SAN FRANCISCO — One difference between the Ryder Cup and the Presidents Cup is pretty obvious. The Presidents Cup captains are clearly having more fun. Fred Couples of the U.S. and Greg Norman of the International team joked as they held a draft to determine the pairings for Thursday’s opening round of foursomes play.
“We went too fast,” Couples told writers afterward. “It was fun.”
Funny, no Ryder Cup captain has ever said that about making out his pairings sheet. Of course, there’s a lot less pressure when all 12 players will tee it up. (At the Ryder Cup, each captain must keep four players on the bench every round.)
Both captains also said their jobs were easy because many of their players came to them with notions about who they wanted to be paired with. “You’ve got 24 great players here,” Norman said. “You could pull the names out of a hat and still have great matches.”
He won’t get an argument from me. Here’s how Thursday’s alternate-shot matches shape up (all times are Eastern):
Mike Weir-Tim Clark (Int.) vs. Anthony Kim-Phil Mickelson (U.S.), 3:10 p.m.
The Kim-Mickelson duo was dynamic at last year’s Ryder Cup. Kim has been off his game this year and Mickelson, after reviving his putter at the Tour Championship, had a minor issue with his back. The Americans will be the favorites, but Weir and Clark are gritty players. Clark is a terrific ballstriker and Weir is a terrific putter. I’ve got a got feeling this match is going to be a surprise.
The pick: Weir and Clark on the last hole
Adam Scott-Ernie Els (Int.) vs. Hunter Mahan-Sean O’Hair (U.S.), 3:22 p.m.
Everyone knows what a struggle 2009 has been for Scott, who missed a bunch of cuts in a row and lost some confidence. Els has played better golf in the second half of the year but still isn’t putting like his old self. O’Hair is one of the hotter players on the PGA Tour, and Mahan has played steady golf all fall.
The pick: Mahan and O’Hair
Vijay Singh-Robert Allenby (Int.) vs. Lucas Glover-Stewart Cink (U.S.), 3:34 p.m.
On the surface, this is the only odd pairing — Singh and Allenby both struggle with the putter. Who’s going to make the clutch par putts for this team? Glover and Cink, meanwhile, rank among the better putters on the U.S. team. The Internationals have an edge in ballstriking in this match; the U.S. has an edge in putting, and you’ve gotta get the ball in the hole.
The pick: Glover and Cink
Angel Cabrera-Camilo Villegas (Int.) vs. Kenny Perry-Zach Johnson (U.S.), 3:46 p.m.
This could be one of the most interesting matches of the day, pitting the power-hitters of the International squad against the Americans. Perry still hits it long for a 49-year-old, and his putting has fueled his career revival. Johnson is one of the five best putters on tour. Cabrera and Villegas both play with a lot of emotion. They may be able to overpower Harding Park on some of its short par 4s.
The pick: Cabrera and Villegas
Geoff Ogilvy-Ryo Ishikawa (Int.) vs. Tiger Woods-Steve Stricker (U.S.), 3:58 p.m.
A huge contingent of Japanese media is here for Ishikawa, the amazing Japanese teen, and they won’t be disappointed as he gets to go against Woods right away. No matter what happens, this is a TV ratings home run in Japan. Woods and Stricker finished the playoffs as two of the hotter players in golf. If they’re still on form, well, there’s just no way to pick against them. A win by Ogilvy and Ishikawa would be the upset of the day — but it won’t happen.
The pick: Woods and Stricker
Retief Goosen-Y.E. Yang (Int.) vs. Jim Furyk-Justin Leonard (U.S.), 4:10 p.m.
This one is another slight mismatch on the greens, where Furyk and Leonard excel. Yang is a superb ballstriker whose putting is so-so, and Goosen, who used to be a terrific putter, struggles at times. Golf is all about scoring, so I never bet against the good putters.
The pick: Furyk and Leonard
Thursday’s total score: U.S. 4, Internationals 2