Presidents Cup Candidates

Monday August 6th, 2007

AKRON, Ohio — The Presidents Cup logo hasn't appeared on the side of a milk carton yet under the headline, "Missing!" But it's close. In what constitutes a great piece of trivia, the Presidents Cup is going to be held — shhhh! — next month in Montreal.

The tournament, a Ryder Cup-style team event pitting the United States against an International team (the rest of the world except Europe), has been hopelessly overshadowed by the new FedEx Cup playoffs and the tour's relentless hype. You won't hear much about the PC, as insiders call it, until next month.

This week is the year's last major, the PGA Championship, which is slightly important. The American PC team will be finalized when it ends. The top 10 point-earners after the PGA will make the team, and captain Jack Nicklaus will select two wild-card choices. That won't grab a lot of attention either because the inaugural FedEx Cup playoffs are poised to begin two weeks later.

While it's not on the public's or the media's radar, the PC is still a big deal to the players. Wisconsin native Steve Stricker seems likely to make the team for the first time in 11 years. He won twice in 1996, his breakthrough season, and was part of the American squad that won the second PC. He hasn't been on another team since and struggled through a couple of lean years. He turned his game around in 2006 and now, at 40, is enjoying perhaps his finest season. He's ranked 14th in the world, he's won more than $2.5 million and he's been in the hunt for the U.S. and British Opens.

He has fond memories of the '96 PC, including one very vivid one.

"Corey Pavin doesn't let me live this down," Stricker said. "I was playing with him in alternate shot and I was in a bunker. My wife, Nicky, was caddying for me. Well, I kind of fatted it out of the bunker. I got mad, I turned around and took a big swipe at the sand. And you know who's standing right there? Nicky. I blasted her with all the sand. Pavin, to this day, still asks me, 'Has Nicky got the sand out of her hair yet?' Making the team would really cap off my year. It would almost be like winning a tournament for me."

Stricker was 2-3 in his matches that year. He trounced Robert Allenby in singles, 6 and 5, and won an opening-round four-ball match with Tom Lehman as a partner. In the other rounds, he lost close matches against some pretty formidable teams — Steve Elkington and Vijay Singh, Allenby and Greg Norman, Norman and Ernie Els.

"It was a great experience," Stricker said. "I remember I didn't feel very comfortable. Kenny Perry was there, Lehman, Fred Couples, Pavin — a lot of my peers that I hadn't really been around much. They made me feel at ease, but I was nervous, no question about it."

Playing for captain Arnold Palmer in '96 was special, Stricker said. How cool would it be, he pointed out, to also play on a team captained by Nicklaus? Pretty cool.

His spot on the team looks reasonably secure. He ranked eighth on the points list after the Bridgestone Invitational at Akron. The top seven were Tiger Woods, Jim Furyk, Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson, Charles Howell, David Toms and Scott Verplank. Stewart Cink, at ninth, is a good bet to make it, too.

Lucas Glover and John Rollins are 10th and 11th. Who will Nicklaus choose for the two wild-card spots? It's anybody's guess.

Hunter Mahan has been on a tear since he won in Hartford and would be difficult to overlook — he dropped back to 22nd in the Bridgestone Invitational after a closing 76.

Chris DiMarco, who sank the clutch putt that won the PC the last time for Nicklaus, has suddenly resurrected his game and is playing well. He was 25th on the points list after Akron, where he tied for fourth, an 11-spot jump. While Jack's memory may not be what it used to be, he certainly hasn't forgotten DiMarco's putt. He may be a wild-card selection.

The striking thing about the International lineup, besides its strength, is the fact that the two Canadians, Mike Weir and Stephen Ames, figure to be on the outside looking in. The International team is based on the world rankings. The top nine may be secure — Ernie Els, Adam Scott, Vijay Singh, Geoff Ogilvy, Rory Sabbatini, K.J. Choi, Retief Goosen, Angel Cabrera and Trevor Immelman.

International captain Gary Player cannot go wrong with any of the next four players on the list — the rising Argentine Andres Romero, who closed with a 71 in Akron despite a triple-bogey and tied for sixth; Nick O'Hern, who's beaten Woods twice in the World Match Play Championship; Stuart Appleby; and Aaron Baddeley. Complicating things further, Peter Lonard tied for fourth and Tim Clark tied for sixth.

There are also capable, experienced veterans worth a look. It's a nice problem for Player to have, except for the pressure to have local representation. Ames was 19th and Weir was 20th on the world list after Akron, where Weir withdrew due to a neck injury. It doesn't look as if a Canadian will be teeing it up in Montreal unless one of them wins or nearly wins this week's PGA Championship.

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