With just a week to go until the opening ceremonies in Melbourne, Australia, the 2019 Presidents Cup is shaping up to boil down to a single question: Can a team of largely inexperienced International players rally together and beat the Tiger Woods-led American side?
International captain Ernie Els has a team of seven rookies joining him in Australia, with a small stable of homeland veterans in Adam Scott, Marc Leishman and Cameron Smith leading the charge. He has a pair of Korean rookies in Sunjae Im and Byeong-hun An, who replaced Aussie Jason Day when he bowed out with a back injury. Louis Oosthuizen is the lone South African, while Japan (Hideki Matsuyama), Mexico (Abraham Ancer), Canada (Adam Hadwin), China (Haotong Li), Taiwan (CT Pan) and Chile (Joaquin Niemann) are also represented.
The knock on the International side in the past has been their lack of cultural connectivity that makes it difficult for them to bond in a short period of time. The Internationals, first through the leadership of Nick Price and now through Els, have tried to come up with ways to break down potential barriers and develop a sense of camaraderie.
There may have been two galvanizing moments in the last two Presidents Cups. In 2015 in Korea, the Internationals nearly upset the Americans in a revamped format that allowed the Internationals to better compete. Two years ago in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, the Internationals were thoroughly embarrassed and were a match away from losing the Presidents Cup on the next-to-last day. One is a source of pride, and the other is a source of shame. Both may be motivating factors for a young team looking to make this biennial competition something other than the one-sided affair it has become over 25 years.
The Americans have only lost once in the history of the event, back at this venue in 1998 when a lethargic American effort was as much a factor in the loss as an invigorated International team with a strong ANZ (Australia and New Zealand) contingent. There was a tie in 2003 in South Africa. Since then, the Americans have rolled.
Tiger Woods is playing captain on a team where every player, even without world No. 1 Brooks Koepka, is inside the top 25 in the world. Only two players from the International team -- Scott and Matsuyama -- are in the same range. The Americans typically see this as a fertile ground to practice ahead of the tougher challenge in the Ryder Cup, and they could overlook the Internationals on this stage. However, the historical success they have makes it unlikely Woods' team will come out on the losing end here.
In the world of golf betting tips, the Americans winning the Presidents Cup is about as close to a sure thing as there's been in golf. For the 2019 Presidents Cup, the Americans are a -300 favorite heading into next week in Australia. The Internationals are +275, meaning the vig is coming in on Ernie Els' team to pull off the upset win.
The conservative school of thought says the Americans are likely to prevail again.