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Can the underdogs win Presidents Cup?





It's just over two weeks until the Presidents Cup, and I for one am rather excited. What it lacks in prestige when compared with the Ryder Cup is amply compensated for by greater levels of patriotic pride invested into it.

This year, our big three of Schwartzel, Oosthuizen and Grace will be leading the South African charge, while Durban-born Nick Price will be having a third bite of the cherry as team captain when he squares up against opposite number Steve Stricker at the impressive Liberty National Golf Club in New Jersey.

The event has often been derided as being one-sided, which is an understandable critique, given that the overall scoreline reads nine victories to one in favour of the USA, and with the Americans having won all six matches since that famous tie at the Fancourt Links in 2003.

But this summary statistic belies the fact that these battles have generally been quite close - not least of all last time out in South Korea, where the Internationals missed out by a solitary point.

It was a point which could quickly be accounted for, when Chris Kirk snaffled an unlikely victory from Anirban Lahiri. He missed from four feet to halve the match, having watched in horror as the American had holed out from 15 feet just before.

The Indian, however, has been fortunate to be given the chance to make amends, as he joined the exciting Emiliano Grillo as one of Price's two captain's picks.

You feel that the official line of justification from the skipper that Lahiri "brings experience to the table" may be something of a red herring - with golf growing rapidly in India, and the potential to thrust the Presidents Cup in front of a billion or so eyeballs over there (not to mention that New Jersey has a sizeable Indian population too), Price has likely factored in the bigger picture.

Either way, looking at the two sides, it's difficult to argue that the Americans boast the greater firepower at the top end of their line-up, with the likes of Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Matt Kuchar and Rickie Fowler all in excellent form. And then there is the indefatigable Phil Mickelson, who will be making his 23rd consecutive team appearance for his country.

The last time Team USA lined up without him in their ranks was the 1993 Ryder Cup at the Belfry. To put that into context, FW de Klerk was still president, Mr Vain by Culture Beat was top of the music charts, and the World Wide Web hadn't yet been born.

On the International side of things, the picture isn't quite as rosy. Hideki Matsuyama leads the charge, with Oosthuizen and Aussie Marc Leishman in good form. But it's been a year to forget for Schwartzel, while Grace hasn't quite hit his straps in recent weeks either (other than at the Open in July).

The Australian duo of Jason Day and Adam Scott, too, have been out of sorts. Yet matchplay is a whole new kettle of fish, and, especially in foursomes and betterball, the significance of superior individual form can be cancelled out.

Incidentally, it is in the lesser-hailed player department where Price must fancy his chances. The likes of Kisner, Chappell, Berger and Hoffman shouldn't strike too much fear into their hearts, and players like Jhonattan Vegas, Kim Si-woo and Adam Hadwin will all be right at home when lining up on American soil.

You feel that if the Internationals, as 3/1 outsiders, are going to pull off a shock triumph, it will be these rookies who play a big role in getting them over the line.

Pundits left and right have written the Internationals off, with many tipping the USA to claim a sizeable victory. Given that they're on home turf, it would seem to be where the smart money lies. But whether it's blind optimism, misguided instinct, or simply the mathematical probability that the visitors are overdue to break their drought, I can't help but shake the feeling that Price will summon the very best from his men, and that, at the very least, they'll run the Americans close.

The man himself will be desperate to have something to show for his three stints as team captain too.

As South Africans, we haven't had a major victory to celebrate in a while, and only a smattering of wins in regular season events to cherish.

With vested interests high, this one will mean a lot to us if the Internationals can get the job done - not to mention give the Presidents Cup the shot in the arm it needs in terms of growth and prestige as a contest.

By coincidence or design, there'll be millions upon millions of people rooting for them as well. Let's hope they can pull it off.


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