Ben Coley wades through the myriad Presidents Cup markets to find the best bets for what could be the final renewal of the event as we know it.
4pts e.w. Hideki Matsuyama to be the top International scorer at 6/1 (General 1/4 1,2,3)
4pts e.w. Sungjae Im to be the top International scorer at 6/1 (Sky Bet, Betway 1/4 1,2,3)
1pt Jordan Spieth to be the top United States scorer at 12/1 (Coral, Ladbrokes)
1pt Jordan Spieth to be the top overall scorer at 14/1 (General)
1pt Internationals to win day four (singles session) at 5/1 (General)
1pt USA to win either day one or day two 5-0 at 15/2 (Sky Bet)
In 1983, Europe lost the Ryder Cup by a single point, their third defeat in as many renewals since uniting to take on the might of the United States, whose winning run stretched back to before World War II. Yet in defeat came something of far greater importance: the birth of the competition as something truly competitive.
"Why you all sit there like that?" barked Seve Ballesteros, scraping his teammates up off the floor. "We did not lose, this was a great victory. And anyway, you'll see – next time we f*** them."
Seve was right. Europe were dominant in 1985, won away from home in 1987, held onto it in 1989, and would not suffer a bruising defeat for a quarter of a century. This one had been different. At last, they had delivered a clear and proud message to their superstar rivals: we can beat you, and soon we will.
This is golfing folklore, and had the sport sailed smoothly through the last three years, it would've felt especially relevant as we prepare for the Presidents Cup, another team event which has been dominated by the USA. They've now won 11 from 13 including each of the last eight, and few give their International opponents much hope of stopping the rot at Quail Hollow this week.
In 2019, they had hope. In fact, they entered the singles with the lead, eventually losing 16-14. It was the second time in three that they had their chance, and had there been a Seve in Melbourne, those in the team room would surely have heard something similar to those words he yelled back in '83. In Korea, the Internationals had hinted that they might be able to stop the rot. In Australia, they all but confirmed it.
But three years is a long time. We've had a pandemic, another handful of prime ministers here, an insurrection there, and a pandemic everywhere. Just as things were beginning to get so normal that we could stop using the word normal, along came the long-threatened LIV Golf machine to place the Presidents Cup on the brink of extinction.
That's what Trevor Immelman and his side might be playing for this week – the very existence of their version of the Ryder Cup. To many International players it really does mean something, even if an American golf fan made complacent by victory may tell you that it doesn't. To those of us who are in theory impartial, it still represents a welcome stop-gap between Ryder Cups, and gives us another underdog to root for.
None of this is enough. The Presidents Cup needs the world's best players to be taking part, and while the depth of talent in the USA means that remains a passable claim, the Internationals have been decimated by LIV departures. Cameron Smith, Louis Oosthuizen, Branden Grace, Marc Leishman, Joaquin Niemann and Abraham Ancer should have been on this team. Charl Schwartzel and Carlos Ortiz might have been.
Without these names, there seems little hope, either for a positive outcome this week or a future beyond it. The Internationals are as big as 8/1, which means victory would go down among the greatest upsets in team golf history. If they lose as heavily as many expect them to, this four-day event will be no more than a funeral march come the weekend.
Perhaps through pain might come prosperity. If the Internationals do lose, if the stalemate in men's golf remains, and if the LIV billions do not stretch to the best players in the women's game, there is a simple solution: bring men and women, PGA and LPGA, together for something that could do what the Presidents Cup in this guise never will and match the Ryder Cup for intrigue and legitimacy.
This idea, which I first saw put forward by Michael Clayton, is like all the best ones: so pure, so logical, so compelling as to leave the rest of us wondering why we hadn't given it serious thought ourselves. The United States dominates the men's game but not the women's. A Presidents Cup with the best from both tours would not only be groundbreaking and monumental, but it would be competitive, too.
For now, we're left with hope, and not much of that. The United States would be a better team were Kevin Kisner not playing and Dustin Johnson was, but Kisner is the World Match Play-winning world number 25. They have a popular captain and nobody in the team who is widely disliked. They're at home, at a course they know, where two of their squad have won tournaments. There are no excuses.
As you'll have gathered, even odds as big as 8/1 aren't tempting enough. Three years ago I thought the Internationals were a fine bet at 11/4 and they were soon put in as 3/1 shots to gain revenge in North Carolina. That price has more than doubled, but their chances of winning have diminished by an even greater margin.
This is still team golf, it's still match play golf, and complacency among the Americans is a risk. They've also lost some elite players, namely Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, Daniel Berger, Patrick Reed and Harris English, each of whom took part in that dominant victory over Europe (was it really only last year?), each of whom played their part.
