A break from the norm this week, with team match play events either side of the Atlantic. Undoubtedly the more prestigious of the two is the Presidents Cup, played at Royal Montreal GC, Quebec.
This event took a while to establish itself as a decent filler in non-Ryder Cup years but, with fourteen of the world?s top-20 on either side, it has now become an event of considerable importance and prestige.
There have been six Presidents Cups overall – of which America have won 4. This statistic is probably of limited value though as the gulf between the two sides has closed dramatically over the last decade.
The last two matches have gone to the wire. In 2004, the teams tied after Tiger Woods and Ernie Els couldn?t be separated following three sudden-death play-off holes, and last time it took an inspired Chris Dimarco to fend off a stirring International comeback on the final green. Prior to that, both sides had one thumping win apiece on home territory from the previous two matches.
A case could be made for either side if we were looking strictly at the form book. The US have the world?s top four players in their side – Woods, Mickelson, Furyk and Stricker, but only five in the top-20 compared to the Internationals? nine.
Experience of these team match play events, however, suggests that these minor differentials in rankings are basically irrelevant. Of greater importance are factors harder to measure like team spirit and momentum.
With so little to choose between the two sides, its hard to have a confident bet here. However as they should enjoy strong support with home advantage the Internationals probably don?t deserve to be outsiders, making them the value selection at 5/4.
If it wasn?t for Tiger Woods those odds would probably be reversed. As always, one has to say that if Woods can carry his stroke play form over to this completely different format then the USA will be hard to beat. But then again, how many times have we said that before a Ryder or Presidents Cup?
When they won this event two years ago, boosted immeasurably by the fact Woods finally found a suitable partner for foursomes and fourballs in Jim Furyk, there was a suggestion that this would translate into a generally improved American performance in team golf. One year and another Ryder Cup humiliation later, and it was back to the drawing board.
As far as I?m concerned, Team USA still have to prove they aren?t just a bunch of pampered individuals. If anything they look weaker this time with Chris Dimarco a notable absentee. Dimarco finished top-scorer in this last time as well as being pretty much the only American to emerge with any credit in the penultimate Ryder Cup. His feisty competitiveness will be sorely missed.
In the top team scorer markets, slightly different rules apply to the Ryder Cup where only a few players get to play in the maximum five games. This week, only two players from each side will play one less game than the rest on Saturday, which is split into two sets of foursomes and fourballs. As most of these match play affairs are toss of a coin affairs, there seems no point in backing the favourites.
Given that so many others hardly covered themselves in glory at The K Club, I expect STEWART CINK will play a major role for the Americans. In Ireland, Cink finished second in the US scoring table behind Woods, and in this event he?s won more than half of his previous matches. He?s always looked a decent match-player and produced one of the finest Ryder Cup singles performances in living memory to defeat Garcia on the final day last year. At 14/1 with Skybet, Cink looks solid each-way value.
The Internationals have never fielded a stronger line-up. Six of their twelve are Major winners, and the way they?ve been playing it won?t be long before Adam Scott, KJ Choi and Rory Sabbatini can say that too.
Retief Goosen boasts the best previous record in this event, but will need to improve considerably on recent efforts to preserve that status. Similar comments apply to Vijay Singh, but Ernie Els is strongly expected to be a pivotal figure on a famous old course that should suit.
With no weak link though, the value may lie further down the list. Whereas many of the principle protagonists have been focussed on the Fedex Cup, three of the International side will have long had this earmarked as an opportunity to get something positive out of a generally disappointing year.
Firstly, TREVOR IMMELMAN started the year with the highest of hopes, only to see his season ruined by illness. He started to return to his best at the end of the year though, no more so than when 6th at the USPGA. Immelman has also played well on both previous visits to Canada, finishing 5th and 7th in the Canadian Open.
I?m also having a punt on both of Gary Player?s wild-card picks, MIKE WEIR and NICK O?HERN. As the only proper Canadian in the field, (Sabbatini having switched to South African nationality), Weir will know the course better than most and have the biggest crowd support. Furthermore, he boasts a better tournament record than most of his team-mates having won 8 out of 14 previous Presidents? Cup matches.
O?Hern?s selection may have surprised some, but he has been picked specifically for his match play expertise. Extremely consistent in strokeplay but a very rare winner, the two biggest highlights of Nick?s career have been defeats of Tiger Woods in 18-hole matchplay. I?m sure Player intends to pick the left-hander in every match, which suggests to me he shouldn?t be the 25/1 outsider.
10pts THE INTERNATIONALS @ 6/5 (SKYBET, BETFAIR)
TOP US POINTS SCORER
2pts ew STEWART CINK @ 12/1 (SPORTINGBET, PADDY POWER)
TOP INTERNATIONAL POINTS SCORER
1.5pts ew TREVOR IMMELMAN @ 11/1 (CORAL, SPORTINGBET)
1.5pts ew MIKE WEIR @ 14/1 (CORAL)
1.5pts ew NICK O?HERN @ 25/1 (CORAL)