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Can US turn Presidents Cup win in to Ryder Cup change of fortunes?

One cup runneth over. The other cup is empty.

The Americans raised the Presidents Cup after a runaway victory at Royal Montreal, and they raised hopes again that they are capable of being a world power in team golf, maybe even good enough to win that other cup.

"I was real happy to see the state of American golf is not what I've been reading," Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger said Monday morning. "They were playing against a juggernaut.

"It just shows you that when you get the right guys assembled and they're clicking, they are still dominant."

The simple conclusion would be the Americans can repeat all this next year at Valhalla.

But it's not that simple.

While the credentials for the International team were stout, anyone paying attention realized the Americans were in better form. Tiger Woods had won four of his last five tournaments, Phil Mickelson and Steve Stricker each had won during the PGA Tour Playoffs and Zach Johnson was coming off a 60 at East Lake. No one on the International team had won in the three months before the Presidents Cup.

"The problem is the makeup of the next team might not be the same," Azinger said. "To suggest that the same team will walk into the next Ryder Cup with the same form is a big assumption. A year is a lifetime in this game."

Azinger's greatest hope is he gets the hottest players.

The Presidents Cup has a far better qualifying system than the Ryder Cup, essentially taking players off the PGA Tour money list over two years, with the second year counting double. Azinger took a good step last year by persuading the PGA of America to revamp its system. Instead of points assigned to top 10s, points now are assigned to money, with a priority on majors and 2008 tournaments.

"If it happens to be the right change - and I don't know - and if we get the hottest players, there's hope," he said.

Azinger doesn't want to read too much into the 19½-14½ score at Royal Montreal, or how the Americans won 10½ points from 11 alternate-shot matches, which essentially decided the Presidents Cup.

There is no explanation for what happened.

"It's just golf," U.S. captain Jack Nicklaus said after a 5-0 session Saturday morning. "That's my theory - there are no theories."

Equally mystifying was the search for an explanation as to why the Americans did so poorly at foursomes in the Ryder Cup, but couldn't lose a foursomes match at the Presidents Cup.

In the last three Ryder Cup matches, Europe has a 14½-9½ edge in foursomes.

By the way, Europe also has a 14½-9½ advantage in fourballs.

What the Presidents Cup inspired Azinger to do was call Nicklaus - and that's never a bad idea no matter what the subject, unless it's the golf ball - along with Woods, Mickelson, Jim Furyk, David Toms and Stewart Cink. Those five have played on each of the last two Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup teams.

"I want input from the guys who played on both teams," he said. "I'd rather know from them, rather than blurt out what I like.

"And I'd like to spend some time on the phone with Nicklaus and get a feel for what he was thinking and doing. And if there's a glaring difference, then I'd like to try to duplicate what he did."

Nicklaus wants it to be fun, but isn't it always fun when you're winning?

Captain Jack also has reduced the science of pairings to an art form by letting the players decide. He pulled his master list out of his pocket Saturday morning, and next to each player was three or four names. Nicklaus couldn't accommodate everyone, but he was close.

"The thing that I've noticed between the Ryder Cup and here is Jack is very much, 'Guys, do what you want to do, have a great time. Tell me who you want to play with,' " Scott Verplank said. "The Ryder Cup has been captains coming up and saying, 'You're playing with him and he's playing with him.' I don't know if that makes a difference."

Yet, there's much more to it than that.

The Ryder Cup has only 16 team matches until the Sunday singles. There are 22 points available in the Presidents Cup, and far less stress on the captains over whom they are going to bench. Falling behind on the first day, as the United States has done the last five times in the Ryder Cup, makes it tougher to rally with fewer matches to play.

The biggest difference between the two cups?

Europe perceives itself as a second-class tour and goes into the Ryder Cup with something to prove. The Europeans found an even higher gear in 2006 upon hearing comments that it was the third best tour in golf behind the Nationwide Tour.

The Americans only have a chip on their shoulders at the Presidents Cup, because after losing the Ryder Cup, they feel as though they have something to prove.

What would really help Azinger is getting Woods and Mickelson to play as well in the Ryder Cup as they do in the Presidents Cup. They combined to go 5-3-2 at the Presidents Cup. Woods and Mickelson have never combined for a winning record in any Ryder Cup.

What does it all mean?

It was a great week for Captain Jack and the Americans. It will be forgotten by the time they get to Valhalla.

These cups might look the same. The formats are similar, the players wear uniforms and they regale reporters with tales of epic pingpong games.

In reality, the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup are as different as the Masters and The Players Championship.

Remember, the Americans felt like world-beaters when they won the Presidents Cup in 2005.

A year later, Europe smoked them again.

 

October 9, 2007




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