They're without Will Zalatoris, who is injured, and have played it safe with Kevin Kisner and Billy Horschel. These are high-class players but not ones who are unbeatable by any means, nor fearsome in the way they go about things. Those two practised as one on Monday and if paired together on Thursday, their International opponents will certainly have a fighting chance.
But there's depth to the US side, and none of it to the Internationals. It's interesting that DataGolf considers their chance to be closer to 4/1 than 8/1, and that alone should make anyone think twice. Having done so, on this occasion I disagree and can't advise a bet which may not so much as trade shorter.
Scottie Scheffler is the best player here and, having thumped Jon Rahm when last he played team golf, he's the right favourite. In fact, odds of 6/1 are far from unreasonable. However I do have two concerns: he's one of just three US players without competitive form at Quail Hollow, and he might just welcome fewer than five matches given the gruelling season he's had.
Neither is a major negative, and the bermuda greens of this long, championship course help add to the suspicion he'll slot right in. Nevertheless, he'll also have a new partner here and it could be Sam Burns, who arrives somewhat out of form. Betting on team golf is tricky enough as it is and there are sufficient unknowns to avoid the top of the market.
Defaulting to Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay, who surely tee-off together on Thursday, makes some sense. Then again, it made sense at Whistling Straits and neither man played five matches, which meant neither could match Dustin Johnson's flawless return.
There may be something in the fact that Johnson was the only member of the side to play every session there. Never had the United States appeared such a coherent unit, and captain Steve Stricker explored the full depths of the talent at his disposal. In relative terms this side is every bit as strong, so might we even see a scenario in which nobody plays all five?
That would compress things, increasing the likelihood of a dead-heat, and bringing all 12 players into the equation. As a result, I'm going to keep stakes pretty light and side with JORDAN SPIETH at generous-looking prices.
Spieth has a little added incentive here as he missed the 2019 renewal before playing poorly for much of the subsequent Ryder Cup, or else scoring poorly with an out-of-sorts Justin Thomas as his sidekick.
He went on to halve his singles, the first time in seven matches across both main team events that he'd salvaged any kind of result. That's in some ways alarming but there's some randomness at play here and again, a 0-6-1 record guarantees that he's engaged come Sunday, at such a time when the result may already be beyond doubt.
He also has course form, playing well here when a rookie in 2013 and then again, in 2017, when in pursuit of the career grand slam for the very first time. In the circumstances, finishing just outside the top 20 was a very good effort and confirms that Quail Hollow, with its slight Augusta parallels and greens he'll certainly enjoy, is a good course for him.
As for how he's playing, there's a sense he's cooled off since flushing his way to the RBC Heritage title and that's somewhat fair, but he was 10th in the Scottish Open, eighth in the Open, 19th in the BMW Championship and 13th in the TOUR Championship. It's by no means bad form, one bad round harming him in the penultimate event of the season before he signed off with a 65 and led the field in strokes-gained approach at East Lake.
It's that iron play which needs to fire if he's to be at his best and it has been, so we're really looking at a return to his best putting form to complete the puzzle. That's a risk I'm willing to take and if he does parter Thomas on Thursday (they played together on Monday), and make it six wins from six in Presidents Cup foursomes, it might be the start of a big week. He knows he's not produced for the USA yet, not in the way we know he can, and that focus could be key.
For similar reasons, course debutant Collin Morikawa would be the next best. Arriving here off his first winless season, the two-time major champion will be determined to draw a line under it by leading from the front. He was excellent on his Ryder Cup debut, his iron play fired at last at East Lake, and there seems a good chance he'll play with either Tony Finau, Cameron Young or Max Homa, all of whom appeal as suitable partners in some way, not least Finau.
But Spieth at 11/1 win-only rates the best option I can see, with the general 14/1 that he top-scores also worth a go. The disparity between these prices is narrow but with good reason and if he gets the four points or more he'll likely need to win the US market, it's unlikely he's beaten by any member of the opposite team.
There should be more scope for separation here, as there are players who would need to be exceptional from the off to justify more than three sessions, and others who'd need a good excuse not to play five. It seems likely the winner is involved in every session, which yes is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy: play well, score points, and you get to play more.
Key though must be to focus on the best players in a group with quite a disparity from top to bottom. Again this sounds obvious but even in 2019, when two rookies shared the spoils, they were the fifth- and sixth-ranked players on Ernie Els' team. In 2017 Louis Oosthuizen was the fourth, in 2015 he was the second, and players ranked second and seventh shared the spoils in 2013.
Only in 2007 has the best International scorer come from their four lowest-ranked players, and that was major champion Mike Weir. There is no equivalent in Immelman's side. This time his bottom four is Taylor Pendrith, Si Woo Kim, Christiaan Bezuidenhout and Cam Davis, and I actually rate Sebastian Munoz their weakest link. It would be only a little less surprising were KH Lee their star, and Mito Pereira is woefully out of form.
