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Captain Els, you're on the clock: Breaking down potential International picks

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With the Presidents Cup a little over a month away, this week the rosters for both teams will be finalized with four captain’s picks each. International captain Ernie Els will make his picks on Wednesday, while U.S. skipper Tiger Woods will announce his selections on Thursday.

Let’s take a look at the potential candidates Els has to choose from as he looks to lead the International squad to just its second outright victory in the 25-year history of the event. First, a reminder of the eight players who have already qualified for his team at Royal Melbourne (Note: an asterisk(*) denotes a Presidents Cup rookie): 

Marc Leishman, Hideki Matsuyama, Louis Oosthuizen, Adam Scott, Abraham Ancer*, Haotong Li*, C.T. Pan*, Cameron Smith*

Now a look at the candidates for Els’ four selections, starting with…

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The Lock

Jason Day: The former world No. 1 barely missed out on qualifying automatically, and he has played in every Presidents Cup dating back to 2011. Day is a logical selection with the matches taking place in his native Australia, and with four rookies already on the team his veteran leadership will be an asset in the team room. Although he only has one top-10 finish since the Masters, he’s as close to a slam-dunk pick as you can find.

The Contenders

Sungjae Im: At No. 34 in the world, Im is behind only Day among International players not already qualified for Els’ squad. While he has yet to win on the PGA Tour, his consistent 2019 rookie season led to a Tour Championship berth and Rookie of the Year honors. He hasn’t slowed down since, finishing T-3 in Japan and T-11 in China over the last two weeks. At age 21, he has all the makings of an International stalwart for years to come.

Byeong-Hun An: Few players had a more successful Asian Swing on the PGA Tour than An, who finished T-14 or better each of the last three weeks. Throw in a third-place showing at Sanderson Farms and he already has four top-15 results in the early part of the new Tour season. While An has yet to win in the U.S., he did take home the European Tour’s flagship event in 2015 and his match-play bona fides include a U.S. Amateur win back in 2009.

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Joaquin Niemann: The young Chilean found a spark over the summer and carried it into the new season, winning his first Tour title at The Greenbrier in September. His results since include a T-12 finish in Korea, and many veterans including Els have spoken glowingly of his potential as both a pick option this year and a team member down the road. Dating back to May, he’s finished outside the top 35 just three times in 16 starts.

Adam Hadwin: Unlike the three names above, Hadwin would be an option for Els that wouldn’t add to the number of rookies he’ll have in the team room in Melbourne. The Canadian played in the 2017 Presidents Cup, compiling an 0-2-1 individual record at Liberty National, and this fall he finished runner-up at the Safeway Open and T-4 the following week in Las Vegas. His candidacy may have slowed in Asia, though, where he failed to crack the top 40 in limited-field events in Japan and China with picks looming.

Corey Conners: Els may have more than one Canadian option at his disposal, as Conners has quietly played his way into the mix. A winner at the Valero Texas Open in April as a Monday qualifier, Conners ultimately made the Tour Championship field and has built upon that momentum in the fall. He’s finished T-20 or better in each of his last four starts, including all three Asian events, and boasts eight top-25 finishes in nine starts dating back to August.

The Wild Card

Branden Grace: Grace has been on each of the last three Presidents Cup teams, including a 5-0-0 stint four years ago in South Korea, and Els would surely love nothing more than to add his fellow countryman to the squad. But Grace hasn’t offered much reason for a selection in recent months, sliding from 49th to 119th in the world over the course of 2019. Grace has missed four of his last six worldwide cuts, including last week in Bermuda, and he hasn’t cracked the top 25 in a stroke-play event since a runner-up finish in Phoenix in February. If he gets the call from Els, it’s much more about what he’s done in past matches than anything he’s done lately on the course.