By Joel Beall
JERSEY CITY, N.J.—Captains Steve Stricker and Nick Price announced their pairings for Day 1 of the 2017 Presidents Cup. Though the groupings were mostly expected, there were a few items that caught our eye. Here are four takeaways regarding the matches set for Thursday:
Spieth and Reed return
The U.S. super couple, coming off a successful venture at the Ryder Cup, highlight the American pairings. While they played in four matches together at Hazeltine, they made just one appearance at the 2015 Presidents Cup in Korea, disposing of Jason Day and Charl Schwartzel 3&2. Don’t expect that to be the case at Liberty National.
Spieth’s iron precision, combined with Reed’s short game, is a nightmare for opponents. That the Internationals are countering with two struggling novices—Si Woo Kim and Emiliano Grillo—is as guaranteed a point as you’ll see in this event. Throw in the rowdy New York metropolitan crowd—one which will certainly eat up Reed’s theatrics—envision plenty of fireworks for the red, white and blue from this combo on Day 1.
Internationals boast their own dynamic duo
The Internationals came oh-so-close to just their second victory in 2015 thanks to the efforts of Branden Grace and Louis Oosthuizen. The South African supergroup became the first International team in cup history to go 4-0 in Incheon. And their competition wasn’t the end of the bench: Grace and Oosthuizen made victims of Spieth, Dustin Johnson, Reed twice, Rickie Fowler, Matt Kuchar and Bubba Watson.
Although the Internationals have more depth than ever, they remain heavy underdogs this week. To pull off the upset, the club will need Grace and Oosthuizen to replicate their ‘15 magic. Luckily for them, Liberty National is conducive to their games. Not only does the Jersey property reward tee-shot accuracy and second-shot prowess, the green difficulty doesn’t exactly invoke visions of Augusta National. Good news, especially for Grace, who ranked 148th in strokes gained: putting this campaign.
Faith in Hideki
There’s an elephant in the International room: their top-ranked player, Hideki Matsuyama, is mirrored in a funk. Following his Bridgestone win and PGA Championship run, the Japanese star stumbled in the FedEx Cup playoffs, missing the cut at the Northern Trust and finishing in the cellar at the no-cut BMW and Tour Championships. The reason for his ice bath? Look no further than the flat stick: in his last two appearances, Matsuyama finished dead last in strokes gained: putting.
Mentioned above, the dance floors aren’t diabolical, which should alleviate some of Matsuyama’s woes. Alas, as is so often the case with the short game, the issue resides not on the course’s terrain, but in confidence.
That didn’t stop captain Nick Price from slotting Matsuyama in the first group of the day, paired with Schwartzel to take on Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas. Clearly Price looks at Matsuyama as one that can set a positive tone for the Internationals. Matsuyama is too good of a player to suffer a drought; don’t be surprised if Liberty National’s confines, Price’s conviction and the team format snaps him out of his slump.
Mickelson earns starting nod
This wasn’t necessarily a surprise: Kevin Chappell and Charley Hoffman have been under the weather this week. Not to say the call was undeserved; Mickelson earned a team-high 3.5 points in Korea, and enters with a bit of momentum from the FedEx Cup. The sport may be enjoying a youth metamorphosis, but Mickelson’s fight against Father Time continues to be a marvel. Golf, truly a game for all ages.