That leaves a pool of five players from whom the winner will surely come, and with Adam Scott likely to be paired with one of the weaker players on Thursday, and at 42 perhaps not expected to turn out five times, I'll suggest that we might be talking about four.
Corey Conners again is likely to be with Taylor Pendrith at some stage and both have serious putting issues to overcome so I'll make no apologies for siding with two of the remaining three, namely HIDEKI MATSUYAMA and SUNGJAE IM.
These are the best two players at Trevor Immelman's disposal and Im looked born for the task when earning 3.5 points on debut in Australia. He ended the 2022 season at the very top of his game, finishing runner-up three times in five starts, and his putting improvement should continue on his favoured bermuda surfaces.
He'll likely partner Joohyung Kim who is also respected, but it would surprise me were they together all week and it may be that Kim is rested at times. That plus the fact Im has already been out and won a singles match in this arena make him the preferred choice at what are generally similar odds, though there is a case for backing both in the hope they prove a formidable partnership.
Kim has hired Rickie Fowler's former caddie, Joe Skovron, and that's a smart move especially given that Fowler's first win came here. However, I'm wary of expecting too much too soon and that change is also something of an unknown, which on balance means I'm comfortable passing over him in favour of the 2021 Masters champion.
Matsuyama's fitness is the only concern I'd have but with matches spread over four days, it's a risk I'll take. He would be the clear favourite here otherwise thanks to his undoubted class, and the fact that he has only lost seven of 17 matches in the event demonstrates how well he's performed, given he's always been on the losing side.
This is the first time he'll go out as the clear star man for the Internationals, as a major champion, and after flushing his way through his final preparation round last week, I'm hopeful he is one of the key reasons the scoreline remains somewhat respectable. That we know he's very effective at Quail Hollow is another positive and three points from five is a target he can reach.
Splitting stakes on both these two in the top overall market should also be considered, on the basis that the target could be lowered by US rotation. The Internationals have asked more players to take part in every session (40 to 31 in renewals where minimum number of matches per player was set at three or lower) and that gap should widen. Note that as of 2019, the minimum number of sessions per player was reduced to two, and one International player featured just twice. There could be a couple more here.
All of this means that if either Im or Matsuyama produce their best golf this week they could top-score overall despite featuring in a likely losing side, as Im did (joint with two others) in 2019, and Oosthuizen did in 2015. Both are available at 20/1 which makes for a 19/2 chance combined, but I'm happy focusing on the top International scorer market and two chunky each-way plays aimed at exploiting a serious lack of depth.
Those expecting the United States to run riot might consider the 5/1 with Sky Bet that they win every session, though this is something they're yet to do. Better would be to speculate that they can take either THURSDAY'S FOURSOMES OR FRIDAY'S FOUR-BALLS 5-0, which has been combined to make a boosted 15/2 shot – each can be backed at 14/1 individually, which makes for 13/2 if done that way but does offer up the chance of collecting twice.
Scores for the first session (USA first) since inception read 5-0, 4-1, 1.5-3.5, 5-0, 2.5-3.5, 2.5-3.5, 5.5-0.5, 3.5-2.5, 4-2, 3.5-2.5, 4-1, 3.5-1.5, 1-4. Translated, there have been just seven renewals which began with five matches on day one, and USA have managed the whitewash twice, both at home. This alone doesn't mean that 14/1 represents value, but I suspect it does. Effectively this is a five-fold accumulator at an average price of 8/11 each match, and I can see a scenario where this looks good business after the draw.
They came within half a point of a whitewash on Friday in 2017 and given the respective line-ups, upwards of 6/1 that they go 5-0 in either of the first two sessions makes plenty of appeal. If this is over quickly, perhaps we can profit from the disappointment of a non-event.
Finally and in contradiction to much of what I've written above, don't underestimate the possibility of professional pride and focus influencing Sunday's singles and any wide-margin handicap wagers or correct scores.
In 2017, the Internationals trailed 14.5-3.5 away from home, staring at a record defeat, and bossed Sunday's matches 7.5-4.5 to restore pride. In 2007 the match was over and again they won the singles session, notably securing three of the bottom four matches when the celebrations had started. These are two of the heaviest defeats suffered by the Internationals and backing them at 5/1 with Sky Bet, Betfred and BoyleSports (bet365 go 13/5, some other firms offer 7/2) to win the Sunday singles session looks worth the risk.
They've won the final session in 2007, 2013 and 2017, tied it in 1996, 1998, 2011 and 2015, and while this is priced as the most one-sided renewal to date, the visitors should be shorter than they are to end on a high whatever the match situation. If, as expected, it's as good as over, that may take the edge off what looks a sharp US side who should win and win well. Perhaps they'll start with a bang and then fizzle out.
Posted at 1130 BST on 20/09/22
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