DUBLIN, Ohio — The Presidents Cup pairings are out and, just to end the suspense, Tiger Woods is playing with Matt Kuchar.
From the sound of the opposing captains, Fred Couples of the U.S. and Nick Price of the Internationals, the pairings were no surprise to either one. They’d already scoped out their opponent’s likely matchups.
“It’s not rocket science,” said Couples, who has never studied rocket science but probably still knows what he’s talking about.
With 12 of the best players in the world on each team, there are no obvious mismatches. And as we’ve learned from a few decades of the Ryder Cup, predicting match play is a futile effort. Especially in an 18-hole match.
“It’s like trying to predict a three-inning game of baseball,” said Jay Haas, an assistant coach for the U.S.
Phil Mickelson is again paired with his Ryder Cup running mate Keegan Bradley and the Jordan Spieth Sweepstakes — everybody apparently wanted to play with the 20-year-old youngster who is the darling of the event, especially after making a hole-in-one in a practice round — was won by Steve Stricker. It must be a junior-senior thing because Stricker is the oldest competitor at 46 and Spieth the youngest.
“Jordan almost seems like Steve’s son,” joked Couples, who added that he met Spieth’s father earlier this week. “And he’s like eight years younger than me,” Couples said. “So that was weird.”
The International team got the order of play changed months ago so Thursday’s opening session will be best-ball instead of the traditional foursomes (or alternate shot) format, which the Internationals haven’t fared well at. It’s probably a good change for everyone, since foursomes is the most challenging format and the most different from regular golf.
The opening ceremonies for the Presidents Cup at Muirfield Village Golf Club will be held Wednesday night, with the first four-ball match kicking off at 11:45 a.m. Eastern time Thursday. Here are the pairings and something that comes very close to being analysis:
Jason Day-Graham DeLaet vs. Hunter Mahan-Brandt Snedeker: It’s Raw Power versus Finesse; Driving For Show versus Putting For Dough; Immovable Objects versus Irresistible Forces. Or slightly less dramatic than that. Day and DeLaet are big hitters, both among the top 20 in PGA Tour driving stats, while Snedeker is considered the best putter in the game and Mahan is pretty smart himself in that area. Muirfield Village is a big, sprawling track where length comes in handy, though. This will be a fun, interesting contrast in styles. I’ll take the putters. The pick: U.S.
Adam Scott-Hideki Matsuyama vs. Bill Haas-Webb Simpson: Price paired one of his newbies, Matsuyama, an underrated talent, with the International team’s designated (and only) stud. Haas and Simpson are guys who are just annoyingly consistent and hard to beat. Scott’s recent play has been solid and there’s a feeling that this could be Matsuyama’s coming-out party (he finished top-10 in two majors this year). The pick: Internationals.
Louis Oosthuizen-Charl Schwartzel vs. Phil Mickelson-Keegan Bradley: This is the glamor pairing of the opening round and the only one featuring four major champions. It should be very appealing. Oosthuizen is only just back from a neck injury that sidelined him the second half of the summer and Schwartzel is still looking for that Masters form. He’s had only one top-10 finish since the Memorial in June and he notably blurped up 79-77 in the middle of the Tour Championship, a bit of a concern. Bradley and Mickelson have been playing OK but not great, but Keegan’s enthusiasm for team match play should light a fire under Lefty. The pick: U.S.
Ernie Els-Brendon de Jonge vs. Steve Stricker-Jordan Spieth: Once again, Price smartly paired his newbie with a golden oldie, Els. Couples did the same with his old-young pairing. Ernie managed only one top 10 this year but he had a long run as the world’s finest match-play player until his putting woes of recent years. Stricker can still putt, he won the Memorial at this course and Spieth has been putting on a show for the last two months on tour. The pick: U.S.
Angel Cabrera-Marc Leishman vs. Matt Kuchar-Tiger Woods: Leishman had an impressive Masters showing. Not as good as Cabrera, who lost in a playoff, but Leishman is a little underrated in the U.S. Kuchar is the latest in a long line of attempts to find Tiger a partner he can win with. Kuchar is as steady as Tiger is spectacular. Don’t be surprised if this match has more amazing shots than any of the other five. Kuchar’s competitive nature is often masked by his semi-permanent smile. He may be a good fit for Tiger, who detests losing. The pick: U.S.
Branden Grace-Richard Sterne vs. Zach Johnson-Jason Dufner: The Americans have both won major championships, which would make this seem like a mismatch. Johnson has played well of late, obviously, with that FedEx Cup run, but a recent bout of flu cost him a few days of preparation. This is a key match that the Internationals absolutely have to win to prevent falling too far behind too early. The pick: Internationals (because they need it).
Can you beat Gary Van Sickle? Give us your picks in the comments section below.