- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 8, 2009

For the International team to have any chance at this week’s Presidents Cup, it probably will have to solve its historical failures in foursomes.

When the U.S. squad reported to Valhalla Golf Club last year hoping to snap Europe’s 5-1 run of dominance in the Ryder Cup, Europe’s streak of success in the biennial matches appeared to be predicated on superior team chemistry.

A far less abstract issue confronts International captain Greg Norman as he looks to snap a similar run of U.S. dominance in the Presidents Cup at Harding Park Golf Course in San Francisco. It’s not hard to see why the United States has a 5-1-1 record in the Presidents Cup since the event debuted at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Gainesville, Va., in 1994.

“When you get right down to it, it’s foursomes - as simple as that,” Norman said. “America has been very, very dominating in that department. So when we get behind the eight ball, it’s very hard.”

In seven previous Presidents Cups, the United States has a 46 1/2-26 1/2 edge in alternate-shot portions of the competition. Combine four-balls and singles, and the U.S. advantage is a narrow seven points.

The U.S. team has lost only one alternate-shot series in the history of the event. Not surprisingly, that upset keyed the only International victory, a 20 1/2-11 1/2 rout in Melbourne, Australia, in 1998.

The foursome struggles could be a communication issue; a format in which cooperation between partners is paramount would seem to be a disadvantage for an International team that this week features players from eight nations speaking four languages.

Or the U.S. edge could stem from the fact that American squads routinely seem to feature more consistent tee-to-green grinders (Zach Johnson, Jim Furyk, Justin Leonard, Stewart Cink) than their International counterparts, whose nucleus of stars has featured boom-bust, four-ball specialists like Vijay Singh, Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and Adam Scott.

Or it could be a coincidence.

“It’s a very awkward format,” Australian Geoff Ogilvy said. “I don’t think we should read too much into it. Maybe we’ll dominate it for the next 10 years.”

With only one ball in play, the foursome format ups the ante on the short game, particularly putting, and the U.S. squad has long held a major advantage in that department.

U.S. captain Fred Couples and his team enjoy many edges this week; led by the world’s top three players (Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Steve Stricker), the average world ranking on the U.S. roster trumps that of Norman’s unit 14.0 to 29.3. The Americans also boast major advantages in form and experience.

But perhaps the ultimate U.S. edge will reveal itself on Harding Park’s bumpy greens. Of the 24 players in attendance, only Japanese rookie Ryo Ishikawa isn’t a PGA Tour regular, so this season’s tour stats provide a legitimate profile of the two teams. There is a marked disparity between the squads in putts a round.

The top four players in that category in attendance are Americans (Stricker, Furyk, Anthony Kim and Woods). Of the seven players in attendance ranked below No. 100 in that stat, six are on Norman’s team (Y.E. Yang, Els, Camilo Villegas, Singh, Robert Allenby and Scott). The only can’t-putt American is Sean O’Hair, who is tied for 147th, cozied between Villegas (tied for 124th) and Singh (tied for 176th).

This International bunch, like many before it, rates extremely low with the putter. Still, Couples understands that history won’t score a point for the United States in the next four days.

“Did we win the last Ryder Cup? Yeah,” he said. “Have we won a few Presidents Cups? Sure. A long time ago.”

But unless Norman’s team undergoes a mass putting transformation, the International squad likely will wind up staring painfully at the short stick again.

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