Last Chance to Make Presidents Cup

By Associated PressAugust 6, 2005, 4:00 pm
2005 PGA ChampionshipThe farewell tour for Jack Nicklaus is not over yet.
He bowed out at the Masters, not telling anyone that he was through until he had missed the cut. Then came that historic walk over the Swilcan Bridge at St. Andrews, where Nicklaus played his 164th and final major championship at the British Open.
Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus
Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus will again captain their respective teams in the Presidents Cup.
This time, he won't hit a shot or miss the cut.
His last act in a major event will be as the U.S. captain for the Presidents Cup team, and while Nicklaus tends to downplay his role, it has served as an incentive for players trying to get on the team.
'There's a group of us that really want to make the team and to win for Jack,' Davis Love III said. 'He deserves a Presidents Cup win after going around the world twice and not getting one.'
The PGA Championship is the last tournament to make the team, which is based on PGA Tour earnings the last two years for Americans, and the world ranking for the International team.
Love never imagined he would be needing to fight so hard.
He has been on every Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup team since 1993, the longest service of any American, and he joins Phil Mickelson as the only U.S. players to have played in every Presidents Cup since its inception in 1994.
Heading into the International and then the PGA Championship, Love was ninth in the standings, although he had a comfortable margin over Justin Leonard in the 11th spot. Scott Verplank was 10th, courtesy of his runner-up finish in the U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee two weeks ago.
Tiger Woods is atop the U.S. standings again, and the top seven players were all in South Africa two years ago when the matches ended in a tie, and an epic playoff between Woods and Ernie Els failed to decide the outcome before it got too dark to continue.
But if the Presidents Cup hasn't been on everyone's mind lately, there is a reason.
Three-time International captain Peter Thomson once described these matches as a 'happier contest,' and it certainly comes with far less hype than the Ryder Cup, which has nearly 70 more years of tradition on its side.
The best example is to look at the captains.
Heading into the PGA Championship last year, Ryder Cup captain Hal Sutton was making appearances across the country, talking up his potential team and trying to sort out whom he might take as his two picks.
Nicklaus was asked in early June when he would turn his attention to the Presidents Cup.
'When I have to turn my attention to it,' he said.
He spent last week fishing in Iceland, then headed to Utah to play in a charity event with Johnny Miller. He will be at Baltusrol for the PGA Championship, but only as the honorary chairman at a course where he twice won the U.S. Open.
That's not to suggest Nicklaus doesn't care. He simply puts these competitions in perspective.
'It's a great honor, a great event,' he said. 'What happened in South Africa was terrific for the game, and it was terrific for South Africa. That's all we're trying to do. We're no masterminds, for crying out loud. You do what you have to do to make sure you've got a good show, and the guys have a good time, and it's a good event and people enjoy it. And you try to get bragging rights if you can.
Zach Johnson
Zach Johnson needs a late push at the PGA to make the U.S. team.
'It's exactly like the Ryder Cup should be handled.'
Still, his presence figures to be a motivating factor for those trying to make the team.
Money counts double in a Presidents Cup year, and with a prize money expected to be at least $6.5 million at the PGA Championship, that leaves plenty of room for several Americans to play their way onto the team.
Several of them have never played in a team competition, such as Zach Johnson (No. 12), Ted Purdy (No. 14), Joe Ogilvie (No. 15) and Bart Bryant, who is 16th in the standings on the strength of winning the Memorial.
'It's a huge goal of mine,' Johnson said. 'It was at the beginning of the year. It's still foremost in my game, but when it comes to the first tee, I try to throw it away and just forget about it and go about my business.'
Nicklaus finally gets a home game, as the Presidents Cup will be played Sept. 22-25 at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in northern Virginia, where the Americans have never lost.
He was captain of the 1998 team in Australia that got clobbered at Royal Melbourne, 201/2-111/2, the worst loss ever by a U.S. team in cup competition. He had to settle for a tie in South Africa, which ended in the dark when both teams agreed to share the cup instead of returning the next morning.
Nicklaus and Player were asked to return in 2005 to settle the matter.
Player's job became more difficult when Els suffered a season-ending knee injury last week. That put Mark Hensby of Australia in the 10th spot, and world ranking points for the International team (represented by every country outside Europe) make it harder to climb the list without a top finish.
Even so, Player said the PGA Championship will go a long way toward determining his two picks. Two years ago, Tim Clark's third-place finish at Oak Hill was enough for him to warrant a wild-card selection.
'The thing I did last year was pick the up-and-coming guys who were playing well at the time,' Player said. 'Timing is the essential ingredient to picking your team.'
Player will have the usual suspects, starting with Vijay Singh, who also has played in every Presidents Cup. He will be joined by Retief Goosen and Adam Scott, while newcomers include Angel Cabrera and possibly Nick O'Hern.
While it is a surprise to see Love struggled to make the U.S. team, Player is concerned that former Masters champion Mike Weir is 10th in the standings, with not much breathing room between him and Peter Lonard at No. 12. Weir tied for fifth at the Masters, but has made only one cut in seven tournaments since then.
The PGA Championship will have a large influence on both teams, although winning doesn't guarantee a spot on the American team. Two years ago, Nicklaus left two current major champions off his team -- British Open winner Ben Curtis and PGA champion Shaun Micheel -- in favor of Jay Haas and Fred Funk.
Nicklaus wasn't sure what he had in mind this time around.
'I've got a very difficult situation,' he said a week before the PGA. 'My guess is I probably will not pick Nos. 11 and 12. The American team is relatively young and I might want experience this time. We'll see how things play out the next two weeks.'
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