Rather than the usual strokeplay PGA Tour event, this week sees the eighth Presidents Cup at Harding Park, California. This biennial clash between the USA and the Rest of the World still has some way to go before it can begin to rival the Ryder Cup in importance, but it’s a pretty good substitute for the years in between those epic clashes.
The critical difference is that, so far at least, no serious rivalry has developed because the US have tended to dominate, leading 5-1 to date with one match tied. The Rest of the World did win by a stunning nine points in Australia 11 years ago, but the last two have seen comfortable US triumphs by an aggregate eight points. With the USA starting as 4/11 favourites, the market expects more of the same. Don’t be so sure.
If there’s one thing we should have learned from all those Ryder Cups, its that these team events show little respect for the formbook. The past quarter century has seen Europe repeatedly upset the odds against their illustrious opponents, until the one time they were widely seen as favourites in 2008. Then, the curse of the favourite struck again, and the weakest USA side in living memory won with plenty to spare.
Weak is not an adjective one would use to describe this US side, which boasts the top-three players in the world right now, who also happen to have won the final three legs of the FedEx Cup between them. Nevertheless, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Steve Stricker have rarely, if ever, looked world-beaters in team golf, and the big names on the International side shouldn’t fear them too much. In my view, the greater argument for backing the hosts is the strength in depth of their side. Only Justin Leonard ranks outside the world’s top-25, and he has plenty of experience of this type of contest.
Again though, it’s important not to read too much into world rankings. This is 18-hole matchplay, the greatest leveller in golf; especially the fourballs and foursome varieties that are little more than toss of a coin affairs. The team that wins this week will be the one that gels better, that finds the right pairings, and above all holes the most putts. In a contest like that, I’d always back the outsider.
11/4 about the Internationals certainly seems a decent bet given their own prowess. Only the classy but out of form Adam Scott, plus controversial wildcard pick Ryo Ishikawa look like potential weak links, and both are perfectly capable of justifying their selection. Ishikawa will be a superstar one day. But the core of the side will be the seven Major champions, which is the same number as in the US side. As everyone here is based in the States more or less full-time, home advantage should only have a minimal effect.
As always in these team events, the most interesting betting heat involves the races to be top points scorer, both for each side and overall. The format is slightly different from the Ryder Cup though, where it normally makes the best sense to focus on the handful of players likely to play all five matches. Here, 16 players should get to play the maximum available.
For me, that makes the favourites well worth taking on, particularly the likes of Woods and Mickelson who have average records at best. For the US, I’m going for two young players with good prowess in this type of contest and who will probably avoid being left out; HUNTER MAHAN and ANTHONY KIM. The former was the leading scorer and star of the show at last year’s Ryder Cup, while Kim also made his mark at Valhalla. In doing so, they both showed they have the temperament and the flamboyance for the big occasion.
As far as my two selections for the Internationals are concerned, I reckon they’re better value in the top combined scorer market. I’m opting for two players in GEOFF OGILVY and CAMILO VILLEGAS who are young and have shown a liking for matchplay. Ogilvy has twice won the WGC Matchplay, while Villegas looked imperious in the opening rounds of that event this year. The greens at Harding Park are small and difficult to hold, so their high ball-flight and classy approach play could be a crucial asset.
Advsied bets for The Presidents Cup
8pts win THE INTERNATIONALS @ 11/4
TOP US POINTS SCORER
2.5pts ew ANTHONY KIM @ 10/1 (GENERAL, 11/1 CORAL)
2.5pts ew HUNTER MAHAN @ 14/1 (GENERAL)
TOP COMBINED POINTS SCORER
2pts ew GEOFF OGILVY @ 18/1
1.5pts ew CAMILO VILLEGAS @ 25/1
LONG-TERM ALREADY ADVISED
RACE TO DUBAI
2.5pts ew ROSS FISHER @ 20/1
2.5pts ew PAUL CASEY @ 20/1
6pts win PAUL CASEY @ 8/1
1.5pts ew OLIVER WILSON @ 33/1
2008/2009 STATS: -191pts
2007/2008 STATS: +618pts