President’s Cup: Opening Day Four-Ball Preview And Predictions
President's Cup Day One: Four-Ball Preview
The President’s Cup gets off to a hot start on Thursday morning at Muirfield Village, with the first day consisting of six four-ball matches. If you aren’t familiar with the format, all players will play their own shots, with the lower score of the two counting.
As the entire event is played under match play rules, this could be one of the more exciting rounds of the week. In singles or even alternate-shot, a big miss may cost a player a hole. With the right pairing in four-ball, however, this means that if one player gets aggressive and misses their target, their teammate can be there to clean it up. It’s a classic risk versus reward concept.
With the opening pairings announced by captains Fred Couples and Nick Price on Wednesday, it’s time to take a look at how each of the matches break down. There are some highlight matches, notably the return of the team of Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley that was so successful at last year’s Ryder Cup.
The Americans have only lost once in the nine previous meetings with the Internationals, and while there isn’t much to indicate that could change, a big first day could turn the momentum either way. Since Jack Nicklaus’s course hosts the annual Memorial Tournament on the PGA Tour, most of the players on both sides have experience with the venue. It won’t take anybody by surprise.
In the hours leading up to the first tee shot, here’s a quick breakdown and prediction for each match.
Match One: Jason Day/Graham DeLaet vs. Hunter Mahan/Brandt Snedeker
International captain Price wanted to get off to a hot start, and there’s not much of a better way to do it than with Day, who is a member at Muirfield Village, and DeLaet, who played two of his best tournaments all year in the playoffs, as well as carding a T21 at this year’s Memorial.
Snedeker was a two-time winner on Tour in 2013, but he hasn’t had a lot of success at Muirfield Village, with two missed cuts and a withdrawal since 2010. Mahan has fared better, with top-20 finishes each of the last three years, and while Snedeker has been a great player the last few years, Mahan will be leaned on for consistency in the four-ball format.
Prediction: This International pairing is out to set the tone, and could well end up taking an early point from the Americans.
Match Two: Bill Haas/Webb Simpson vs. Adam Scott/Hideki Matsuyama
Matsuyama is the wild card in this match. The 21-year-old Japanese star just turned pro in April, and although he has limited American experience, he finished tied for 10th at the U.S. Open and tied for sixth at the Open Championship, in addition to three Japanese Tour wins. Scott had a career year in 2013 and is not to be taken lightly.
Haas finished fourth at this year’s Memorial, and although he didn’t overpower the course, he did make 11 birdies in the first two days. Simpson and Haas both played their college golf at Wake Forest, and could form a quick bond on the course. Haas, like Scott, will need to be consistent to lead this team.
Prediction: Scott and Matsuyama are a formidable pairing, but the Americans will find a way to make birdies when they need them most. International team earning a halve would be a good result.
Match Three: Louis Oosthuizen/Charl Schwartzel vs. Phil Mickelson/Keegan Bradley
Both teams in this match have excellent chemistry. Oosthuizen hasn’t had a particularly good year, missing six cuts on the PGA Tour and carding only one top ten. This pairing with one of his best friends and a fellow South African in Schwartzel could bring out some better golf.
Unfortunately for them, they’re going to run into the machine of Mickelson and Bradley. The American duo went 3-0 in the Ryder Cup and both of them absolutely feed off the energy of a home crowd and the match play environment. This one might not even be close.
Prediction: Mickelson and Bradley earn a big point and get the partisan crowd fired up.
Match Four: Jordan Spieth/Steve Stricker vs. Ernie Els/Brendon de Jonge
Stricker and Els - both past winners at Muirfield - are going to provide the veteran balance for their teams, as their partners are each playing in their first President’s Cup. De Jonge is a Cup rookie, but has played well to earn his spot. This one, however, is going to be decided by the putting expertise of Stricker and the energy that Spieth brings to the course every time he plays. Els is a solid opponent, but both the Americans are carrying over too much great play from the end of the season.
Prediction: The Americans take another point in Spieth’s international debut.
Match Five: Tiger Woods/Matt Kuchar vs. Angel Cabrera/Marc Leishman
All due respect to the International team of Cabrera and Leishman, but this one doesn’t stack up well for them. While much has been made of Tiger Woods’s recent struggles in match play, he’ll have the balance of Matt Kuchar to back him up in case some of his shots wind up off target. In Kuchar’s win at the Memorial this year, he shot rounds of 68-70-70-68 with 18 birdies on the week.
The match play format means that if Woods and Kuchar don’t take advantage of birdie opportunities, then they may drop some key holes, but in the end, they’re just too strong a team.
Prediction: Woods and Kuchar will drop some holes, but they're just too strong to lose this one.
Match Six: Jason Dufner/Zach Johnson vs. Branden Grace/Richard Sterne
Sterne is the only player other than Matsuyama in this contest who doesn’t play on the PGA Tour, but don’t let that inexperience fool you. Sterne is fourth in the European Tour’s Race To Dubai right now and had a win earlier this season.
Still, the team of Dufner and Johnson should be riding a solid wave of American momentum by the time their match even tees off. Johnson struggled at the Memorial this year, and Dufner hasn’t played here since 2010, but assuming Johnson is healthy, this is a great closing match for the Americans.
Prediction: This one could be closer than expected, but Dufner and Johnson should pull out the victory.