SYDNEY – The Presidents Cup has been looked upon as the country cousin of the Ryder Cup, an event packed with some of the best players in the world but missing the intensity of competing tours, competing continents and more than 60 years of history.
On paper, it would seem this edition doesn’t have much going for it.
For the first time since it began in 1994, the Presidents Cup will not have the No. 1 player in the world - or any of the top-3 players in the world, who are all European and not eligible. Masters champion Charl Schwartzel of South Africa is the only player on either side to have won a major this year, another career-low for this event.
Eleven of the 24 players on the U.S and International teams have failed to win a tournament anywhere in the world this year.
So why is the Presidents Cup getting more attention than ever?
Tiger Woods, of course.
This sleepy little affair found itself in the middle of a minor controversy when Woods - winless for the last two years and out of the top 50 in the world for the first time since he was a 20-year-old rookie - was picked for the U.S. team by captain Fred Couples.
What’s more, Couples announced he was taking Woods - calling him “the best player in the world forever” - a month before the qualifying period ended, essentially informing the other Americans that only one spot was available if they didn’t make the team.
International captain Greg Norman added some fuel when he said he would not have taken Woods over PGA champion Keegan Bradley, a two-time winner this year who wound up being left off the team. Geoff Ogilvy caused headlines simply by saying he didn’t agree with the timing of Couples’ decision.
“Greg and Tiger have both been very good at getting themselves in the paper - Greg his whole career, and Tiger is that guy now. He isn’t even sighted and he’s talked about,” Ogilvy said.
All this took place before caddie Steve Williams’ racial slur against Woods, his former employer, during a caddies award roast in Shanghai. Adam Scott said he didn’t condone his caddie’s remark, but he chose not to fire him, either. And that only led to the juicy prospect of Scott and Woods facing each other next week at Royal Melbourne.
A golf match or a soap opera?
The lines have become blurred, which isn’t the worst thing for the Presidents Cup.
“It’s good for the Presidents Cup,” Ogilvy said. “It’s been more talked about than any Presidents Cup previously, especially outside the United States. Usually the questions we get on Tuesday are ‘Why don’t you guys win? There are probably going to be different questions.
“Any exposure for an event like that is good,” he said. “Because it’s been getting better and better every year. And if it takes a buildup to take it to another level, that’s good.”
The ninth edition of the Presidents Cup starts Thursday at Royal Melbourne, and while the attention has been centered so much around Woods, eventually it will get back to the question Ogilvy mentioned.
With so many talented players, why can’t the International team win?
The Americans have won only two of the past eight Ryder Cups, with most of the U.S. losses coming before Europe’s ascension in the world ranking. The International team - from every continent except Europe - has been loaded in years past with major champions such as Ernie Els, Vijay Singh, Retief Goosen, Michael Campbell and Ogilvy.
But in the eight previous Presidents Cup matches, the International team has won just once. That was in 1998 at Royal Melbourne, with a moral victory coming in South Africa in 2003 when the event ended in the dark and both sides agreed to a tie.
Then again, that’s what gives the International team such hope.
The matches return to Royal Melbourne, regarded among the best courses in the world, one where local knowledge can go a long way. More than just a great course on the famous sandbelt, however, is the backing from sports-crazed Australians.
It’s no surprise that Norman looked beyond Louis Oosthuizen to use his two captain’s picks on Aaron Baddeley and Robert Allenby, both from Melbourne, with Allenby winning the majority of his tournaments in Melbourne.
The International team has five Aussies, giving them an even greater hometown advantage. The last time in Melbourne, the International team win was so resounding that the cup was won in the second of 12 singles match on Sunday. The result was 20 1/2 -11 1/2, the biggest loss the Americans have suffered in any cup competition.
The Americans attributed the loss to the timing of the tournament. It started on Dec. 10, back when golf essentially shut down in America in early November. They were rusty. Some were occupied with Christmas shopping. And they got waxed.
“I just remember a team that was very unprepared to play,” said Jim Furyk, who went 1-3-0 on that team. “They were a very boisterous crowd, great sportsmen. It was a great golf course. We were unprepared and we got whipped. And I remember the prime minister presenting us as the losers.”
With this global version of golf, players keep going. Eight of the Americans were at the Australian Open, with Phil Mickelson in the Singapore Open and Furyk having played the past two weeks in Shanghai.
The United States has won the past three, and there is a feeling that the International team has to win to keep interest in the Presidents Cup. And there is a deeper sense that the International side is sick of being on this end of a bad cycle.
“It stinks losing,” Els said. “We’ve lost quite handsomely the last couple of times, and it’s not a good feeling. But it’s good to have it outside of North America. We have a good team, and we’ve got a strong Aussie presence. We’re going to have a good week. It’s boiling up to a good one.”
The Aussie influence also comes from its captain.
Norman is the golfing icon Down Under, and he was on the losing side at Harding Park two years ago in San Francisco. Allenby, Scott and the rest of the Australians have said they have heard from him all year, picking their brains on what they can do to win.
Being in Melbourne is a big deal. This is not a place Norman, or any of them, wants to extend a dubious streak.
“I know we want to win it pretty bad,” Ogilvy said. “Greg is busting to win one. He’s just hyper-competitive. He didn’t win the last time. It’s in Australia, and it’s his favorite course. It’s all lined up to be a great moment at the end of Greg’s career.”
It’s shaping up to be one of the more interesting President Cup matches – at least before they get under way. One thing hasn’t changed. Most of the players – all but K.T. Kim and Ryo Ishikawa – are PGA Tour members. Some of them are neighbors.
But the headlines and talking points over recent months at least has given this a bit of an edge.
“We don’t want to get to where the Ryder Cup is,” Els said. “But we need to have a bit more needle in it. And with all those outside influences, there’s going to be a bit of needle.”
- Watch wall-to-wall coverage of the Presidents Cup live on Golf Channel beginning Monday at 6PM. Tournament air times: Golf Channel Wednesday 9PM-2AM, Thursday 7:30PM-2AM, Friday 3PM-2AM and Saturday 6:30PM-12:30AM. NBC coverage Saturday at 8AM and Sunday at noon. (Note: all times are ET)