MONTREAL — There’s only one thing you need to know about the Presidents Cup. It’s over.
All right, put an asterisk on that sentence. There is still a 1-in-10,000 chance that the United States team won’t win 3 points in Sunday’s singles matches. Miracles happen. Indiana Jones once escaped from a tomb full of asps and cobras without so much as a single bite.
But this is not the movies. A bunch of International team players who aren’t playing anywhere near their best have to beat a bunch of American players, many of whom are playing the best golf of their careers (Steve Stricker, Woody Austin, Hunter Mahan and Lucas Glover, for starters). You’ve got a better chance of seeing the Great Pumpkin fly over your pumpkin patch.
Still, this has been a crazy seesaw ride. The Americans won 5 1/2 of 6 points the first day, and the Internationals won 4 1/2 of 6 points the second day. On Saturday morning, the U.S. swept all five foursomes matches. In 11 alternate-shot matches, the U.S. lost only half a point. That’s ridiculous.
The I-team made another spirited rally Saturday afternoon in the four-ball matches and led four of them at one point. But like the Mets, they had trouble closing and earned only a split, 2 1/2 of a possible 5 points. With 12 singles matches to play, the Internationals trail, 14 1/2-7 1/2. First one to 17 1/2 wins.
The only way for a crazy Cup to end is with a crazy finish, but the International team will need industrial-strength crazy. The Americans’ magic number is three.
“The odds are stacked against us,” said Gary Player, the International captain. “But we saw some strange things happen at Brookline in the Ryder Cup the year Ben Crenshaw was captain.”
Australian Stuart Appleby said: “It’s a full-on assault, and every player needs to find a way to win … We know that, and it lets us be more aggressive. We need to put pressure on early and make the rest think there’s something going on up front.”
No one gave a concession speech on Saturday night, but you can read between the lines. Both captains front-loaded their lineups with the big guns.
In the fourth slot, Nicklaus conveniently put Tiger’s name on the board. Player matched it with the local favorite, Canada’s Mike Weir. It was the pairing that the public and the Canadian media had been drooling over all week, and it could be seen as a concession. If the outcome is already decided, let’s at least give the people something to watch.
Beyond that match, Sunday may not be very interesting. The Americans should clinch the Cup fairly early. Here’s how the singles matches stack up:
Scott Verplank vs. Rory Sabbatini (12:10 p.m. EST)
Verplank is unbeaten this week, and Sabbatini was among the I-team’s steadiest players. This will be a classic duel between Sabbatini’s power and Verplank’s short game and guile. Next to Woods vs. Weir, this may be the most intriguing match. Verplank is tough, but Sabbatini and the Internationals are desperate.
The pick: Sabbatini by a nose.
Lucas Glover vs. Ernie Els (12:22 p.m. EST)
Els looked more like his old self on Saturday afternoon, racking up five birdies. He and Weir combined to beat a struggling Charles Howell III and Glover, who kept them in the match with six birdies and an eagle. No one on the American team has played any better than Glover, so I’m predicting the upset.
The pick: Glover.
Phil Mickelson vs. Vijay Singh (12:34 p.m. EST)
No two players at this event like each other less than these two. This is a true grudge match. Phil has sprayed some shots but is still making birdies, while Singh is getting by with a jury-rigged swing and an amazing short game. Vijay’s swing issues will be exposed.
The pick: Mickelson.
Tiger Woods vs. Mike Weir (12:46 p.m. EST)
We know who the better player is, but we also know what the better story would be. Weir had five birdies Saturday afternoon, and he has more confidence than he’s had all year. What’s the fun in predicting a Woods victory?
The pick: Weir, carried by the Canadian crowd, pulls the upset.
Woody Austin vs. Angel Cabrera (12:58 p.m. EST)
Cabrera has the length to overpower the course, but he isn’t on top of his game. The Woodman has been the story of the week. Maybe his gas tank is on empty after playing all four rounds, but he will hit it way straighter than Cabrera.
The pick: Austin.
Zach Johnson vs. Adam Scott (1:10 p.m. EST)
Scott has hit the ball well, but his putting has not been great. Johnson has been hot and cold.
The pick: Scott.
David Toms vs. Trevor Immelman (1:22 p.m. EST)
Immelman has slumped with his putter all season and didn’t distinguish himself this week. Toms played his best golf of the year.
The pick: Toms.
Stewart Cink vs. Nick O’Hern (1:34 p.m. EST)
O’Hern, despite beating Woods twice in match play in his career, has been overlooked. He drives it straight, and he holed more putts than any two International players this week. Cink came up big repeatedly, but the straight hitter comes out on top.
The pick: O’Hern.
Steve Stricker vs. Geoff Ogilvy (1:46 p.m. EST)
Ogilvy has been way off, one of his team’s biggest disappointments. Stricker is 3-1 and possibly the Americans’ MVP. By the time they finish, this match won’t matter, but I’ll stick with the Cheesehead.
The pick: Stricker.
Hunter Mahan vs. K.J. Choi (1:58 p.m. EST)
Mahan has looked good in spurts, and Choi has struggled enough that he was benched on Saturday morning.
The pick: Choi.
Charles Howell III vs. Stuart Appleby (2:10 p.m. EST)
Neither player would’ve seen much action if this was a Ryder Cup, with only four team matches per day. They’re off their games.
The pick: Appleby.
Jim Furyk vs. Retief Goosen (2:22 p.m. EST)
Goosen has looked lost this week and most of the season since the Masters. Furyk is as tough as they come in singles.
The pick: Furyk, without a doubt.