Van Cynical Mailbag: Potent U.S. Team could make Presidents Cup lopsided affair
DUBLIN, Ohio -- This is it. This is for all the marbles. It's do or die. It's all or nothing. It's...
Nah, I can't keep that up. Who am I kidding? This is the Presidents Cup. It's a fun event. I like it. I always enjoy the team match-play format, which is the most exciting form of golf. At least it can be if you've got the two key ingredients -- a rooting interest and a close score.
Those who pooh-pooh the Presidents Cup as a poor imitation of the Ryder Cup have short memories. Fred Couples made a couple of crucial putts in some early U.S. wins. Chris DiMarco holed a match-winner once for his captain, Jack Nicklaus. I enjoyed watching Mike Weir guarantee he'd never again have to pay for a drink in Canada when he took down Tiger Woods during the otherwise lopsided matches in Montreal in 2007. Granted, the last three Cups, all routs for the U.S., haven't featured any real drama.
The Presidents Cup could use a big rally by the Internationals. Will it happen? You can't predict team match play. Every player on each team is capable of shooting 61, so in theory the International squad could win. Still, I wouldn't be feeling great if I was the team captain, Nick Price. It would be an understatement to say the numbers don't favor his team.
The American team features seven of the 11 top-ranked players in the world, 10 of the top 25 and no player ranked worse than 28th.
The Internationals? Breathe deeply and try to relax. The International squad features one player in the top 15, just four in the top 25 and seven players ranked 30th or worse. In other words more than half of these guys have higher world rankings than the worst-ranking American player.
The average world ranking of the Americans is 15.6. The average ranking of the Internationals is 33.2. Eight of the 12 Americans have won tournaments in 2013 -- a total of 16 victories. Only two International players have won on either the PGA or European PGA tours, Adam Scott (who won the Masters and the Barclays) and Richard Sterne. Angel Cabrera won once on the LatinoAmerica Tour, which would rank below the Web.com tour in strength of field, and Hideki Matsuyama won three times in Japan, where fields are also considerably weaker. Matsuyama showed he's quite a player, though, with top-10 finishes in two of this year's major championships.
So in victories, the score is U.S. 16, Internationals 3. If you count the wins authored by Cabrera and Matsuyama, the score is still 16-7. Yeow.
One more thing: In my veteran opinion, putting is the single most important key to success in team match-play events. The Ryder Cup is usually determined by which team putts the best. Well, the Americans have a lineup of stellar putters. The mantel of best putter on Tour has probably been passed from Steve Stricker to Brandt Snedeker. But Zach Johnson, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Matt Kuchar are also very, very good.
In the PGA Tour's strokes gained putting category, here's how the U.S. squad ranks: 2 -- Stricker; 4 -- Snedeker; 6 -- Mickelson; 22 -- Woods; 25 -- Kuchar; 27 -- Hunter Mahan; T30 -- Johnson; 40 -- Webb Simpson; 47 -- Bill Haas; 49 -- Keegan Bradley; 60 -- Jordan Spieth; T142 -- Jason Dufner.
Aside from the Duf that's not bad -- eight of 12 among the top 40.
The Internationals aren't nearly as strong. Schwartzel ranks 12th on the European tour in putts per green hit in regulation, 44th in the U.S. tour's strokes gained putting. In Europe, Branden Grace ranks 26th; Richard Sterne 32nd; Ernie Els 35th; and Louis Oosthuizen 48th. In PGA Tour stats, Jason Day is 29th, followed by Graham DeLaet, 76th; Marc Leishman, 82nd; Cabrera, 83rd; Brendon de Jonge, 92nd; Scott, T102nd; and Els, 126th. So the two veteran Internationals who will be expected to lead this team, Scott and Els, don't rank among the top 100 on the PGA Tour in putting. That's a gigantic uh-oh.
Another concern is that Els, who won last year's British Open, managed only one top-10 finish this year in the U.S. No doubt the putter was a big reason for that. Oosthuizen missed most of the summer with a neck problem, so he's a bit of an unknown.
Fred Couples used one of his picks for a U.S. Open champion, Webb Simpson, and another on Spieth, a youngster who began the year with no status but played his way onto the Tour, won, and is among the top 25 in the World Ranking from a standing start. Fred, who's pretty much worry-free at all times, will definitely be so again this week. Nick Price, not so much.
This Presidents Cup looks like the biggest mismatch of the last four. That may mean something, or it may not. The Cup is decided on the course, not in the statistics. But factoring in the putting edge and the advantage in experience and results this year, the U.S. should be a heavy favorite. Let's hope it's at least a close contest, which would make it a lot more fun for everyone. Otherwise, Sunday's NFL games will be beckoning.
The Van Cynical Mailbag:
Van Cynical, Tiger once won four majors in succession. In 2013, he had four penalty controversies. Does that qualify as a Tiger Slam? -- Dan O'Neill via Twitter
Did you mean to type Tiger Slam or Tiger Scam? I think this year's Tiger Slam referred to the thump noise that came from the scoring trailer when Woods learned the Tour really was slapping him with two shots because his ball moved after he pulled out a twig during the BMW Championship.
Gary, What are the differences in average age between the two Presidents Cup teams? Is the USA younger? Does it matter? -- hjlow via Twitter
The Americans are older, actually, with six players 35 or older, including 46-year-old Steve Stricker. The Internationals have only two players over 35 -- Ernie Els and Angel Cabrera, 42 and 43, respectively. The Internationals have five players in their 20s, the youngest being 21-year-old Hideki Matsuyama. The Americans have three players in their 20s, the youngest being newly-minted 20-year-old Jordan Spieth. The total ages for the 12-man rosters are Americans 393, Internationals 375. That's not much difference, really, and no, age should not matter at all. If your point is that fatigue might hinder the older guys, in the Pres Cup there's only one day with two rounds, Saturday. The Ryder Cup doubles up Friday and Saturday.
Van Sickle, Is there a more stand-up pro than Andres Gonzalez for doing that Golf Channel interview while gutted? -- Eric Houser via Twitter
A tip of the visor to Andres. Nobody wants to be interviewed after failure, which thankfully happens less in golf than in other sports. The guy who made the error in baseball that cost the game, Bill Buckner, is often the story, while the guy who lost the tournament in golf is only rarely a story. Good for Andres for showing class.
Van Cynical, I'm surprised that Golf.com hasn't touched on the issue of 86 Americans entering European tour qualifiers. -- Jeffrey Bowles via Twitter
Thanks to you, Jeff, now we have. What about it? The American qualifiers take three months and cost thousands of dollars and offer no immediate entry to the PGA Tour. Peter Uihlein proved you can play your way onto the tour in Europe, and from there play your way back to the States. It may be a better opportunity for some.
Vans, How can we make Golf more like hockey? Besides more Canadians. I vote for heckling from competitors/spectators. -- Kristopher Barrie via Twitter
Freezing water hazards would be cost-prohibitive. The most obvious method would be the Happy Gilmore-Bob Barker example. Fights. But golfers aren't hockey players. In fact, hockey players are the only athletes who ever actually throw punches. Everyone else pushes, shoves, waves their arms and backpedals -- especially in the NBA where they "fight" like little girls.
Gary, was Glen Nager's "retirement" related to the recent article about the USGA's move from NBC to Fox? -- Chris Folds via Twitter I don't have any inside dope there but I don't know why it would be. Nager came off looking pretty smart and the USGA scored a $1.1 billion deal that was far, far beyond its wildest dreams. Everybody except NBC left happy. That's just business.