MELBOURNE, Australia – It may be the Australian setting or the fact that the U.S. was almost run out of Royal Melbourne the last time the Presidents Cup was here, but the U.S. and the Internationals are even money among Las Vegas oddsmakers to win this week.
Just two days ago, the U.S. was a slight underdog, even to -120. During the past 48 hours, the sentiment has changed, with both teams -110.
In the six foursomes in Thursday’s opening session, the U.S. pairings will be favored in five of the matches. Only Internationals Aaron Baddeley and Jason Day will tee off as favorites, against Americans Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar.
Here is the analysis for Day One (Eastern Standard Times), with the visiting Americans listed first:
Match One (9:05 p.m.)
BUBBA WATSON / WEBB SIMPSON (-125)
ERNIE ELS / RYO ISHIKAWA (+105)
The skinny: Bubba Watson hasn’t broken into the top 10 in a PGA Tour event since a playoff victory against Webb Simpson at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans in April. Simpson, in contrast, has been one of the hottest players on Tour since missing the cut at the PGA Championship, earning a FedEx Cup playoff victory at the Deutsche Bank Championship.
Ernie Els has struggled in 2011, with five missed cuts. He moved to the belly putter in the middle of the season, but still had only one top 10, last month at the Frys.com Open.
Ishikawa has been a study in contrasts, with seven top 5s but also four missed cuts and no victories, his first winless season as a professional.
Els has played in 30 Presidents Cup matches, compiling a 16-12-2 record. His experience not only in the Presidents Cup but at Royal Melbourne should be enough to defeat the U.S. pair.
Match Two (9:17 p.m.)
BILL HAAS / NICK WATNEY (-115)
GEOFF OGILVY / CHARL SCHWARTZEL (-105)
The skinny: Both Americans are rookies. Haas is the reigning FedEx Cup champion. Though his 2011 season was better than average, he won only one time, in Atlanta. Watney won twice in 2011, but his victory at the WGC event in Florida put Watney squarely in the debate as best American player.
Australian Geoff Ogilvy may know Royal Melbourne better than anyone, but with injuries that have kept him from playing his best golf, Ogilvy is a bit of a wild card, even with his overwhelming Presidents Cup experience. Schwartzel, a South African, is another rookie, but he has a green jacket. With Ogilvy’s past U.S. Open title, the Internationals have two majors on their side of the ledger.
It’s just too tough to pick against Ogilvy at this venue, even if his game is still a bit suspect.
Match Three (9:29 p.m.)
DUSTIN JOHNSON / MATT KUCHAR (-105)
AARON BADDELEY / JASON DAY (-115)
The skinny: The U.S. sends out two more Presidents Cup rookies in Johnson and Kuchar. Johnson has had decent year, with a victory in the FedEx Cup playoffs at The Barclays on a course that played hard and fast, just like Royal Melbourne. Kuchar has had a poor year, by his standards, but is a good putter and ball striker.
Baddeley is a solid putter and could be an asset to Day, who folded down the stretch last week in Sydney at the Australian Open.
The two Australians should feed off the tremendous home crowd and provide a victory to the Internationals.
Match Four (9:41 p.m.)
PHIL MICKELSON / JIM FURYK (-120)
RETIEF GOOSEN / ROBERT ALLENBY (EVEN)
The skinny: Mickelson lost his game in the middle of the year after having won at the Shell Houston Open and, other than a runner-up at the Open Championship, never really regained it. Furyk has had an even worse 2011, with his game showing few signs of life while missing seven cuts.
Like Furyk, South Africa’s Goosen has struggled in 2011, with no victories and finishing outside of the top 100 on the PGA Tour money list. Allenby, an Aussie, also has struggled this year, with only three top 10s and six missed cuts.
If there is a difference between the two teams, it’s the fact that the American duo combined has 66 matches under its belt to the Internationals’ 48.
Match Five (9:53 p.m.)
HUNTER MAHAN / DAVID TOMS (-130)
KYUNG-TAE KIM / Y.E. YANG (+110)
The skinny: Mahan arguably was the strongest player coming into the Presidents Cup for the U.S. until a shoulder injury forced him out of last week’s Australian Open. Toms had a good season but at times was inconsistent, with six missed cut. He won at Colonial and enjoyed a solid FedEx Cup playoffs.
Kim, a South Korean, is a relatively unknown quantity, though he made the team on points. Yang, also South Korean, has shown signs of life in his game but did not win in 2011.
The steadiness of Toms and the sheer potential firepower of Mahan should be enough.
Match Six (10:05 p.m.)
TIGER WOODS / STEVE STRICKER (-115)
ADAM SCOTT / K.J. CHOI (-105)
The skinny: Woods had three good days last week in Sydney and nearly won the Australian Open. That being said, he didn’t and still has some work to do on his game. Stricker also is an unknown quantity due to a neck injury that has sidelined him since the Tour Championship.
Scott’s victory at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational was impressive, but the Australian’s ability to continue to play at a high level since moving to the long putter has been pivotal. Choi, a South Korean, is the reigning Players champion and is very steady on difficult courses.
With Steve Williams, Woods’ outspoken former caddie, a prominent story line in this match, everything points to the Internationals winning. But the Woods-Stricker combination has been like a comfortable old shoe for past U.S. captains.