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Presidents Cup Preview
Pundits are predicting that this week's Presidents Cup will be one of the tightest matches since the biennial event - played in the off-years of the Ryder Cup - originated in 1994. Many observers even say that the International team, which represents the rest of the world minus Europe, has a slight edge against a talented American squad.
They might be right, as the only International victory in 1998 came at the same venue as this year's Presidents Cup, Royal Melbourne Golf Club. Five of the 12 players on the International team are Australians and enjoy considerable experience at the classic 36-hole venue, which includes the Alister MacKenzie-designed West course - opened in 1931 - and the East course crafted by Australian golfer Alex Russell, which debuted a year later.
Format, Scoring & History
The format for the four-day Presidents Cup is similar to the Ryder Cup, with some slight twists. Unlike the Ryder Cup, which involves only three days of competition, all 12 players on each squad must play in the foursomes and four-ball matches (six each day vs. four in the Ryder Cup) on Thursday and Friday, and only two players will sit out the morning foursome and afternoon four-ball matches (five each) on Saturday.
Like the Ryder Cup, all players from both teams will participate in Sunday's 12 singles matches, making it a total of 34 matches over four days. Each match victory is worth a point; in the case of a draw (or halve), each team receives a half-point. The winning team must accumulate 17½ points to win the Presidents Cup.
The previous Presidents Cup at Harding Park Golf Course (now TPC Harding Park) in San Francisco was won by the U.S., 19½ to 14½. The team captains for those matches, Fred Couples for the Americans and Greg Norman for the Internationals, have returned to lead their respective squads in 2011.
Overall, the U.S. enjoys a 6½ to 1½ edge in the eight matches. The 2001 Ryder Cup matches were cancelled due to the 9/11 attacks. That tragedy pushed both the Ryder and Presidents cup matches back a year. The Presidents Cup is now held in odd-numbered years.
Similar to the Ryder Cup, there is no prize money awarded at the Presidents Cup. However, net proceeds go to charities selected by the players, captains and captain's assistants. The first eight Presidents Cups have generated over $23 million for charities worldwide.
The 2003 Presidents Cup in South Africa ended in a draw. After both teams completed regulation with 17 points apiece, U.S. captain Jack Nicklaus selected Tiger Woods and International captain Gary Player chose Ernie Els to represent their teams in a sudden-death playoff. After three playoff holes and the match still tied, darkness descended on the host course at Fancourt Hotel and Country Club Estate, leading the two captains - in the spirit of the competition - to decide that the two teams would share the cup.
In a change inspired by the 2003 Presidents Cup, if the match is tied at the end of the singles the competition will be deemed a tie and the teams will share the Presidents Cup.
Woods, selected by Couples as a captain's pick this year, is the all-time points' earner in the Presidents Cup. His record is 18-11-1; at Harding Park Woods compiled a 5-0 record.
Vijay Singh of Fiji is tied with Els for the most points of an International competitor with 16. Singh, who also holds the all-time record of 40 matches, is not playing this year and Els is a member of the International squad (he missed the 2005 matches at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Virginia while recuperating from knee surgery). American Phil Mickelson has played in every Presidents Cup match, 38 overall, just two shy of Singh's mark, which Mickelson should break this year.
The 2011 Presidents Cup matches will be played on a "composite" of the two courses at Royal Melbourne, which is located in an area known as the Sandbelt. The composite layout involves 12 holes from the West Course and six from the East. (For more background on the holes and International team member Geoff Ogilvy's analysis of the composite course, visit http://www.cybergolf.com/golf_news/interview_with_geoff_ogilvy_royal_melbourne_the_presidents_cup_golf_course_architecture.)
Because of recent storms that dropped over three inches of rain, some of the bunkers on the composite course were damaged. According to course superintendent Richard Forsyth, he has a sizable support staff that will make the necessary repairs before the event tees off Thursday. "We've got a large crew here and we'll be able to get them repaired," he said.
Fortunately, large hail that was part of the bad weather that struck the Melbourne area missed the course; otherwise the greens could have been damaged as well. Forsyth predicts that the recent rains "will help set up the course nicely."
Ten players on the American squad became automatic qualifiers through a points system. These players include: Matt Kuchar, Steve Stricker, Dustin Johnson, Webb Simpson, Nick Watney, Mickelson, Bubba Watson, David Toms, Hunter Mahan and Jim Furyk. In addition to Woods, Couples selected FedEx Cup champion Bill Haas as one of his two captain's picks.
Couples will be helped during the matches by captain's assistants John Cook and Jay Haas, Bill's father. Cook replaced basketball legend Michael Jordan, who withdrew from that role in early November due to the current NBA lockout (Jordan is the majority owner of the Charlotte Bobcats).
Couples is hoping some of the magic from 2009 rubs off on his current team. "Serving as U.S. Team Captain in 2009 was an incredible honor, and the week itself - the entire experience - was phenomenal," he told PGATour.com. "It was one of the best weeks of my life, including those I've competed in as a player. I knew as soon as the last putt dropped on Sunday in San Francisco that I would do this again in a heartbeat if I were fortunate enough to be asked.
"I'm looking forward to returning to Royal Melbourne, this time as a captain, and to have Greg Norman again as the International Team captain, in his home country, is going to be great for all of us involved, for the fans and for the Presidents Cup itself."
Norman's captain's assistants include South Africa's Tim Clark, a three-time competitor in the Presidents Cup, and Frank Nobilo. Nobilo, a Golf Channel analyst and a native of New Zealand, also played in three matches, including as a member of the victorious 1998 team.
The top-10 players earning a spot on the International team also qualified via a points system, though one that's different from the Americans. The 2011 International squad includes five Australians - Jason Day, Adam Scott, Ogilvy and Norman's two captain's picks, Aaron Baddeley and Robert Allenby.
The other seven members include South Africa's Charl Schwartzel, Retief Goosen and Els, South Koreans K.J. Choi, Y.E. Yang and Kyung-tae Kim, and 20-year-old Ryo Ishikawa of Japan.
Norman echoed Couples' sentiment for these biennial matches. "I've always said that some of my best memories in golf were playing in and winning the Presidents Cup in Australia in 1998," golf's "Great White Shark" told PGATour.com. "And then after the incredible experience of serving as captain of the 2009 event, that went to the top of my list. So to have the opportunity to be International Team captain once more and to return to Royal Melbourne to do so, it's beyond words how thrilled I am.
"Freddie and I are great friends, so to have him on the other side as captain on the other side makes it all the better. I think it will be a joy to go to my home country and a golf club that I'm a member and try to finally win the Cup back after 13 years. It will be an honor."
TV & Internet
The NBC Sports Group and Golf Channel will provide 51-and-a half hours of television coverage of the 2011 Presidents Cup, including broadcasting all four rounds live for the first time in history.
Despite Melbourne's 16-hour difference from the Eastern Time zone, Golf Channel will provide 28-and-a-half hours of live coverage - much of it in prime time - beginning at 9 p.m. ET with the opening ceremony on Wednesday, November 16. Some segments will be tape-delayed.
The home page for the Presidents Cup can be found at http://www.pgatour.com/tournaments/presidentscup/, with live scoring available at http://www.pgatour.com/tournaments/presidentscup/scoring/2011/.