Cup hosts are heavy favourites

International golfer Hideki Matsuyama practising on the putting green at Liberty National. He is the team's best ranked at world No. 3.
International golfer Hideki Matsuyama practising on the putting green at Liberty National. He is the team's best ranked at world No. 3.PHOTO: REUTERS

Star-studded US have won every home Presidents Cup and rivals need spark to avoid another loss

NEW YORK • The International team have little choice but to embrace the role of underdogs as they take on a formidable United States side in golf's Presidents Cup starting tomorrow.

On paper, the Americans should be far too strong at Liberty National in New Jersey for a global team lacking the depth of their opponents.

The American players have an average world ranking of 15.5, compared to 31.5 for the Internationals, a team comprised of non-European players. All 12 Americans are ranked in the top 30 globally, led by world No. 1 and No. 2 Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth.

The International team, an eclectic mix of players, have only two ranked in the top 10, Japanese No. 3 Hideki Matsuyama and Australian No. 7 Jason Day.

"I think the International side need a spark," said former PGA Tour player Brandel Chamblee, now a Golf Channel analyst. "They need to find something that makes them collectively better than they are individually.

"On paper the US side are so demonstrably better in every single facet. The world ranking, they're more than twice as good. They're twice the ball strikers the International side are and by far more than twice the putters. So they (the Internationals) have a lot of hurdles."

Add the US advantage of being the host country and one can make the case for a potential rout.

The Americans are 9-1-1 since the event was created in 1994, including a perfect 6-0-0 at home. Only two of those six competitions were close, the Americans holding a cumulative 31-point advantage - 1141/2 to 831/2.

So what can the Internationals do? Captain Nick Price, who returns this year for his third time at the helm, made one step in the right direction when he successfully lobbied the PGA Tour two years ago to reduce the number of matches from 34 to 30 for the event in South Korea.

This allowed the International team to hide their weaker bench, and the move almost worked, with the Americans squeaking home by one point.

"If I were Nick Price I'd be talking about what a year this has been in terms of upsets," said Chamblee, citing Donald Trump's victory in the US presidential election, Britain's vote to leave the European Union, and South Korean Kim Si Woo's victory at the Players Championship.

"Marc Leishman could be the spark this International side needs," continued Chamblee, referring to the Australian who won the BMW Championship a week ago.

Australian and South Africans have traditionally comprised the backbone of the team, and this year will be no exception, with the two countries having three players each in the 12-man line-up, along with one player apiece from Japan, South Korea, India, Canada, Argentina and Venezuela.

But the Internationals have not been able to post the victories that the Europeans routinely have over their American rivals in the Ryder Cup.

"The freedom with which the US team have played the Presidents Cup compared to the Ryder Cup has been glaring to me," said former world No. 1 David Duval, who played on three US Presidents Cup teams.

Added Chamblee: "On paper, this might be one of the best teams ever assembled in terms of talent."

REUTERS

PRESIDENTS CUP

Day 1: Ch112/205 & 76.25MHz, Friday, 12.30am

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 27, 2017, with the headline 'Cup hosts are heavy favourites'. Print Edition | Subscribe