Can Greg Norman inflict a rare Presidents Cup defeat on the USA? Rob Lee previews a tight match...
Last Updated: 16/11/11 10:32am
The Presidents Cup may not have the intensity of the Ryder Cup, but there's no doubt it's a big deal.
The PGA Tour certainly takes it very seriously and they're hoping it provides an alternative to the Ryder Cup for the international players on their Tour. The Americans have only lost once in the 17 years it has been held with their only defeat coming in 1998 at Royal Melbourne, the venue for this year's competition.
The International team is very strong this year and their captain Greg Norman has been very shrewd in ensuring that five of their players are Australian. Jason Day, Adam Scott and Geoff Ogilvy all qualified by right and he chose Aaron Baddeley and Robert Allenby as his wildcards, which should give the crowd plenty of green and gold to shout for.
Those five Australians will know the Royal Melbourne course backwards so that's a definite advantage. It's a wonderful course too and if the greens stimp at 14, as has been suggested, then they could end up being ridiculously fast. Knowledge around here will definitely help.
The fact that five of the 12 are from the same country should help team spirit too, but to be honest these players should all know each other pretty well from playing on the PGA Tour. I don't expect national divisions to be an issue.
Scott and Day are both inside the world's top 10 and there's no doubt they will be two of Norman's talismen. I suspect they will both play every day and not only are they the local heroes, but they're the in-form - and highest ranked - players of the International group.
However, everyone plays on the opening two days, so you can't hide anybody if they're not playing well. The whole squad will need to contribute if the International side is to triumph.
And it would be nice if they could finally pick up a rare win in a competition that the Americans always seem to win. In fact, this shows you just how good the Europeans are and it's about time the rest of the world pulled their fingers out!
On the American side people have questioned whether Tiger Woods deserved one of Fred Couples' wildcards, but as a spectator I think you would always want him to play.
If this event is to gain momentum worldwide then it needs Woods, rather than someone like Keegan Bradley. The Golf Channel's viewing figures were tremendous last weekend because Woods was in contention and he's still the guy who makes people sit up and take notice.
He's still box office and I'm sure Couples had that in mind. Plus he finished third last week so isn't playing too badly either.
It's often been levelled against him that he doesn't do so well in team events, but I don't think you should read too much into someone's record in matchplay golf. Sometimes you can shoot 65 and be the second best player or pairing of the day, but you still end up on the losing side. Furthermore, in team matchplay your record can be at the mercy of your playing partner.
You'd have to ask the US team members how well Woods fits in to the group - it's difficult to speculate on that from afar - but he was very impressive at the last Ryder Cup, winning his singles match in style against Francesco Molinari.
All Tiger needs to do these days is get back to playing golf and not worry about what people think of him. He can't change what's happened in his life, but he can do things on the golf course and that needs to be his focus and his outlet.
This event is also a great way for the USA to blood some new players for the Ryder Cup in the same way that the European Tour uses the Vivendi SeveTrophy. They can look at how to get the best out of certain partnerships and how the guys cope with being locked away for a few days in a team environment.
I reckon the Australian crowd will be pretty vociferous, so this will be a good run-out for the Americans. It can only help the young players ahead of Medinah and will give them a little taster to ensure they're not staring into the headlights when they get to the Ryder Cup.
I'm sure Couples will have Ryder Cup aspirations of his own. As a PGA Tour figure of his stature, I'm certain he'd love to captain a side one day and this week can only help. If he goes to Australia and wins it will definitely boost his chances of becoming Ryder Cup captain.
Norman can never be a one of those of course, but is extremely competitive and ultra-professional. He will want to become the second man to lead the International team to victory. The two captains are very different, but both were wonderful golfers and great characters in the world of golf.
The captains have ensured this will be a very close match too. You've got the Australian factor on the International side, the unknown Tiger quantity on the American side plus a whole host of rookies looking to impress. That makes it very hard to choose between them and it should be great fun.
Rob's Sky Bet Tips
Overall winner: You might as well toss a coin to pick a winner, but I'll choose the Americans at even money with Sky Bet. The five rookies in their side will be so keen to impress and play well that they might swing the balance in their favour.
Top International Points Scorer: Jason Day is the slight favourite because he's a sparky Poulter-esque matchplay golfer, but he was disappointing in the final round last week, so I'll go for Adam Scott at odds of 6/1.
Top American Points Scorer: I think Tiger Woods will have a good week, but I'm going to go for Dustin Johnson. He Tweeted to say the course is "absolutely awesome", so I think he will enjoy the conditions. He's an 8/1 shot.
Other events: I'll go for Jbe Kruger at the Alfred Dunhill because he's had some good showings without ever carrying it through on the European Tour and I'm backing 25/1 shot Danny Lee at the Johor Open.