- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 14, 2007

TULSA, Okla. — Jack Nicklaus took the first duel of the Presidents Cup yesterday, boosting the United States‘ chances in the biennial event by besting International team captain Gary Player with his wild-card choices.

Nicklaus rounded out his U.S. roster with Hunter Mahan and Lucas Glover, adding two fiery young players to an American roster somewhat lacking in that department. Player’s two picks, Mike Weir and Nick O'Hern, are considerably more questionable.

Mahan is one of the game’s best players off the tee and can partner with virtually any member of the U.S. team, making him easily the strongest addition among yesterday’s selections. The 25-year-old has finished in the top 25 in his past eight tournaments, including his first career victory in the Travelers Championship in June. In the season’s final three majors, Mahan finished tied for 13th, tied for sixth and tied for 18th.

Hunter has come a long way in the last year, said Nicklaus, whose U.S. squad will face Player’s International team Sept. 27-30 at Royal Montreal Golf Club. If there is a young player who has played better in the last six months, I don’t know who it is.

The 27-year-old Glover is one of the most consistent young players on the PGA Tour. He ranks 14th on tour in birdie average (3.63), a definite match-play indicator, and has missed just five cuts this season.

Player’s selections raise some questions, however.

He undoubtedly felt compelled to add Weir, 37, to please the host country, even though the Canadian lefty has just two top-10 finishes this season, missed the cut at last week’s PGA Championship and looks lost with his driver.

Mike is a hero in his country and deservedly so, Player said of the 2003 Masters champion. If we didn’t have a Canadian in my team and playing in Canada, I can assure you in my opinion at least that the series would be quite flat. … I’m really thrilled about having Mike in. It’s going to enhance the event in Canada.

O'Hern’s selection, meanwhile, came as a bigger surprise.

Though he narrowly was bumped from automatic qualification at Southern Hills by Stuart Appleby, the 35-year-old O'Hern has a thin resume. In eight seasons on the PGA and European Tours, O'Hern has yet to collect a tournament victory. Virtually his entire reputation is predicated on a pair of early round victories over Tiger Woods (2005, 2007) in the Match Play Championship.

Though O'Hern was 11th in the final International points standings, Player was expected to pick flamboyant Argentine talent Andres Romero. The 26-year-old Romero came to Southern Hills as hot as any player short of Woods after finishing sixth at the British Open, posting the first European Tour victory of his career at the Deutsche Bank Championship and finishing tied for sixth to Woods at the Bridgestone Invitational. Romero, who had major finale record 10 birdies at Carnoustie, would have formed a potentially devastating partnership with countryman Angel Cabrera.

The International side still will be favored, however, given their superior middle-order and home-course advantage. But if the United States should defend the Cup in Montreal, it will be easy to look back at Player’s questionable second wild-card decision.