It has been nearly two decades since the International Team has won The Presidents Cup, and the popular consensus is that the U.S. Team, which leads the overall series 9-1-1, is heavily favored to keep its six-match winning streak alive dating to the only tie in the series in 2003 in South Africa.
Of course, U.S. captain Steve Stricker is taking nothing for granted. For good reason.
“Over 18 holes, yeah, there are no guarantees,” said Stricker, the 2011 winner of the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide. “Anyone can say what they want, but we are expecting a tough four days.”
The 12th Presidents Cup begins Thursday at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City, N.J., and it’s easy to see why the American are favored with a lineup that includes No. 1 player in the world, Dustin Johnson, No. 2 Jordan Spieth, who is the British Open champion, five-time winner, PGA champion and newly minted FedExCup champion Justin Thomas, and U.S. Open winner Brooks Koepka. Also on board for a 12th appearance is veteran Phil Mickelson.
The International Team counters at the top with 2014 Memorial Tournament winner Hideki Matsuyama, who is No. 3 in the world, and Australians Adam Scott and Jason Day, who is a member at Muirfield Village Golf Club.
The U.S. team has a lot of new faces, though, including Thomas, Kevin Kisner, Charlie Hoffman, Daniel Berger and Kevin Chappell. And the International Team, with its own roster of veterans, including major winners Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel, nearly won two years ago in Korea, the decision coming down to the final singles match won by Bill Haas.
Hall of Famer Nick Price is the International Team captain for a third time.
The International Team’s only victory came in 1998 in Australia when they dominated a U.S. squad led by Jack Nicklaus, 20.5 to 11.5. Nicklaus, who also captained twice in the Ryder Cup, came back to lead the U.S. three more times, and his teams went 2-0-1 from 2003-07.
Thirty points are on the table this week via four-ball, foursome and singles matches. In 2015 at the Jack Nicklaus Golf Club Korea in Incheon City, the International Team rallied in singles only to come up a point short, 15.5 to 14.5. The entire competition came down to the 18th hole of the final head-to-head match, as Bae Sang-Moon of South Korea needed to win the 18th hole to half his match with Haas for a tie. Haas won the hole and gave his father Jay, the U.S. captain, the victory.
That was the closest finish to the Presidents Cup since 2003. The Americans won by three points in 2005 and 2013, the latter played at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio, four points in 2011, and by a five-point margin in 2007 and 2009.
And America is stacked again. Which means nothing when the gun goes off.
“We can't be complacent because the quality of play on the International Team is stellar,” Mickelson said. “If we play our best and we're prepared, I believe we'll come out on top, for sure, but, they are an incredibly talented team, and if we're not ready and we don't play our best and we come in there not sharp and we take some things for granted, we'll get beat.”
While the U.S. Team has every reason to feel confident, the International Team is determined.
“You've got to learn to lose before you really appreciate how to win. And I think we got so close last year, and that certainly has fueled the desire amongst these 12 guys, and I can tell you now, since they asked me to do it again back in April of last year in 2016, these guys are fired up,” Price said. “They are really motivated and as you know, when you have a motivated team and you've got a lot of team spirit in there and good morale, the sky's the limit.”