First Round Picks

First Round Picks

Jack Nicklaus, captain of the U.S. team, and Jeff Sluman, assistant captain, made their picks on Wednesday for the first round of the Presidents Cup.
Chris Condon/PGA TOUR/

Hey, guess who’s sitting out the first round of the Presidents Cup on Thursday?

Nobody. Sorry, that was a trick question. Unlike the Ryder Cup, the Presidents Cup is spread over four days instead of three. In order to fill the golf card, Thursday’s foursomes (alternate shot) and Friday’s four-ball (best ball) are expanded to six matches.

The pairings for Thursday are out, and here’s another improvement over the Ryder Cup — they’re done in a draft format. One captain puts his first team out, then the other captain matches him. It’s something of a chess match. The International captain, Gary Player, put Rory Sabbatini and Trevor Immelman out in the third match, possibly hoping the American captain, Jack Nicklaus, would counter with a pairing featuring Tiger Woods. “We didn’t take the bait,” said Nicklaus, who sent out Stewart Cink and Zach Johnson instead.

The smartest pre-tournament move of the week was by Ian Baker-Finch, the Internationals’ assistant captain, who wants to capitalize on Canadian Mike Weir’s home-country following and spread it around the team. “We’re all Canadian this week,” Baker-Finch said, exhorting local fans to pull for them as hard as they’re going to pull for Weir. “This is the Canadian hockey team.” If the crowd support ultimately makes a difference, give I.B.F. credit.

Picking winners in a match-play format is stupid and utterly pointless … so let’s get started.

Match One: Steve Stricker-Hunter Mahan vs. Adam Scott-Geoff Ogilvy. Next to Tiger, Stricker is the hottest American player. Mahan was probably the hottest American in August, although everybody who played the PGA Championship in searing Tulsa was pretty darn hot. Scott and Ogilvy might be the Internationals’ No. 1 team. Behold the power of cheese (Stricker is from Wisconsin). This could be a classic duel and maybe the best match of the day.
Prediction: Halved. (No, I’m not weaseling out here. This match is just that good.)

Match Two: Phil Mickelson-Woody Austin vs. Vijay Singh-Mike Weir. Interesting pairing of Mr. Positive and Mr. Negative for the U.S. Doubly interesting pairing of Weir, Canada’s hero, and Vijay, the guy who beat him in their Canadian Open showdown a few years back and ruined a national feel-good moment. Phil and Woody have the ball-striking edge, but Weir brings the home crowd with him. Also, the Internationals think Weir has a hold over Phil — he’s 4-1 against Phil in Presidents Cup matches. Well, make that 5-1.
Prediction: Internationals win.

Match Three: Stewart Cink-Zach Johnson vs. Rory Sabbatini-Trevor Immelman. Cink has played well during the second half of the summer, and Johnson drives it straight and putts well. Immelman has had an off year and really struggled with his putting. Rory is streaky and hasn’t said anything inflammatory for at least two weeks. The combo platter of the Zach Attack and better putting carries the Americans here.
Prediction: Americans win.

Match Four: David Toms-Jim Furyk vs. Ernie Els-Angel Cabrera. Royal Montreal favors a power player this week because the rough is almost non-existent. Cabrera pounds it as far as anyone and Els is certainly not short. Toms hasn’t played his best lately and Furyk looked burned out by the long enforced stretch of golf caused by the FedEx Cup.
Prediction: Internationals win.

Match Five: Lucas Glover-Scott Verplank vs. Stuart Appleby-Retief Goosen. Glover is a team-play rookie who has enjoyed a very consistent season. Verplank is tough to beat in match play because he drives it straight, though short, and makes putts. Goosen and Appleby have slumped this summer, but the match-play format could help revive them. Their reputations give them the edge, but Glover is a determined player, and Verplank is tough as nails.
Prediction: Halved.

Match Six: Tiger Woods-Charles Howell vs. K.J. Choi-Nick O’Hern. Howell won early this year and cooled off late, but he’s a member of Tiger’s inner circle of friends and will be comfortable playing with him. Choi played as well as any International player in ’07 and is very solid. O’Hern is a punch-and-judy hitter who is a very, very good putter. They’ll be a formidable alternate-shot team but a little Tiger may be too much for them. O’Hern has beaten Woods twice in match play, but that was in singles. Alternate shot is much, much different.
Prediction: Americans win.

Predicted score after Day One: U.S. 3, Internationals 3