Tour and News

PGA Tour Confidential: The secret to U.S. Presidents Cup success, Man of the Match awards, and NBC's tape-delay blues

Photo: Kohjiro Kinno/SI

Keegan Bradley, Phil Mickelson and Fred Couples during foursome matches at the 2013 Presidents Cup.

Every Sunday night, Golf.com conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

1. Why do the Americans play better in the Presidents Cup than they do in the Ryder Cup -- or is it just that the international team isn’t as good?

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: The Americans do play better in the Presidents Cup, because it means less to them. They get out of their own way. It's the same reason Davis Love won five times at Hilton Head -- the week after the Masters.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): The Americans play like they have nothing to lose. They feel like they have nothing to lose. At the Ryder Cup, they feel the weight of history bearing down on their shoulders like a burden.

Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf.com (@michaelwalkerjr): Some combination of format and pressure. Last week, Tiger Woods said that the Presidents Cup forces more players to play more often, which favors the deeper U.S. team. That’s true, but no question, the U.S. team plays much tighter at the Ryder Cup.

Joe Passov, senior editor, courses and travel, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): The International team isn't that good -- or that unified. Much less pressure on the U.S., and their play and results reflect that.

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated (@MarkGodich): It's pretty simple. The Presidents Cup feels more like an exhibition. And as long as the Ryder Cup stays as contentious as it has been over the past two couple of decades, the Presidents Cup will always feel that way.

Jeff Ritter, senior producer, Golf.com (@Jeff_Ritter): The U.S. plays better here because they're loose. And other than a couple all-South African pairings, the Internationals don't know each other like their European counterparts. The Internationals are a group of talented players that come together for one week every two years. Thanks to the Ryder Cup, there's a U.S. team every year. That creates unity, and a real sense of team.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, Golf Magazine (@JoshSens): Both. The International team isn't as strong and the Americans play loose and free -- you know, the way they always say they are going to play in the Ryder Cup but often don't.

2. Which player wins Man of the Match? Explain/Defend. 

PASSOV: Tiger Woods is the man. When he's playing well, and winning, everybody else relaxes.

SENS: Tiger Woods, and not just because of his heroic 1-up victory over the larger-than-life Richard Sterne in singles. He won the most points, several of his victories were routs, and his only loss was a narrow one to a red-hot Els/De Jonge team. Bonus points for the fact that he smiled and seemed like an engaged teammate. And for that 5-wood on the 15th on Saturday -- a kind of put-a-fork-in-it, it's-done moment against the International's best pairing.

VAN SICKLE: You really couldn't single out one player for MVP. It was a team thing on both sides. Tiger Woods hit an awful lot of good shots and maybe played the most consistently of anyone on the U.S. team. Stricker was right there, too. It has to be one of them.

RITTER: When the No. 1 player in the world is on his game, everyone else feeds off it. Tiger is the MVP, and Phil is a close second.

WALKER: Sammy the Squirrel, the Fresh Prince handshake, the clinching point: How can it be anyone but Tiger?

BAMBERGER: Kuchar. He did everything a teammate can do to get his playing partner, Tiger Woods, feeling comfortable. The genius of what he did may be summarized in a sentence: he didn't treat Tiger like some kind of special case. He treated him the way he likes to be treated, as one of the boys.

3. What explains Tiger Woods’ strong record in Presidents Cup competition and relatively poor showings in Ryder Cup? The pressure? The opposition?

BAMBERGER: See above, and add Fred. Tiger hates it when people expect things of him, because he expects so much of himself. He's played for Fred in three of these, and Fred demands nothing. That allows Tiger to be Tiger.

GODICH: Nothing motivates the Europeans more than taking down Tiger. You can see their whole team feed off of it. He always seems to get the best shot of every Euro he's paired against.

RITTER: Clearly Tiger and the rest of the U.S. team have more fun at the Presidents Cup. That counts for something. Also, the Internationals don't have the same collection of talent --or a home-course advantage when they host it -- as the Europeans. Road games in the Ryder Cup are far more daunting than the Prez.

VAN SICKLE: Tiger's partners are more freewheeling in the PC as the Americans feel less pressure. Plus, until recently, maybe the international players were still a little bit more intimidated by Tiger than the Euros, who seemed almost gleeful for the chance to take him down.

WALKER: Fred Couples should get some of the credit for Tiger’s better performance in team play at the Presidents Cup than the Ryder Cup. (His singles record in the Ryder Cup is excellent.) The whole team takes its cue from Couples and that creates an effervescent style of play, the opposite of Tiger’s usual brooding.

