The PGA Tour calendar year and European Tour season have both concluded, which means there are just two meaningful golf events left in 2019. The first is the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas, and the second is the Presidents Cup the following week in Australia. Tiger Woods will be at the epicenter of both. It’s strange to have high-level team golf at this time of the year — a time when we’re thinking more about turkeys and Lions than we are about Tigers. Such is the golf world when the International team faces the loaded U.S. team every four years in a non-American locale.
While this event could get a little buried by everything else going on in the sports world — not to mention the holidays — I hope it doesn’t. There are plenty of interesting storylines for this Presidents Cup, and the competition, while potentially lopsided, should still be intriguing. Let’s look at nine of those storylines going into the final month of the year.
1. Tiger as captain/competitor: Kordell Stewart is jealous of Tiger’s slash role on this squad. He’ll thrive as captain, but how will he do on the course? I’m more dubious following his disastrous experience in Paris at the Ryder Cup last fall but also hopeful after he took down the Zozo Championship this fall. Maybe more pertinently, how will his body hold up over a two-week stretch in which he’ll host and play in the Hero World Challenge, take an across-the-world flight to Australia and endure a week of captaining and playing there? It’s not a spot I would have willingly put him in, but he does seem fired up to thrive in it.
2. International … stars? The International team has plenty of youngsters that seem like they could be great but might not seem great because they’re going up against the Justin Thomases and Webb Simpsons of the world. This includes (but is not limited to) Sungjae Im, Joaquinn Niemann, Cam Smith and Haotong Li. Any of them could bust down the door and show out on a huge stage, but the guys standing across them represent a monumental mountain they’ll have to climb.
3. Aussie springboard: I remember a certain fellow who in 2014 went down to Australia, won the Australian Open by six and then took the next two major championships. Jordan Spieth isn’t on this year’s squad, but somebody (Xander Schauffele? Patrick Cantlay?) could play that role and take the momentum from a monstrous Presidents Cup in Australia into 2020.
4. A curious ask: Do you, though?
5. Who plays with Patrick Reed? Maybe I’m the only one who cares about this, but after the Reed experiment in Paris went awry (like saying Kansas has been poor at football in recent years), I’m curious who goes out in foursomes or four-ball with the artist formerly known as Captain America. The wild card here is Justin Thomas, who you can pair with literally anyone (including me) and win a match. It would be a tough scene (maybe the toughest scene) for Spieth to watch from across the world.
6. Elder statesmen: Who’s going to step up for the International team? Is it going to be Jason Day, who is [checks notes] 3-6-4 in his career in non-singles play at the Presidents Cup? Adam Scott, who has three outright non-singles wins in the Presidents Cup since 2007? Hideki Matsuyama, who has three outright Presidents Cup wins … ever? Like the U.S. side in the Ryder Cup, the International team is filled with guys who have seen some stuff over the years in the Presidents Cup. It will take lights-out play from their rookies but, even more importantly, unusual play from their vets to keep this thing close.
7. Can the U.S. even be challenged? Only twice since 1998 — the only International victory — has this event even been close. One of those was in 2003 when it ended in a tie in South Africa. The other was in 2015 when it came down to the wire, and the U.S. won by a single point in South Korea. Everything else has gone decisively in the United States’ favor. The one thing the International team has going for it is travel. Look at those two locations above in which the event was close. Both are long travel destinations for the U.S. team, which has to adjust to new courses and cultures. This will be much of the same, especially with most of the U.S. team contending in the Hero World Challenge the week before. Also, the only the time the U.S. lost? Australia.
8. Does the U.S. team miss the No. 1 player in the world, Brooks Koepka? Short answer: No. Longer answer: I wish Woods had picked Kevin Kisner or someone like that who could legit help win the 2020 Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits. I get why he backfilled that slot with Rickie Fowler, who will probably also be on that Ryder Cup team, and I don’t have anything against Fowler, but I would have liked to have seen a little juice out of that position for future team events.
9. Where in the world: I mentioned this above, but the Australian factor is interesting to me. Royal Melbourne is a gem — which is great — and I’m interested to see if the U.S. side can adjust quickly and whether the crowd has any effect at all on the outcome of the event. My guess as of this writing is that they won’t, but it’s worthy of mentioning here with the matches fast approaching.