World Cup of Golf: Team-by-team guide to this week's event in Australia

Soren Kjeldsen and Thorbjorn Olesen will defend their World Cup title this week
Soren Kjeldsen and Thorbjorn Olesen will defend their World Cup title this week

Ben Coley profiles each and every team in this week's World Cup of Golf, including favourites Australia and England's Ryder Cup duo.

Australia

  • Marc Leishman & Cameron Smith

Undoubtedly the team to beat, as the pair with arguably the best form (Leishman's CIMB Classic win; Smith's top-three finishes in FedEx Cup events) this year who also get the benefit of home advantage. Smith stayed on well for a top-10 finish in the Australian Open last week to warm up nicely for this and Leishman's sole appearance since his win in Malaysia saw him play terrifically at the weekend, too. Leishman paid the price for a slow start when a disappointing ninth alongside Adam Scott in 2016, but the previous renewal (2013) went to Australia and they also won on home soil back in 1954. Only the United States have enjoyed more success in the event and providing they can avoid another sloppy opener, it's going to be hard to keep Australia out of the frame.

Belgium

  • Thomas Pieters & Thomas Detry

The Karate Kid and the grasshopper, two awesome talents who as yet have demonstrated the fact only in flourishes. For Thomas Pieters, those flourishes brought three European Tour wins, a host of top-class efforts in defeat and a starring role in the Ryder Cup, but he's still not delivering on his potential. Perhaps it'll come and this would be a nice place to start after (another) encouraging but frustrating performance in Dubai. As for Thomas Detry, third place in Turkey followed by seventh in the Nedbank Challenge have him edging towards the world's top 100 and he must surely win his first title away from the Challenge Tour within a year or so. He's secured top-10 finishes on just about every continent now and there's no reason he won't adapt well to The Metro, while Pieters may find that the format helps negate those big numbers which have proven so costly. Definite players but look short enough on balance.

Canada

  • Adam Hadwin & Nick Taylor

Not players to get overly excited about but there's been quality and consistency from Adam Hadwin for a while now, albeit you have to go right back to January and an event he really likes for his last genuine chance to win. The straight-hitting Canadian doesn't have a great deal of overseas form to his name but won in Chile and Colombia on the Web.com Tour so isn't averse to spreading his wings. As for Nick Taylor, he showed guts and class to keep his PGA Tour card at the end of an otherwise disappointing 2018 campaign but the early signs suggest another season of struggle. They'll both like the course but that may not be enough.

China

  • Haotong Li & Ashun Wu

Tied for second in 2016, the other year in which both won on the European Tour. It's easy therefore to set expectations high for similar reasons: Wu added to his tally in the KLM Open (note - qualities required here probably not dissimilar) and Li saw off Rory McIlroy in Dubai back in January. He's not managed to win since, a fact he'll not want reminding of having thrown away a golden opportunity in Turkey recently, but has undoubtedly been close to his very best. Both affable characters and deadly with their approach shots so this format should work nicely, particularly foursomes under which they thrived at Kingston Heath two years ago.

Denmark

  • Thorbjorn Olesen & Soren Kjeldsen

Winners of the event two years ago and in some style, seeing off a high-class field by four strokes. That was Olesen's second win in Australia while Kjeldsen had just come off fourth place in Dubai, so in some respects it wasn't impossible to predict. Indeed, with Olesen's power and putting dovetailing nicely with Kjeldsen's no-frills game, they could be contenders once more despite the latter having done nothing of real note this year. Olesen, who also won last year's GolfSixes, is a proven team player who has two top-10 finishes in his last three starts, but maybe there's a slight question to answer when it comes to his motivation levels at the end of a career-changing year. Still, Denmark have enjoyed great success in this, Thomas Bjorn finishing second in 2013, so they're respected.

England

  • Tyrrell Hatton & Ian Poulter

Key dangers to Australia. Tyrrell Hatton was fairly bullish about the state of his game when signing off another good season with 22nd in Dubai and he's been in rude health for a while, including when part of Europe's victorious Ryder Cup team. Perhaps surprisingly, this is his first start in Australia but as a two-time Dunhill Links winner he'll be fine under the forecast conditions and is one of the highest-ranked players in the field. Ian Poulter rates an ideal partner given the formats, under which he's thrived as a Ryder Cup stalwart, and he does boast plenty of form in Australia including when winning the Australian Masters five years ago. Ignore last week's Dubai effort and the form of Mr November looks fine and he's not one to turn up for a day out. Big chance.

Tyrrell Hatton during the Ryder Cup
Tyrrell Hatton during the Ryder Cup

Finland

  • Mikko Korhonen & Mikko Ilonen

A nice way to end a breakout year for Mikko Korhonen, a real journeyman who had previously been best known for winning Qualifying School once. Now, he'll be known as the first winner of the Shot Clock Masters, an experimental European Tour event whose title reveals all. Korhonen was impressive there and has since added second in Germany and third in Spain, typically thriving under conditions which make his accuracy a genuine asset. He's now finally picked up the baton from Mikko Ilonen, former winner of the Amateur Championship who would have won more than he has but for injuries. It's approaching five years now since he cracked the world's top 50 and there's not been much to shout about since, but the value of a primer in the Australian Open (T34) shouldn't be underestimated. You'd have to be concerned about the final-round 81 produced by Korhonen on Sunday, though.

France

  • Alex Levy & Mike Lorenzo-Vera

There's surely nobody following the European Tour regularly who would begrudge victory in this event, or any event, for Mike Lorenzo Vera. The heart-on-sleeve Frenchman was devastated to miss out on the Rocco Forte Open title earlier in the year and, approaching 15 years and over 250 events into his career, the search for silverware continues. This time he gets to saddle-up with a birdie-making compatriot who is very good at getting the job done. Alex Levy also dispelled concerns over his physical well-being with a mid-division finish last week and having previously finished second in the Perth Masters, he's got fond memories of Australia. France tied for second two years ago courtesy of Romain Langasque and Victor Dubuisson and while perhaps less talented, this duo won't lack for desire.

