Published January 13, 2015
The Presidents Cup looks more like the Ryder Cup every year, at least in one respect. One team does all the winning.
It's about the only cup the Americans can win anymore.
Tiger Woods, who has won the Memorial five times, returns to Muirfield Village in Dublin, Ohio, with a strong American team that is a heavy favorite to win the Presidents Cup and keep its record perfect on home soil.
Since this event began in 1994 as a chance for players outside Europe to compete in matches styled after the Ryder Cup, the International team has won just one time. That was 15 years ago in Australia, where the Americans spent most of their time counting money won at the casinos or spending it while shopping online for Christmas gifts.
The last three matches haven't even been close.
"It's not a question of beating the Americans. It's a question of winning the cup. And I think that's something that's really important to the International team," said Nick Price, who takes over the captaincy from Greg Norman. "We've had a tough time. So what I'm trying to figure out is how do we turn the tide?"
International players have been talking over the last several years about the need to win — or at least make it interesting on Sunday — to keep golf fans from losing interest. Woods, not surprisingly, doesn't see it that way.
"We like the way it's gone," Woods said, "and we'd like to keep it going that way."
The last time Price was involved in this competition was the last time it was close. The matches were so tight in South Africa that Price, a three-time major champion and dignified member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, snapped the putter over his knee after missing a short putt.
Those matches ended in darkness after Woods and Ernie Els had played three playoff holes, both conceding the pressure was as great as they had ever felt. It ended in a tie, and ever since the Presidents Cup has been a mismatch.
On paper, this one doesn't appear to be much different.
The Americans are so strong that it didn't have room on its 12-man team for Jim Furyk, Dustin Johnson or Bubba Watson.
Fred Couples, back as captain for the third time, used one of his picks on 20-year-old Jordan Spieth, who started the year with no status and finished No. 10 on the PGA Tour money list. Price used his picks on two players who didn't win a single tournament this year.
The International rookies include Brendon de Jonge, Richard Sterne and Branden Grace. The American rookies in the Presidents Cup include Keegan Bradley and Jason Dufner, who have won two of the last three PGA Championships.
"On paper, everything seems great," Brandt Snedeker said. "But it's not played on paper. Those guys are going to be very well-coached. They're very, very good players with a track record at Muirfield. They probably have a better record, taking Tiger out of it."
Then again, the International team might feel as though it has nothing to lose.
The pressure will be on the Americans. If they fail to win, it will be the first time they have not held any of the professional cups — Europe has won the Solheim Cup the last two years, including last month in Colorado, and Europe has won the last two Ryder Cups, and seven of the last nine.
So why can't they seem to lose the Presidents Cup?
The pressure isn't as great, for starters. Europe plays for its tour in the Ryder Cup. The International team plays under a manufactured flag. Most of the players already are PGA Tour members, and in many cases live in the same neighborhood as the U.S. players.
Muirfield Village is the course Jack Nicklaus built for his Memorial. It becomes the first golf course to host the Ryder Cup (1987), Solheim Cup (1998) and Presidents Cup. History could be on the side of the International team. It was at Muirfield Village that the Americans lost the Ryder Cup at home for the first time.
Ernie Els is the only player who celebrated an International win, even though they seem to celebrate just as hard when they lose. Masters champion Adam Scott was on the team in South Africa in 2003, and he was among the most vocal on the second green when captains Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player agreed to tie the cup. That's when Nicklaus reminded Player that the defending champion keeps the cup. Scott wanted Els to keep playing, and then they teams agreed to share the cup.
Still, the Australian has been on every team since then and it always ends the same way.
"I feel it's important for the Internationals to win and just for myself, for my own satisfaction of being on a winning team, which I haven't done in my career," Scott said. "I want to experience that kind of elation with a bunch of other guys around me."
Even on a team with Woods, most of the American attention is on Spieth, the 20-year-old who has dazzled this year. Unlike the Ryder Cup, the captains are together when they fill in their lineups — six foursomes and fourballs matches Thursday and Friday, five of each format on Saturday, 12 singles on Saturday.
It might be fitting for Spieth to take on 21-year-old Hideki Matsuyama of Japan on Sunday, who has had a big year himself. Matsuyama has won three times in Japan, risen to No. 30 in the world and had top 10s in the U.S. Open and British Open.
It would be even better if their match actually meant something, instead of the Americans sailing to another win.