Handicapping the Presidents Cup

Sunday August 30th, 2009
Captains Greg Norman and Fred Couples
AP

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. — Match play is unpredictable, especially 18-hole match play, so only an idiot would try to use statistics to forecast the outcome of this week's Presidents Cup at Harding Park. I'm just the man for the job.

The numbers don't lie
Well, actually, they do. That's why people twist them to further their own agendas. Still, the Official World Golf Ranking gives the Americans a considerable edge. Spare me the dialogue about the rankings being inaccurate and biased. We know they are, yet they are still accepted. The Americans have the three top-ranked players in the world (Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Steve Stricker), five of the top 10 and nine of the top 20. The Internationals have only one player ranked among the top 10 — Geoff Ogilvy, an imperfect No. 10. Two more I-Men, Vijay Singh at No. 15 and Camilo Villegas at No. 16, sneak into the top 20. The lowest ranked is Adam Scott at No. 65. The lowest ranked American is Justin Leonard at No. 38. The sum of each team's player rankings: U.S. 168, I-Men 351.
Big Edge: United States

Winning isn't everything, but it sure does pay better
The Americans won more in 2009. Four players had multiple victories, led by Woods with six. Steve Stricker and Phil Mickelson won three titles, while Zach Johnson and Kenny Perry had two each. Only two Internationals won more than once in the U.S. this year. Score double-bonus points if you could name either of them. One was Geoff Ogilvy, who captured the lid-lifter in Kapalua and the WGC-Accenture Match Play in Tucson in March. The other was Y.E. Yang, the South Korean who won the Honda Classic in March and stared down Tiger to claim the PGA Championship. The I-Men get an asterisk here for Ryo Ishikawa, the Japanese teen, who won four times on the Japan Golf Tour. Throw in the single-tournament winners, and the final score is U.S. 19, I-Men 6.
Edge: United States

The rolling stones factor
In my opinion, the difference in most Ryder Cup outcomes has been putting. During the European's streak of dominance, they outputted the Americans (and outpouted them when they didn't). It figures that putting will be crucial in this team match play event as well. Just looking at the lineups, it appears the Americans have more really good putters, including Woods, Mickelson, Stricker, Johnson, Stewart Cink, Jim Furyk and Justin Leonard. I would only classify Geoff Ogilvy (who is streaky) and Mike Weir as really consistent putters for the International squad. The U.S. has eight players ranked among the top 50 in the Tour's putts-per-green-in-regulation stat (including No. 1 Stricker, No. 2 Anthony Kim and No. 13 Leonard); the Internationals only have three, led by Ogilvy at No. 22.
Edge: United States

Go go power rangers
When we last left Harding Park in 2005, Woods and master blaster John Daly had a playoff in a World Golf Championship event. Daly and some other long-hitters exposed some par-4 holes as drivable, and it appeared to be a long-hitter's paradise. That point is debatable, but let's say it's kinda-sorta valid. Who's got the most big hitters? The Americans have seven players in the top 50 in driving distance, and the Internationals have five. Mickelson ranks 12th and Anthony Kim ranks 18th for the U.S., while Masters champ Angel Cabera is No. 7. The difference between Mickelson at No. 12 and Woods at No. 20 is less than two yards per drive, but the bottom line is this: those two are as long as anyone in the game, while Kenny Perry, Kim, Lucas Glover and Hunter Mahan can all hit it out there pretty well. Vijay Singh used to be long but has dropped to 43rd in the stats. Ernie Els and Retief Goosen are no longer in the top tier of big hitters, either. After Cabrera, the next-longest International driver is Adam Scott at 39th.
Edge: United States

The big chill
What have you done for us lately? Let's see who's been posting the best scores in August and September. You'll never guess who's No. 1. So here's a hint: It's Tiger, who played seven events the last two months in 82 under par. Repeat, that's 82 under par. Unbelievable. No wonder he won the FedEx Cup. The second-best total among the President Cuppers was Ishikawa, who was 54 under par in his last six events on the Japan Tour. Next best after him was Jim Furyk, 24 under par. The worst was Adam Scott at 29 over par. How cold is the International lineup? Despite Ishikawa's 54 under, they were still 15 over as a team. Somebody pass me a frosty. Team totals: U.S. -100, I-Men +15.
Edge: United States

Homer, have you seen Bart?
In seven previous Presidents Cups, the home team has lost just once — the Internationals in Montreal in 2007. (There was also that crazy tie in South Africa in 2003.)
Edge: United States

Where have you gone, Lee Majors?
If winning major championships counted for anything in team match play, the U.S. would never have gotten blown out by Europe in the Ryder Cup. Still, it's a stat that somebody has to count up, and Tiger tilts the scale with his 14 majors. Add Mickelson's three and one each from Johnson, Cink, Furyk, Leonard and Glover. Singh and Els have won three majors each; Goosen and Cabrera have two; plus Weir, Ogilvy and Yang. Major total: U.S. 22, I-Men 13.
Edge: United States

Phew. That's enough statistical analysis to make even Bill James take a coffee break. My in-depth and scientific calculations give the U.S. the edge in every category. Still, I suggest they go ahead and play anyway, just to see what happens. You never know.

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