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Ryder Cup could learn from Presidents Cup

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MEDINAH, Ill. – The Ryder Cup has history, the Presidents Cup has pizzazz. Samuel Ryder’s member-member has been referred to as a “war,” while PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem’s meet-and-greet has at times felt more like an inter-club skins game between Orlando’s Lake Nona and Isleworth.

The Ryder Cup is Sutton Coldfield, England; the Presidents Cup is Las Vegas.

Pick your poison.

For the most part the Ryder Cup has staked out higher, albeit stuffier, ground, but when it comes to giving the fans what they want the elder statesman could learn a little from its youthful sibling.

The Presidents Cup has made a show out of each day’s pairings, with captains matching each team pairing and Sunday singles tee times in real time for all the world to see.

When International Presidents Cup captain Greg Norman, for example, sent K.J. Choi and Adam Scott out in the last group on Day 1 last year at Royal Melbourne, U.S. skipper Fred Couples countered with Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker, giving the crowds – and maybe even Scott and Woods – what they wanted amid the circus caused by Scott’s caddie Steve Williams’ split with Woods.

At the Ryder Cup, however, each day’s pairings are a blind draw, with captain’s listing their teams in order with no clue as to what their counterpart will do, which means the odds of a much-anticipated Woods vs. Rory McIlroy title bout on Sunday in Chicago-land are 1-in-12.

Opponents of the Presidents Cup formula say tradition supersedes drama, however contrived, but that “competitive integrity” bridge was dusted last year when the PGA Tour introduced “marquee pairings.”

Anyone who watched Woods and Ernie Els go head-to-head on Sunday at the 2003 Presidents Cup in South Africa can attest to how compelling a little faux drama can be. It’s Entertainment 101 – give the people what they want.

“It would be neat to sit up here and match them up,” Love admitted this week at Medinah. “It would be pretty good theater to match groups and it would be fun.”

Yet when it was suggested that there is nothing in the captain’s agreement that would preclude Love and European captain Jose Maria Olazabal from working out some sort of arrangement the U.S. skipper balked.

“I definitely don’t want to be the first one to go cross over into their room and start rigging pairings,” Captain America declared.

Olazabal was even more vague, rightfully dismissing the media’s interest in contrived theater over the higher needs of the team. “I know you’re eager to see that match, but I think the Ryder Cup is more important than that single match,” he said.

Perhaps, but that assumes that competitive integrity and a good show are mutually exclusive.

Imagine the spectacle of the world Nos. 1 and 2 dueling late into Sunday with the cup on the line. Imagine the leap a budding rivalry would make on a pressure-packed international stage and the boon it would be for golf, regardless of outcome.

Some have further suggested that perhaps Woods and McIlroy wouldn’t, for whatever reason, want that uber-pairing. Hogwash.

In his prime Michael Jordan didn’t ask to guard the sixth man. He wanted the other team’s alpha male and Woods and McIlroy are no different. It’s in their DNA and history suggests both players relish the opportunity. The duo has been paired together 10 times this season on Tour and combined to shoot 34 under with just one over-par round between them.

“I’d love to go out there. I’d love Tiger to go out first and kick his ass,” McIlroy laughed when he was recently asked about playing Woods on Sunday at Medinah.

The Ryder Cup clings to its traditions and, as Love pointed out, “everything seems to be working pretty well,” with the matches enjoying unparalleled popularity on both sides of the pond. Besides, given the historical distinctions between the Tour and PGA of America it doesn’t seem likely the Ryder Cup would be keen to play follow-the-leader, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t.

In this, imitation is the best form of flattery. It’s time for the Ryder Cup to steal a page from the Presidents Cup playbook and add a new level of intrigue to the matches. It’s what the fans and media want. It’s what the players want.

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