Every year or two, conversation over who belongs on golf's Mount Rushmore is rekindled. Invariably, Jack Nicklaus is the first and most popular choice, so it stands to reason that the Presidents Cup is contested on a course that the Hall of Famer created.
Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio, hosts the 10th edition of the biennial competition pitting 12 of the best from the United States against counterparts from all other countries outside Europe. The latter dozen is often referred to as the Internationals or the Rest of the World. Perhaps all of the time, they are best known as the underdogs.
The U.S. owns a 7-1-1 record in the Presidents Cup, its only defeat occurring at Royal Melbourne Golf Club in Australia in 1998. In direct response to history, International captain Nick Price lobbied, albeit unsuccessfully, for a modified format resulting in fewer matches to help even the competition. Instead, 34 points remain at stake. Any foursomes and four-ball matches tied after 18 holes will award one-half of one point to both teams. Singles matches will be played until a full point is allocated. If the competition is knotted at 17, the two squads will share the Presidents Cup until reconvening at Jack Nicklaus Golf Club Korea in 2015.
While that Nicklaus design is relatively new (circa 2010), Muirfield Village is a familiar stop on the PGA TOUR. It's hosted the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide Insurance since 1976. Of the 24 competitors at this Presidents Cup, all but Hideki Matsuyama have played in the Memorial at least once. Members of the U.S. have made an aggregate 88 starts to the Internationals' 57, of which 20 belong to Ernie Els. So, while the Americans can check off history and a home game on their list of advantages, the breadth of course knowledge tilts their way, too.
Factors such as momentum and timely matchups can fuel the team game inside the ropes and help provide balance for the Internationals, but Price will be saddled with the nuance of pairing teammates from six countries in addition to the goal of uncovering sensible pairings founded in skill sets, personalities and whatever other dynamic he finds valuable. On the other side of the ledger, arguably the most difficult task for U.S. skipper Fred Couples is to ease in his four first-timers. Yet, Price is burdened with seven rookies.
Regardless of the format on any day, Muirfield Village is relatively open off the tee. That caters to an aggressive game plan, especially since loss of hole is the worst that can happen before the next tee ball. However, with a scoring average of 73.256, this week's host was the most difficult of 18 par 72s used in non-majors during the 2013 season, so it's not like eagles and birdies will win every hole. The par-4 14th hole has been reduced by 38 yards so that it can play at a drivable 325 yards. It's going to see more action than the par-4 18th, which has been extended 40 yards (to a hearty 484 yards) thanks to the addition of a back tee. Overall, the course lists at 7,354 yards with just the two major wrinkles.
What may be the last surge of summertime weather will extend into Friday as daytime highs will creep into the upper 70s. A system will then pass through, bringing with it precipitation and potentially cooler temperatures on the weekend. The impact of wind cannot be ruled out.
The lineup below take into account individual talent, experience in team competition and recent form. Since pairings are not known in advance, many offer angles at what kind of teammate makes sense, at least in one writer's opinion.
|Power Rankings: Presidents Cup|