- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 26, 2007

MONTREAL — The man who coined the phrase “age over beauty” was probably an ornery, aging Ryder Cup disciple.

In 13 short years, the Presidents Cup has evolved into an event that trumps its more storied cousin in a number of crucial categories. Sure, the Ryder Cup has 80 years of history behind it. But the vast majority of that tradition qualifies as utterly forgettable; after all, the team from across the Atlantic beat Uncle Sam’s squad just three times in 25 tries before 1985.

Compare the two in their present forms and Samuel Ryder’s grand dame starts to look even shabbier. On the eve of this week’s seventh set of matches between the U.S. and International teams at Royal Montreal Golf Club, here is why the Presidents Cup is now a more compelling event to golf purists than the Ryder Cup:

Immortals at the helm

Let’s start at the top with the two men captaining this week’s teams: Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. Compare those two luminous golf diplomats and master champions — who boast 27 major victories between them — to the Ryder Cup’s most recent generals, Tom Lehman and Ian Woosnam. Score one for the Presidents Cup.

Strategically speaking, it has been proved time and again at team match play events that captaincy is overrated. Seve Ballesteros annoyed his team to no end at Valderrama at the 1997 Ryder Cup, and the Europeans won going away; Ken Venturi practically picked his teams from a hat at the 2000 Presidents Cup and was equally successful. Given that only a level of incompetence like Hal Sutton’s at the 2004 Ryder Cup truly can shape the outcome, captains might as well be chosen from the immortal pool.

Hide and seek

Unlike at the Ryder Cup, in which teams traditionally have been able to hide their weak links until the singles, the Presidents Cup’s expanded six-match Thursday and Friday formats guarantee all 12 players on both squads will play at least twice heading into Sunday’s singles.

“When you earn your way onto one of these teams, travel to the site and invest such emotional energy, the last thing you want to do is sit out,” U.S. team member Steve Stricker said recently. “Everybody wants to play, so I think most guys prefer the Presidents Cup format.”

Matchups

Unlike at the Ryder Cup, in which both captains simply submit their teams and order for each series of matches, the captains at the Presidents Cup take turns either presenting or matching their pairings. At the last Ryder Cup, Tiger Woods was slotted in the fourth position for Sunday’s singles, and his blind-draw opponent turned out to be anonymous Swede Robert Karlsson. Woods won the match 3 and 2, but it would have been more interesting to see him play Europe’s hottest player at K Club, Paul Casey. No such snoozers occur at the Presidents Cup, where the captains attempt to pit their top players against one another. You can guarantee Woods will spend some time this week playing against scrappy Canadian favorite Mike Weir.

International awe

For several years now, the Internationals have boasted the strongest squad on paper of the three match-play principals (Europe, United States and International). This week, Players’ squad features nine of the top 20 players in the world rankings and a median ranking of 14.5, easily clipping both the U.S. squad (five, 23.5) and projected European team (five, 21.5).

Old guard stalwarts like Ernie Els, Vijay Singh, and Retief Goosen have been joined by young comers Adam Scott, Geoff Ogilvy and Rory Sabbatini and late bloomers K.J. Choi and Angel Cabrera to give the Internationals the most talented roster any of the three principals has fielded in more than two decades.

“If you look at the [Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup] on paper, this is definitely the stronger event player-wise,” said Scott, ranked sixth in the world. “The International side is probably the strongest you’ve ever seen coming into an event.”

Superior sites

Unlike the Ryder Cup, which is tripping to the cosmically misnamed Valhalla next year and is available to Europe’s highest bidder every fourth year, the Presidents Cup has higher venue standards. Routinely staged at visually stunning Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Lake Manassas because of its proximity to the event’s namesake, the Presidents Cup has also made trips to Royal Melbourne (routinely ranked among the globe’s best courses) and this week stops at Royal Montreal (the oldest chartered club in North America — 1873). Given Europe’s array of ancient links options, it’s almost heresy that recent European Ryder Cups have been or will be staged at built-yesterday yawners like Belfry, K Club and Celtic Manor (2010).

Superior spirit

Frankly, the Ryder Cup’s ultra-intense animus has worn thin among more than just the players. The U.S. players have been ripped for years for not caring enough about the Ryder Cup. But in the final analysis, both cups are simply glorified exhibitions. Perhaps Europe cares so much about the Ryder Cup because they can’t seem to win anything else. Until Padraig Harrington broke through in this year’s British Open, Europe had gone 0-for-the-century in the majors. That’s mystifying.

None of the petty PGA vs. European Tour animosity goes on at the Presidents Cup because virtually every player in attendance plays on the big-boy tour and lives in the United States.

“There was no animosity there at all,” Woods said yesterday of his famous sudden-death duel with Ernie Els at the 2003 Presidents Cup in South Africa that ended in a draw at dusk. “The nature of these matches has always been friendship.”

And from the U.S. perspective, the results of the Presidents Cup almost always have been positive. Nobody knows why the same U.S. squad that is 1-5 in the last six Ryder Cups is 4-1-1 in six Presidents Cups during the same time frame against largely superior competition. But U.S. players certainly are a much more pleasant lot when they’re trying to extend their Presidents Cup success rather than reverse their Ryder Cup slide.

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