SENS: Not the pressure, but probably the opposition. And certainly a third factor, which the question ignores: the play of Tiger's partners, particularly in the early years of Tiger's reign, when his aura was so great his own teammates struggled in his company. It's no accident that as the power of that aura has waned, Tiger's Ryder Cup record has improved (he's 6 and 3 in his last two Cups). It's easier for his partners to play well when they're paired with a man, not a mythic figure.

PASSOV: If you can explain this one, you're one up on me.

4. Is it possible the U.S. learned something at Muirfield Village that's going to help at Ryder Cup? If so, what?

BAMBERGER: The U.S. should know that their regular golf is good enough. You don't have to be Superman. Poulter can be Poulter and Sergio can be Sergio, but that doesn't mean Dufner has to be Hogan. Dufner being Dufner is good enough. And if it's not, it will at least be close.

VAN SICKLE: One thing Fred Couples may have delivered was a message of consistency. He stuck with most of his pairings for foursomes and fourballs. He didn't shake things up and twist them around. He was patient. Maybe Ryder Cup captains shouldn't be so quick to break up duos just because they lost. On the other hand, Ryder Cup captains have to sit out four players per session, Fred had to sit only two each session on Saturday. That's an easier way to captain.

WALKER: Nothing. Because if they had learned something at the last two Presidents Cup, Fred Couples would have been offered the captain’s job.

PASSOV: Matchups and pairings-- camaraderie, if you will -- will yield some significant insights for the next Ryder Cup.

GODICH: I don't know that the Americans learned anything by winning an event everybody expected them to dominate, but it can't hurt that they got a few more opportunities to play alternate shot. 

RITTER: The biggest lesson is the effectiveness of the Woods-Kuchar and Zach-Duf duos. There were other great pairings, but these are two new combos we can probably expect to see on the team and at it again at Gleneagles.

SENS: The awesome power of not caring too much about results. We all see it in our own play. And the dynamic (in an obviously elevated form) is a part of the pro game too.

5. NBC Sports decided to show the Presidents Cup Sunday singles on time delay on NBC at noon rather than show the matches live on Golf Channel starting at 9 a.m. Did this decision take away from the stature of the event?

PASSOV: It strikes me as bush league. If the Presidents Cup were truly the stature of the Ryder Cup, it all would have been live, regardless of weather woes wreaking havoc on scheduling.

SENS: It didn't diminish the stature so much as it underscored it. Plus, from a fan's perspective, I'm not sure it's such a bad thing. It allows for a crisper broadcast of an event that would have a lot of agonizing lulls if it were shown live.

VAN SICKLE: NBC didn't have a choice. It couldn't pre-empt its regular schedule for some dang golf and the weather forecast wouldn't permit the event to finish if the original tee times were used. I don't think viewers who wanted to watch the show were put off. Does anybody remember which Tour events were shown tape-delayed after the fact? Besides, one network in particular is notorious for showing shots on a tape-delayed basis and not telling viewers. Very few shots are actually live. There's a big difference, of course, between being delayed 90 seconds and three hours. I think we can live with it. As for stature, what stature?

GODICH: What was NBC supposed to do with those six hours of programming to fill? That said, if you didn't know the outcome, even as the matches started to tighten a bit, all you had to do was look at the clock to determine how things were going to play out.

WALKER: NBC Sports let the PGA Tour down. The players donated a week of their time -- for free -- to showcase the game to an international audience, and with three broadcast networks -- one devoted entirely to golf -- NBC Sports refused to show the event live. They don’t deserve to have the U.S. Open.

RITTER: They've been doing similar Sunday tape-delayed coverage all year during the rain delays. I guess it made it feel like a run-of-the-mill Tour event, which is unfortunate. More importantly, has there ever been a season on Tour with more weather delays than this one?

BAMBERGER: The culture now is for live everything, real-time everything. They should have shown it live on GC.

6. Predict the score if Europe played the Internationals.

VAN SICKLE: Europe 19, Internationals 15. Play it in Australia, and I'll take the Internationals.

GODICH: We'd get about the same score as we saw this week. I don't see Ian Poulter and Sergio Garcia getting all that excited about beating up on the Internationals.

BAMBERGER: Internationals 20, Euros 14. Euros play with so much emotion, anti-American emotion. Playing the Internationals, for the Europeans, what's exciting about that?

WALKER: I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Internationals beat the Europeans easily, maybe Internationals 18.5 to Euros, 15.5. Something transformative happens to the Europeans in the Ryder Cup, and it wouldn’t be easy to replicate in another event.

SENS: Internationals by a nose, a largely irrational pick that I'll rationalize by saying that the Europeans would have a let down (no American team to get fire up for) and the Internationals would play without the pressure of feeling like they HAD to finally win.

RITTER: Europeans by 4, and double it in Scotland.

The PGA Tour Confidential debate continues Monday on our new weekly show hosted by Jessica Marksbury. Tweet her your questions @Jess_Marksbury.

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