Golf: Australia chase back-to-back World Cup titles, England and Scotland picks draw flak

MELBOURNE (AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE) - Australia go in search of back-to-back golf World Cup wins in Melbourne this week at an event tinged with controversy over team picks by England and Scotland.

The last time it was held in 2013, it was was primarily an individual tournament, with a 60-strong field featuring two players from each country participating in 72 holes of strokeplay.

World No. 1 Jason Day won the individual title for Australia, while he and Adam Scott clinched the team portion for the best aggregate score.

This year it returns to 28 two-man teams playing 72 holes of stroke play. The first and third days will be the foursomes and the second and final days the four-ball play.

Day is a no-show due to a back injury, leaving Scott to defend the title with Marc Leishman at Melbourne's Kingston Heath Golf Club.

"I'm extremely excited about playing in the World Cup of Golf with Adam," said Leishman of his unexpected call-up.

The event has enticed many of the top 50 with US$8 million (S$11.4 million) in prize money, including No. 7 Scott and two of the sport's hottest golfers - Japan's sixth-ranked Hideki Matsuyama and Sweden's world No. 9 Alex Noren.

Matsuyama has won three of his last four events while Noren has been a winner four times this season.

The United States are expected to be in the hunt on Sunday, with Ryder Cup hero Rickie Fowler and reigning US PGA Championship winner Jimmy Walker.

The build-up has seen controversy with England's Chris Wood and Scotland's Russell Knox both drawing criticism for their choice of playing partners.

Former world No. 1 Lee Westwood had his flight for Melbourne booked after being picked to be the England team-mate of US Masters champion Danny Willett.

But when Willett withdrew because of a back injury two weeks ago, the chance to fly the flag for England went to the next-highest player on the world rankings in Wood. He chose Andy Sullivan, leaving Westwood reportedly fuming.

Wood said he could understand Westwood's frustration to a point.

"But it was Dan (Willett) who pulled out that affected him. It had nothing to do with me," Wood said on Tuesday.

"Dan had the choice to pick a few months ago and he looked past the likes of myself, Andy Sullivan and Matthew Fitzpatrick to pick Lee. And I'm sure all of us were a little bit frustrated by that, but nothing was made of it.

"I've gone down the rankings and Sulli was the guy behind me and that was the right way to do it, I believe."

The same is true for Knox, whose choice of close friend Duncan Stewart as partner also raised some eyebrows on the European scene.

"I could pick anyone in the top 500 in the world and I did," said Knox, who has won twice on the PGA Tour in the past 12 months. "I don't really care what other people think."