MELBOURNE, Australia – The World Cup of Golf begins Thursday at Royal Melbourne with 25 two-man teams and eight to 10 individual golfers vying for $8 million in prize money.
Here are five things to know about the tournament that celebrates its 60th year in 2013:
LEADING TO RIO: The format has been substantially changed this year to make it primarily a stroke-play competition and, in essence, a very early "test event" for the 2016 Olympics, where golf will make its return to the program. The World Golf Ranking was used as the deciding factor in who plays this week at Royal Melbourne, and that and eligibility for numbers of players allowed from each country will also be used at Rio in three years. Rio won't feature a team competition, which is being retained here as part of the original World Cup format. Critics say the event has been hijacked as a result, and the prize money only accentuates the disparity — $7 million in purse money for the individual competition, including $1.2 million to the winner, and just $1 million overall for the team event.
ONE DIFFERENCE: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland compete as Britain at the Olympics. However, at the World Cup, England, Scotland and Wales compete as separate countries and Northern Ireland and Ireland play as one team — Ireland. Rory McIlroy, who played for Ireland as an amateur, will have a choice to make if he plays in 2016 at Rio — either for Britain because of his Northern Ireland roots, or for Ireland. McIlroy, who is not playing the World Cup this year, has not said who he would play for and suggested he might not play at all if forced to play for one country or the other.
SOME HISTORY: The critics who say the team component is being watered down point to the historical significance of the World Cup which was first held in Montreal in 1953 when Roberto De Vicenzo and Antonio Cerda won for Argentina. The tournament was known as the Canada Cup until 1967. It has attracted its share of top golfers over the years, and they kept coming back. Ian Woosnam played 17 times for Wales, Gary Player 16 times for South Africa, Bernard Langer 12 for Germany and Colin Montgomerie 10 times for Scotland. Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Seve Ballesteros, Fred Couples, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods have also won World Cup titles for their countries.
THE DEFENDERS: The United States has won the World Cup a record 24 times, and they are the defending champions. In 2011, Matt Kuchar and Gary Woodland finished two strokes ahead of England's Ian Poulter and Justin Rose at Hainan Island in China. The format then was two days of four-ball and two of foursomes. Kuchar is back for the Americans, this time partnered by Kevin Streelman.
Kuchar has a way to go to catch four Americans who have won the title four times each — the teams of Fred Couples and Davis Love III and Nicklaus and Palmer.
THE HOME SIDE: Adam Scott, ranked No. 2, and No. 18 Jason Day are a formidable team and also have the advantage of playing before the home crowds at Royal Melbourne, which is hosting the World Cup for the fourth time and first since 1988 when Australia celebrated its Bicentennial. Scott has played three times at the World Cup, while this will be Day's debut. It's been a dry time for Australia in the World Cup recently, with the last win coming in 1989 in Spain when Peter Fowler and 1990 U.S. PGA champion Wayne Grady won for Australia. The closest Australia has come since was in 1995 at Mission Hills in China when Robert Allenby and Brett Ogle finished second to Couples and Love when that American pair won it for the fourth time. Scott, Kuchar and Vijay Singh, who is competing in the individual competition, have the advantage of having played Royal Melbourne in the Australian Masters last week where Scott won, Kuchar was second and Singh third.