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Presidents Cup players tamp down talk of a US blowout

CHARLOTTE: There’s a blowout expected this week at the Presidents Cup, but you wouldn’t know it listening to favored Americans downplay their advantages and the Internationals talk of a stunning upset. The United States boasts 12 of the world’s top 25 golfers, including top-ranked Masters champion Scottie Scheffler, for the team showdown that begins Thursday at Quail Hollow.

The Internationals, who counter with five of the world’s top 30, lost half a squad with defections to the LIV Golf Series, including British Open winner Cameron Smith, the world number three from Australia. They have eight rookies and a sense of nothing to lose, but it would be an epic shocker for them to defeat one of the best American lineups ever assembled.

“That’s on paper. The games aren’t played on paper,” US captain Davis Love said. “We have a higher-ranked team, but I know a bunch of those young guys on their team and they’re going to come in with a chip on their shoulder and together.” Internationals captain Trevor Immelman is counting on both. “They will be ready come Thursday because they’ve got something to prove,” Immelman said. “This is the stage to find out if you’ve got what it takes or not.

“There’s a magical amount of respect for the US team. We can see if we can match up with their skills. We can see how good we are. “The exciting part for us is it does free us up… have a blast and let ‘er rip.” The Americans own an 11-1-1 edge in the all-time rivalry, taking the past eight from the global squad. Their only loss came at Melbourne in 1998. “It has stung,” said 10th-time starter Adam Scott said of the drought. “It has been frustrating. A lot.”

Past Masters winners Scott and Hideki Matsuyama and South Koreans Im sung-jae and Kim Si-woo are the only Internationals players with Presidents Cup experience. They are joined by rookies Kim Joo-hyung, Lee Kyoung-hoon, Corey Conners, Taylor Pendrith, Cameron Davis, Sebastian Munoz, Mito Pereira and Christiaan Bezuidenhout. “I still remain incredibly optimistic that we have a shot,” Scott said. “I’m leaning into the younger guys. Their enthusiasm and excitement is good for an old fart like me to see.”

A major approach

Three-time major winner Jordan Spieth, who makes a US-best fourth start, has seen rivals win titles this year, including Matsuyama, Lee and Kim Joo-hyung. “If you look at the guys on their team, they have been on great form the past six months,” he said. “Every one has either won or almost won a tournament.

“We’re approaching this as seriously as we can, as if it’s a major championship. I think it’s going to be very competitive and I think we will be ready for them. “It’s going to be really hard for it to be a landslide either way. We’re not complacent.” The stellar American lineup, with 11 of the world’s top 18, has Spieth, PGA Championship winner Justin Thomas, Tokyo Olympic champion Xander Schauffele, 2021 FedEx Cup playoff winner Patrick Cantlay, Tony Finau and Kevin Kisner.

Scheffler is among six rookies on the US squad, joined by two-time major winner Collin Morikawa, Sam Burns, Billy Horschel, Cameron Young and Max Homa, a 2019 Quail Hollow winner coming off a victory Sunday. “Everybody gets along really well,” Thomas said. “To have a team like this with great camaraderie and deep talent, it’s a lot of fun.”

There are five foursomes (alternate shot) matches on Thursday, five fourball (better ball) matches on Friday, four more in each format on Saturday and 12 concluding singles matches on Sunday. Quail Hollow has shifted its layout slightly for the event, its noted “Green Mile” closing stretch playing as holes 13 through 15 this week to ensure the difficult stretch has an impact in more matches.

Record five Asians

Meanwhile, a record five Asian players will be part of the Internationals lineup attempting to pull off an upset over the United States at the Presidents Cup starting on Thursday. Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, the 2021 Masters champion, is joined by a record four South Koreans-Im Sung-jae, Kim Joo-hyung, Lee Kyoung-hoon and Kim Si-woo-in the Internationals team at Quail Hollow.

While the larger than usual Asian contingent owes something to the slew of players who are unavailable due to signing with LIV golf, Internationals captain Trevor Immelman believes it also highlights the rise of Asian golf. “It’s a nod and a testament to the work countries have done at the grass-roots level,” Immelman said. “It’s exciting for me to see the explosion. It’s working.”

Immelman has been able to blend players from vastly different cultures and unite them as a team. “You do it in a very simple way-spend more time together,” Immelman said. “They start to learn to love each other and once that happens it’s easy.” Kim Joo-Hyung, who won his first PGA title last month at nearby Greensboro, has enjoyed being among eight rookies on this year’s squad. “Can’t put it into words. Everyone is just fired up,” he said.

He sees this week as a potential milestone moment for Asian golf, especially if his squad could pull off a shocking upset of a US team with 11 of the world’s 18 top-ranked players. “It’s great for Asian golf,” he said. “It could inspire a lot of people back in Asia for us to be here.” South Korea’s Yang Yong-eun was seen as a longshot when he was matched against Tiger Woods in the final round at the 2009 PGA Championship at Hazeltine, but Yang inflicted the first major defeat upon Woods when the superstar led after 54 holes, becoming Asia’s first male major winner.

Could South Koreans lead another stunner? “I feel come Sunday we’ll have a really good chance,” Kim Joo-hyung said. Im, twice a PGA Tour winner, said this is the strongest time for South Korean golf. “There’s four players here. I feel like it’s about as strong as it has been,” Im said. “A lot of Korean players are hungry to come over to the United States so the mentality and the hunger factor, I think it’s strong as ever and that’s why the Koreans in general have been stronger than ever.” Both Immelman and Scott have enjoyed watching the newcomers, especially 20-year-old Kim Joo-hyung, as they experience wonder and anxiety. – AFP


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