside the world top ten verses only one of the Internationals (Day) but it is across the board where the glaring difference comes.

All twelve of the Americans are inside the top thirty in the world verses only five of the International side and two of the Internationals are outside the top fifty.

That the event is being played on a very American style golf course provides no real advantage for the Internationals despite being played in an environment rather foreign for the Americans.

Jason Day summed up his thoughts on the golf course yesterday, further confirming that it is unlikely to advantage the Internationals. “I think it's good,” he said. “I guess it's not a traditional Korean golf course. It's kind of tighter. Out-of-bounds, kind of everywhere and then the greens are elevated a little bit. Here it's more traditional; it feels like America with how the layout is.

“It's definitely long. I mean, it's traditional kind of Nicklaus course where it's a little forgiving off the tee box, a little more forgiving off the tee box, and kind of deadly if you short-side yourself.

“So it's position and second shots are crucial, into these kind of greens, because it is -- there's a lot of undulation on the greens and they are very difficult. So it's going to be hard if you're not hitting it straight."

Having assessed the relative merits of the sides we only have to look at the recent Solheim Cup to realise that strength on paper does not always equate to success on the golf course. Sure the Americans won in Germany but taking a four point lead into the final day singles as was the case with the Europeans would be a dream come true for the International side. It would take a monumental comeback by the Americans if that was to be the case.

Sometimes in events such as these it is a case of a champion team challenging a team of stars and perhaps this week’s battle is essentially such a contest with the Internationals needing to gain an advantage in the early four ball and foursome matchups much of which can be generated by the selection of good combinations.

The lessening of the amount of points available with the dropping of two fourball matches and two foursomes matches is being promoted as a possible advantage for the Internationals but history has shown that the Americans have not been too disadvantaged in the early phases of the contest.

Day sees it a little differently. “I mean, it's just -- with the old points system, you strike lightning in a bottle, you're going to win one of the times. But with the new points structure, hopefully that makes it a lot closer. And not only for us as competitors, but for fans watching, for media watching, for people watching around the world, no one wants to see it be done Saturday afternoon and then the single rounds mean nothing.”

The most experienced player in the International side is Adam Scott who will be playing his 7th Presidents Cup but the Australian has not played competitively since the Barclays some six weeks ago. Scott has also switched back to the short putter after a brief trial period earlier in the year so there is a bit working against him in a return to the tournament scene. His experience and class will carry him a long way however.

The Internationals have their strongest ever contingent of Asian born players namely Hideki Matsuyama, Thongchai Jaidee, Anirban Lahiri, Danny Lee and Sangmoon Bae. Whether that works to their advantage of otherwise remains to be seen but Matsuyama, Jaidee and Lee have been in great form of late and add a great dimension and new look to the side.

I can’t see the Internationals winning this week but in what is shaping as a David and Goliath battle there might be the opportunity for the home side to at least to make this a greater contest than many are predicting.

For the sake of the event’s future they need to.

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