Back to the scene of the sublime.
The Royal Melbourne Golf Club not only is the crown jewel of Australia's famed Sandbelt region and among the best courses on the planet, it's also the site of the International's only victory in the Presidents Cup (1998). Of course, that same statement was loud and clear in 2011 when Royal Melbourne hosted the biennial competition for the second time, but as it returns for a third this week, the Internationals are saddled with a 1-10-1 record overall.
Needless to say, the hosts have chips on their shoulders. Lots of them. Too many to go around, in fact. So, it's proper that the veteran with maybe the broadest shoulders in the sport is out front leading the charge.
International Captain Ernie Els celebrated with his squad 21 years ago (after contributing a 3-1-1 record himself) and he was there eight years ago when the U.S. avenged, 19-15. Now, he'll navigate seven Presidents Cup debutants in the hopes of dismantling the juggernaut that is the visiting Americans, and in an age against the machine that is player-captain and 82-time PGA TOUR winner Tiger Woods.
More on the event, the course and other nuggets beneath the full-field Power Rankings.
POWER RANKINGS: PRESIDENTS CUP
RANK PLAYER COMMENT 24 Bryson DeChambeau 23 Joaquin Niemann 22 Abraham Ancer 21 Matt Kuchar 20 Haotong Li 19 Adam Hadwin 18 Dustin Johnson 17 C.T. Pan 16 Tiger Woods 15 Rickie Fowler 14 Patrick Reed 13 Byeong Hun An 12 Tony Finau 11 Sungjae Im 10 Gary Woodland 9 Cameron Smith 8 Marc Leishman 7 Hideki Matsuyama 6 Louis Oosthuizen 5 Xander Schauffele 4 Webb Simpson 3 Patrick Cantlay 2 Adam Scott 1 Justin Thomas
If you're a loyalist to the Power Rankings for PGA TOUR events, the same for any team competition can come across as curious if consumed similarly. Furthermore, this Power Rankings is constructed in advance of the knowledge of partnerships, matchups, momentum and other variables that will contribute to the final score. In light of that, you're encouraged to accept the ranking in the context of potential impact on the competition.
Do the Internationals need a perfect week to prevail? Probably not, but with the pendulum of success over time swayed so favorably toward the Americans, there's an argument that even a perfect week wouldn't be enough to take down the visitors with puffed chests.
Even when Brooks Koepka, he of four victories in the majors and current position atop the Official World Golf Ranking, exited for extended rest for his left knee, in an unintentional quid pro quo, Els had to replace four-time Presidents Cup veteran Jason Day, who withdrew due to an injured back. However, no matter which team wins, no one will rush to cite addition by subtraction of either talent.
If the underdog hosts are keen on reasoning to argue that they have the upper hand early, they're 3-0-1 in Four-Ball in the two previous editions at Royal Melbourne. For just the second time in the last 11 Presidents Cups, Four-Ball leads off this week with five matches on Thursday. Five Foursomes matches will follow on Friday before four each of Four-Ball (morning) and Foursomes (afternoon) command Saturday's schedule. The Presidents Cup will conclude on Sunday with 12 matches of Singles.
This will be the third straight Presidents Cup in which only 30 points are up for grabs. The first to 15½ wins. If both teams total 15, they will share the title until meeting again at Quail Hollow Club in early fall of 2021.
The battleground is the Composite Course at Royal Melbourne. Twelve holes of the West and six from the East blend for a par 71 with only three par 3s and two par 5s. At 7,047 yards, it's about 50 yards longer than how it was set up in 2011. The most significant modifications affected the par-4 first, par-5 second and par-4 16th holes, all in the vicinity of 10-25 yards longer. The par-4 18th has been reduced by 10 yards.
Of course, pars and yardage on a short course mean little in head-to-head competition. Moreover, Royal Melbourne is renown for the substantive value of quality over distance. Generous, running Bermudagrass fairways lead into open-door fairway bunkers. The absence of primary rough yields infinity edges of the hazards – approximately 200 of them in sum across the course – the ubiquitous characteristic of which is evident flush against the bentgrass greens that could run up to 13 feet on the Stimpmeter.
The firmer and faster the course plays, particularly since distance off the tee is not a prerequisite to force even a halve, the more that Royal Melbourne can serve in the role as a governor of American domination in the Presidents Cup.
Both captains are benefited by what is not an insignificant change in the format since 2017. Each of the 24 participants is required to play in only one of the four 2-on-2 matches before all tee it up in Singles. Prior to this year, they were required to play in at least two team sessions. It's one way for a squad not hitting on all cylinders in real time to adjust on the fly.
With no rain expected and daytime highs in the upper 60s and low 70s, the only natural element worth attention is the invisible. Moderate-to-strong winds will challenge throughout. This could help balance the competition and it will also expose anyone struggling to find his game in Foursomes and Singles. Low ball flights and experience in playing the game on the ground are valuable tools.