DUBLIN, Ohio (AP) — The status of the Presidents Cup can be measured by one of the top goals for the International team.
It just wants it to be close.
About the only excitement the Presidents Cup has delivered in recent years was Woody Austin falling into the water, Robert Allenby accusing Anthony Kim of a big night out on the town in San Francisco (which looked even worse after Kim clobbered him in singles) and Tiger Woods having to face his old caddie in an opening match just weeks after caddie Steve Williams made a racially insensitive comment about him.
As for the golf?
The Americans have lost only once since the Presidents Cup began in 1994. They have never lost at home. They have three players — Woods, Steve Stricker and Matt Kuchar — who have won the Memorial at Muirfield Village. And they have only one player who has never competed in a professional cup. That would be 20-year-old Jordan Spieth, who is playing as well as anyone.
That explains why the International team, which wants to win, is at least interested in making a game out of it.
The Presidents Cup gets underway Thursday with six fourballs matches, and here are five things to look for at Muirfield Village:
THE SPIETH FACTOR: Everything is going Spieth’s way this year. He started the season with no status. He had a PGA Tour card locked up in May, he won in July, he nearly won in August, he shot 62 in September to warrant a captain’s pick for the Presidents Cup, and then he contended in the Tour Championship.
How about a hole-in-one on the final day of practice?
Spieth will be paired with Stricker against Ernie Els and Brendon de Jonge, and he could cap off an amazing year with an even better week.
PHIL AND KEEGAN: Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley produced the best American team in a losing cause at the Ryder Cup last year at Medinah. Mickelson brought Bradley into the fold during Bradley’s rookie season by playing money games with him in the practice round, and he loved that Bradley was willing to take on any challenge. They went 3-0 in team play at Medinah.
But while they are a good team, that doesn’t always carry over into the next year based on form. Mickelson has won three times this year, including the British Open. Bradley hasn’t won a tournament in more than a year and his form has been unpredictable. They face Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel.
OOSTHUIZEN’S HEALTH: Oosthuizen’s swing is the envy of golf. Trouble is, no one has seen it lately. He has recurring back issues from a tubing incident in South Africa in 2005, and he had neck and leg issues that forced him to withdraw from two majors and not play in the PGA Championship. He returned last week at the Dunhill Links Championship, encouraged not so much by his score but that he could walk 18 holes a day with no pain.
The former British Open champion is rusty, and how quickly he gets his game sharp could be critical for the International side.
TIGER’S NEW PARTNER: Woods is playing with his 10th partner in the Presidents Cup when he and Matt Kuchar take on Angel Cabrera and Marc Leishman. Woods recently was voted PGA Tour player of the year for the 10th time, and for good reason. He won five times this year, including The Players Championship and two World Golf Championships. This year also is marked for not winning a major, and Woods has only one win over the last five months.
But the Presidents Cup has been good to him. Even though he had a losing record in Australia two years ago — 2-3-0 — most of that was being saddled with an injured Stricker and a wild Dustin Johnson.
Woods and Kuchar have combined for six wins at Muirfield Village (five of them by Woods). The question is whether Woods gets yet another partner for foursomes on Friday, with Jason Dufner a possibility.
THE PRICE IS RIGHT: Fred Couples returns as U.S. captain for a third straight time, and no captain has ever won three in a row. So he has that going for — or against — him. The International side answers with Nick Price, who has kept his team as loose as possible, even though his players are desperate to turn their fortunes around.
“Nick’s idea is if you’re not in shorts and a T-shirt, then you’re overdressed, and I think that’s worked well for everyone,” Adam Scott said.
Price already has lobbied for the Presidents Cup to have fourballs for the opening session instead of foursomes, the alternate-shot format that is awkward for everyone, and particularly for the International team.
If the captain performs like he did as a player, this could help the International team. Price was the best player in the world in the early 1990s when he won three majors, hit the ball on the button with just about every shot and was far more fiery than his dignified personality let on. The last time Price played in the Presidents Cup, he was so angry about losing that he snapped a putter over his knee. That should be a highlight video for the team room.