Captains' picks announced for Presidents Cup
For a full capsule breakdown of the teams, click below
For all the different levels of festivities that will envelope the ninth edition of the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne in Australia, Fred Couples and Greg Norman made sure that a surprise party was not part of the program.
Instead, each captain rounded out his team with players widely considered to be the leading candidates – Bill Haas for the Americans, Aaron Baddeley and Robert Allenby for the internationals. They officially were announced during a conference call Tuesday evening, though no one involved could have been stunned. (Couples weeks ago already had sucked some anticipation out of the process by naming Tiger Woods as one of his captain’s picks.)
If there was any measure of intrigue, it perhaps was delivered by Couples when he said Haas “had to win” the Tour Championship to make it onto his first international team as a pro. Apparently, PGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley – the first American to win a major since the 2010 Masters – was the leading candidate in Couples’ eyes, and the two of them recently spent 45 minutes on the phone.
Couples doubts his attempts to comfort Bradley with stuff like “there are a lot of teams down the road” will make the rookie feel any better, and the captain understands that.
“I wouldn’t have wanted to hear that, either,” Couples said.
Haas fell into a precarious situation when he shot 42 on the back nine at Cog Hill at the BMW Championship to squander a chance to earn an automatic berth. Finishing 12th in the standings, Haas had the “must win” scenario spelled out to him by Couples, who had talked at length about this touchy situation with his assistant captain, Jay Haas, Bill’s father.
So clear did Couples make it to the 29-year-old Haas that he insists: “Had Keegan finished fourth or fifth (he wound up T-11 at the Tour Championship) and Billy had lost to Hunter Mahan in the playoff, Billy wouldn’t have made it,” Couples said.
Certainly, the way in which Haas won – in a playoff, and on the strength of Seve-like up-and-downs at each of the first two extra holes – will silence the critics who’ve been questioning Haas’ closing skills. Said Haas’ swing coach, Billy Harmon, in the aftermath of the Tour Championship: “People talk about his final-round nerves, but all I know is, in the last two seasons he’s won three times and lost two others in playoffs. I think that’s pretty good.”
For Norman, Baddeley, who’ll be in his first Presidents Cup, and Allenby, who’ll be playing in his sixth, make perfect sense. The only time an International Team has won in eight previous President Cups was 1998 at Royal Melbourne when delirious Aussies got behind four countrymen – Norman, Steve Elkington, Craig Parry and Stuart Appleby – with massive enthusiasm. It figured that Norman would want to add Aussies to a lineup that had qualified only three of them – Jason Day, Adam Scott and Geoff Ogilvy.
What’s more, in Baddeley and Allenby, he’s getting two mates who’ve had great success in their native land.
Allenby, 40, has won 13 times Down Under, including 2005 when he swept the Australian Triple Crown, winning the Open, PGA, and Masters. He owns four PGA titles in Australia: two Opens and two Masters.
“He was automatic, to me,” Norman said. “His love of the golf course (Royal Melbourne) is evident.”
A Melbourne native, Allenby called it “my No. 1 golf course in the world; it’s my favorite,” and said playing for Norman – the iconic Aussie – will make it even more special.
Baddeley, meanwhile, burst onto the world stage by winning the Australian Open as an amateur in 1999. A year later, as a pro, he successfully defended that title, and he since has added victories in the Holden Australian International and the Australian Masters.
You could say that Baddeley, 30, truly has played his way onto the team, while Allenby didn’t quite play his way out of favor. That’s because their situations were quite different in 2011.
For Baddeley, the season began with him ranked 278th in the world. For an idea of just how lost that is, consider that he sat 46 spots below Couples, for goodness sakes. But a stirring win at Riviera in the Northern Trust Open – his third PGA Tour triumph – was squeezed around a T-6 at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and a T-4 at the Shell Houston Open. When he failed to crack the top 10 and earn an automatic berth, Baddeley knew he was under pressure at the BMW Championship, just to qualify for the Tour Championship, then in Atlanta to play well.
Norman said as much.
“I actually put a call in to both Aaron Baddeley and John Senden at the start of the Tour Championship, out of courtesy,” Norman said. “Also on the list was Vijay Singh and Camilo Villegas, and obviously Louis Oosthuizen.”
Ah, but much to Norman’s pleasure, it was Baddeley who handled the pressure best. He qualified for the Tour Championship, then shared the 54-hole lead before falling a shot shy of the Haas-Mahan playoff.
So successful has 2011 gone that Baddeley is ranked 49th in the world, ahead of Allenby, who is 56th after having begun the season at No. 20.
With just three top 10s in 24 PGA Tour tournaments, Allenby has had a pedestrian season – nothing terrible, just a lot of indifferent tournaments. While Allenby missed the cut in two majors and Baddeley in three, Haas is one of 11 players who can lay claim to having made the cut in each.
Couples’ final captain’s pick not only gives the American team a second Haas, but it means that eight of the 12 members have won tournaments this season. Only Matt Kuchar, who still finished first in the standings, Jim Furyk, Mahan and Woods are winless.
The International Team features seven players who’ve won tournaments this year: Baddeley, Adam Scott, Charl Schwartzel, and K.J. Choi on the PGA Tour, Ernie Els very early on the European Tour, and Ryo Ishikawa and Kyung-tae Kim in Japan.
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Not that it will make Bradley feel any better, but he’s in line to make the trip Down Under, should Steve Stricker withdraw with a left arm problem that’s been plaguing him all season. However, Stricker, who was scheduled for an MRI Tuesday, said at the close of the Tour Championship on Sunday that he fully intended to play. No question as to who his partner might be.
“Hopefully, Stricks is healthy enough and Mr. Couples will be nice enough to put us together again,” Woods said. “It’s something I’m looking toward and hope that it will happen."
In the 2009 Presidents Cup victory in San Francisco, Woods and Stricker were 4-0.
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As for what he’s been doing since the PGA Championship, when he missed the cut, Woods reported all is well.
“Practicing very hard up at Medalist, and I’m playing as much as I possibly can,” Woods said. “I have the clearance (from doctors) to do that. My training sessions are great. Strength has come back. My explosiveness has come back through my training. It feels great.”
Woods will play competitively for the first time since the PGA when he tees it up a week from Thursday at the Frys.com Open in San Martin, Calif.
It will mark the first tournament for Woods and his new caddie, Joe LaCava.
“I certainly hit the ball shorter than Dustin (Johnson, whom LaCava was working for), so he’s going to have to adjust to that,” Woods said. “We’re going to have to wing it on the fly at the Frys.”
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Norman revealed that he told Ogilvy weeks ago not to fret about pushing to qualify for the team, that he was going to be there one way or another. Suggesting he took the pressure of Ogilvy, Norman said he was thrilled to see the former U.S. Open champion qualify on points.
As for then turning around and telling Baddeley and Senden that they “were on notice,” Norman had no qualms.
“From my perspective, I always felt that if somebody was keeping an eye on me and wanted me to perform, I wanted to know. I always like to know how people perform under pressure,” Norman said.