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Is There Any Point to the Presidents Cup?

By: | Mon 11 Nov 2019

WITH Tiger Woods and Ernie Els confirming their captains’ picks for the Presidents Cup, the more cynical among us might be wondering what the point of the whole exercise is. It started in 1994, which just happened to coincide with the period during which Europe began to dominate the Ryder Cup and the Americans began to grow fed up with losing. But maybe that is just the view of a cynical old Scot.

The match features two 12-man teams, just like the Ryder Cup, although the format is slightly different. The USA take on an International team comprising players from every part of the globe other than Europe. And the Americans love it. Why? Well that’s pretty obvious really. It has been staged 12 times and they have come out on top 10 times, with one tie and a solitary victory for the Internationals.

And is there any reason to believe anything will be any different when the teams come face to face at the magnificent Royal Melbourne Golf Club in December? Before we answer that question, let’s look at the respective teams.

The USA will be captained by Tiger Woods. His team comprises Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Matt Kuchar, Xander Schauffele, Patrick Cantlay, Webb Simpson and Bryson DeChambeau, along with captain’s picks Gary Woodland, Tony Finau, Patrick Reed and, erm, Woods. Between them, they have won 24 majors. The team features the current Masters, US Open and US PGA champion. It doesn’t include Rickie Fowler, Kevin Kisner, Phil Mickelson…you get the picture.

And the Internationals? Hideki Matsuyama, Adam Scott, Jason Day,  Louis Oosthuizen, Abraham Ancer, Haotong Li, Marc Leishman, Cameron Smith, CT Pan, Sungjae Im, Adam Hadwin and Jaoquin Niemann. Total majors won? Three. That’s right - THREE. Scott, Day and Oosthuizen have each won one major, and you have to go all the way back to 2010 for Oosthuizen’s Open Championship success at St Andrews. And several of the team haven’t even managed to win a regular event on the PGA Tour.

The most recent match in 2017 ended in a 19-11 win for the USA, and there is no reason to believe things will be any different this time around. It says everything about the event that tickets are still available, although many have been sold since Woods announced his participation. He is, of course, creating a little piece of history by becoming only the second playing captain in the history of the event - the only other man to do so was Hale Irwin in the first staging back in 1994. And it is Woods’ appearance in the event that will generate the most interest. 

He went under the surgeon’s knife yet again after failing to make the elite 30-man field for the Tour Championship. And despite his fantastic victory at The Masters in April, when he finally won his 15th major, nobody gave him a prayer of making his own team as a participant. But they reckoned without the sheer willpower of this extraordinary athlete. He returned to action at the Zozo Championship in China and only went and won the thing against a world-class field. 

It is no secret that his team made it clear to him that they wanted him playing alongside them and it was no surprise when he picked himself. His record in the Ryder Cup may not do his talent justice, but the Presidents Cup is an entirely different matter. He has won more points in singles matches than any other player in the history of the event, winning six out of eight times.

Finau, who is regarded as the most likely partner for Woods, said of his captain's return to form and fitness: "It’s truly remarkable. I don’t think anyone could have seen this four or five years ago just when Tiger was going through those injuries. It’s truly unbelievable. When I played with him at the Masters this year, to see him win there was something I will never forget. It was quite special to be able to witness that. Obviously I was on the short end of the stick there as I was trying to win my own green jacket. 

"But to witness history and to see what he has battled through speaks to his perseverance and the type of person he is. Tiger is the ultimate competitor. He is almost like he has something to prove when he honestly doesn’t. But that just speaks to his character and how great he is. He didn’t feel like he deserved to be on the team until he proved it to himself with his recent win. When we talk about the greatness of Tiger, to me he has built his legacy through his play this past year. To have him as a playing captain is going to be special."

Initially, the event was meant to be held biennially in even numbered years, with the Ryder Cup being staged in odd numbered years. The cancellation of the 2001 Ryder Cup after the September 11 attacks meant that the Presidents Cup is now staged in odd numbered years and is  hosted alternately in the United States and in countries represented by the International Team.

The scoring system is matchplay with a format that closely follows the Ryder Cup, with foursomes, four balls and 12 singles matches. There have been several tweaks to the format over the years. It was extended from three days to four in 2000. In 2015, it was changed to nine foursomes, nine four balls and 12 singles matches. With a total of 30 points up for grabs, a team needs 15.5 points to win the cup.

Until the 2005 event, prior to the start of the final day matches, the captains selected one player to play in a tie-breaker in the event of a tie at the end of the final match. Upon a tie, the captains would reveal the players who would play a sudden-death match to determine the winner. In 2003, however, the tiebreaker match ended after three holes because of darkness, and the captains, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus, agreed that the cup would be shared. From 2005 to 2013, singles matches ending level at the end of the regulation 18 holes were extended to extra holes until the match was won outright. All singles matches would continue in this format until one team reaches the required point total to win the Presidents Cup. Remaining singles matches were only to be played to the regulation 18 holes and could be halved. Although this rule was in force for five Presidents Cup contests, no matches actually went beyond 18 holes.

The bottom line is that you can do whatever you want with the format but if you have two teams that are mismatched it will make little or no difference to the outcome. And what chance do Ernie Els’ side of victory in Melbourne? None. 

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Tags: tiger woods Presidents Cup PGA Tour

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