Blasting to China and the World Cup in a quiet week of tour golf . . .The Americans will be trying to win for the first time in nine years at the Omega Mission Hills World Cup in Shenzhen, China.
Two-man teams from 28 nations will tee it up in the 55th staging of the competition beginning Thursday (All four rounds air on Golf Channel Wednesday-Saturday at 10:30 p.m. ET).
Nick Watney and John Merrick will represent the United States.
This event used to be a big deal for Americans. There have been some dynamic U.S. pairings over the years. Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer teamed up to win it four times in the 1960s. Palmer and Sam Snead won it twice. Ben Hogan and Snead teamed to win it once. Nicklaus was a part of six victories, pairing up with Johnny Miller in a victory and Lee Trevino in another.
The most formidable duo might have been Fred Couples and Davis Love III, who teamed to win the World Cup four consecutive years (1992-95), the longest winning streak by a duo in the event’s history.
U.S. teams have won the World Cup 23 times, more than any other nation, but the Americans haven’t won it since 2000, when Tiger Woods paired with David Duval. Woods also won it in ’99 with Mark O’Meara.
With the nature of golf’s scheduling altered, the World Cup isn’t the priority it used to be. The fact that 11 Americans passed on the chance to play before Nick Watney accepted brings that point home. Woods, Phil Mickelson, Kenny Perry, Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk, Sean O’Hair, Anthony Kim, Lucas Glover, Zach Johnson, Stewart Cink and Ben Curtis all passed on chances. As the highest ranked American accepting, Watney got to pick his partner. The world rankings are used to set the top 18 teams in the field. China gets a team as the host. The rest of the nations played their way in through qualifying.
The format features fourballs (best ball) on Thursday and Saturday and foursomes (alternate shot) on Friday and Sunday. There’s $1.7 million as the payoff for the winners ($850,000 to each player).
Just three of the top 10 players in the world are competing with No. 7 Henrik Stenson, No. 8 Sergio Garcia and No. 10 Rory McIlroy in the field. Notably, McIlroy jumped into the top 10 for the first time with his third-place finish Sunday at the Dubai World Championship. He joins Garcia as the youngest players to have cracked the top 10. Garcia also was 20 when he first did it.
The Swedish team of Stenson and Robert Karlsson are defending champs. McIlroy is teaming with Graeme McDowell for Northern Ireland. Garcia will play with Spanish teammate Gonzalo Fernandez-Costano. England features the only tandem with both players among the top 20 in the world. No. 13 Ian Poulter and No. 20 Ross Fisher are paired.
Stance: With the PGA Tour season officially over, Q-School resuming next week for its final stage, the Race to Dubai complete and the LPGA season over, it’s the quietest week this year in tour golf. The World Cup isn’t what it used to be, a mere hors d’oeuvre on the golf plate this Thanksgiving week, but there are enough familiar names and a compelling format to keep us interested.
Takeaway: With so much attention sure to be focused on McIlroy, Watney gets another chance to distinguish himself as one of the game’s up-and-coming players, though he’ll need help from Merrick in this team format. When Watney won the Buick Invitational in February and followed up with a second-place finish to Mickelson at the WGC-CA Championship and a tie for fourth behind Woods at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Watney looked ready to step up in class before cooling off the rest of the way. He had one top 10 after March on the PGA Tour season but warmed up with a fifth-place finish at the HSBC Champions in China two weeks ago.
Bunker shot: McIlroy didn’t win the Dubai World Championship last weekend or the Race to Dubai, but he finished off an impressive year in Europe and the United States. He won the Dubai Desert Classic earlier this season, finished second in the Race to Dubai and logged top 10s at the U.S. Open and PGA Championship. When you’re sorting the list of promising young talent, McIlroy has to sit at the top by virtue of his performances in the world’s biggest events.