US captain Tiger Woods, who picked himself as a player too, has a formidable line-up at his disposal as he endeavours to retain the silverware and make it eight wins on the trot for the defending champions, who also lead the head-to-head 10-1, with one tie.
The strength in depth of the Americans was clearly illustrated the other day when world number Brooks Koepka withdrew through injury, yet they still remain favourites to triumph for a second time at Royal Melbourne – the venue of Team International’s only victory to date (1998).
Woods called up Rickie Fowler to replace Koepka, and it goes without saying that the 30-year-old addition is great cover for the four-time Major champion.
Ernie Els, who will lead the International team, also had a withdrawal to negotiate when Australian Jason day likewise pulled out through injury. The South African, who was on that ’98 winning team and featured in eight Presidents Cups as a player, has brought in South Korean Byeong Hun An.
In making the announcement, Els added: “To have someone as steady and talented as Ben An puts us in a great position to succeed. Ben played extremely well throughout the year (on the US PGA Tour) and he will fit in nicely on this team.”
An is one of two Korean players on Team International, following the selection of this year US PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Sungjae Im as a captain’s pick.
Notwithstanding the inclusion of these two young talented lads, Team International does have some experience in the side – players who can leave their mark on the event, should they perform to their best, or thereabouts.
The likes of Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa and Australians Adam Scott and Marc Leishman have considerable experience and there is no doubt Els will look to them to lead their charge and take the challenge to the Americans.
Twenty-six year-old Cameron Smith is another Australian in the 12 and with home support counting for a lot in these clashes, his debut will certainly be welcomed by the fans of Team International.
China’s 24-year-old Haotong Li is another player who will add immense depth to Team International and bolster their fan base. Greater things are expected of the two-time European Tour winner who qualified on merit.
The International team also has Mexican Abraham Ancer, C.T. Pan of Taiwan, Chile’s Joaquin Niemann and Canadian Adam Hadwin in the mix and collectively they could stretch the Americans – and who knows? They may yet pull off an unlikely upset.
Be that as it may, it’s a tall order. The Americans are a potent unit, even without Koepka. When you take into account players like Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Matt Kuchar, Tony Finau, Gary Woodland, Patrick Reed and Tiger Woods himself, this is a force to reckon with and Team International will have to be at their very best to come away with anything.
The Americans also have in their line up Xander Schauffele, Webb Simpson, Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Cantlay.
Woods, who picked himself after his second win of the year at the inaugural Zozo Championship in Japan last month, is relishing the challenge and publicly said so.
Before his career nosedived Woods was largely seen a player who did not fit too well into the team game, be it the Presidents Cup or otherwise. Perhaps some of this was unfair, because the comparisons were against his outstanding individual success. With his 14 Majors and 80 PGA Tour titles to his credit, folks expected similar reward in the Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup.
Of course this did not happen. But after his return to top-form, the outlook has certainly changed somewhat. He underscored his comeback from injury and personal issues with a 15th Major at the Masters in April and then added the Zozo Championship for good measure as he tied Sam Snead’s record of 82 PGA Tour wins.
The package surrounding him seems to have changed as well. He appears distant from the player who was once so cagey about himself and those around him. He appears to be a little more approachable these days and maybe a win at this week’s Presidents Cup will really show us exactly how far he has emerged from his shell.
His team rightly starts as the favourites at Royal Melbourne and there are not many who would bet against them.
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