Germany

  • Martin Kaymer & Max Kieffer

There have been some good signs for Martin Kaymer as he calmly searches for a return to his major-winning best. Whether it'll come is hard to say but those who've lost faith completely need not look far for a reminder that patience in golf is a must, the likes of Lee Westwood and Charles Howell having been rewarded for theirs of late. Kaymer hasn't played World Cup golf since finishing runner-up alongside Alex Cejka in 2011, but Max Kieffer has having played nicely under a different format in 2013. An accurate type, he's at his best under the sort of conditions expected here and it's easy to envisage these two hitting more than their share of greens. The worry would be what happens when they don't.

Greece

  • Peter Karmis & Alexander Tranacher

Outsiders of the party and understandably so, despite the fact that Peter Karmis has taken his game to a new level this year and appears to remain in solid form. The former South African switched allegiances to play for Greece in the hope that he might get to go to the Olympics, but for now the World Cup is a nice enough bonus and he should play reasonably well. Alexander Tranacher has no form to speak of, however, and this club professional will find the going tough. They look a solid bet to live up to market expectations and prop up the field.

India

  • Anirban Lahiri & Gaganjeet Bhullar

Two good friends who have played plenty of golf together over the years. Anirban Lahiri is the star name, of course, but bar a top-10 finish in Mexico two starts back there would have to be concerns around the state of his game. In contrast, it's been a super year for Gaganjeet Bhullar and his confidence is probably at an all-time high, as evidenced by a strong showing in the WGC-HSBC Champions. He's standing in for Shubhankar Sharma, who felt this would've been one trip to the well too many, but it may just be that India are stronger for the switch. Lahiri's power and Bhullar's fairway-finding ability could make for a killer combination and given what this could do for golf back home, India's pairing may be more motivated than many. Bhullar was dead last in 2013 but has improved since.

Ireland

  • Shane Lowry & Paul Dunne

Ninth two years ago alongside Graeme McDowell, Shane Lowry returns with the promising Paul Dunne and there's little doubt conditions will suit both. Lowry is a fine driver of the ball who prefers things difficult, which they will be here even if better-ball still allows for some obscenely low scoring. He's been hitting greens for fun lately and looks like playing well wherever he tees it up. Dunne can struggle with the driver - it's been an issue throughout a fairly disappointing 2018 - but he's excellent around the greens and if they can meet somewhere in the middle, Ireland could justify their position in the market some 21 years on from their last victory in the event. Lowry, a former WGC winner, will be particularly desperate to get some silverware in his hands for the first time in over three years while Dunne is searching for positives to carry into 2019. Live players.

Italy

  • Andrea Pavan & Renato Paratore

Among the most improved players on the circuit this year, Andrea Pavan has impressed not only in winning in Prague, but in holding his form subsequently. His sole missed cut since that breakthrough European Tour title came in his very next start and since then he's been a regular on the fringes of contention, pounding fairways and greens in a way which makes for an excellent foursomes partner. Renato Paratore has bundles of talent but has been destructively wild off the tee this year, his best performances coming when he can somehow get away with that. The Metro therefore wouldn't look the best venue but his ability to make birdies in bunches could see these two go seriously low in fourballs, which could offer us a way to profit should they tee-up with a more high-profile nation. Paratore has also produced back-to-back top-30 finishes to hint that he's getting things together and Italian golf is enjoying a fabulous 2018.

Japan

  • Satoshi Kodaira & Hideto Tanihara

Hideto Tanihara turned 40 last week and while he's been winning events for a decade and a half back home in Japan, it's over the last couple of seasons that he's really flourished. While he was sixth in the Open Championship in 2006, notable for how firm conditions were, it was a semi-final run at the WGC-Match Play in 2017 which really saw him reach a global audience. Since then he's been a fairly regular contender on the European Tour and he's demonstrated a skill set which could go really nicely at The Metro. As for Satoshi Kodaira, he picked the pocket of Si-woo Kim to win on the PGA Tour in the spring and while nowhere near that level since, he's not fallen off a cliff. He's one whose best form tends to coincide with some wind but Japan ultimately look short enough in the betting.

Hideto Tanihara
Hideto Tanihara

Malaysia

  • Gavin Green & Ben Leong

Malaysia were out with the washing in 2016 but this team is an upgrade, Gavin Green creeping closer to realising his potential and Ben Leong playing as well as he ever has over the last 18 or so months. Green is a naturally aggressive player who hits the ball a long way but there's more to him than pure power and some of his best performances in Europe this year have come on courses you wouldn't necessarily expect to suit. Still, he's prone to some big numbers and hasn't been involved during the Final Series events which helps to justify three-figure prices given that Leong is a long way short of top-class.

Mexico

  • Abraham Ancer & Roberto Diaz

After winning the Australian Open last week, Abraham Ancer arrives at the very top of his game and his fairways-and-greens methodology tends to work nicely at courses like The Metro. He's taken his game to a new level since early summer and while he's been busy lately, he should have enough left in the tank for four days of pairs golf. Roberto Diaz is still looking for his first pro win and so far looks like a solid Web.com Tour player, but he's bound to be inspired by what his team-mate did last week and these two can't be dismissed.

Netherlands

  • Joost Luiten & Daan Huizing

Dark horses. Joost Luiten has returned from wrist surgery in good nick, finishing inside the top 30 in each of his four starts, all on the European Tour. Having won earlier in the year and been as consistent as ever, he's one to respect wherever he turns up and it could be beneficial that he's fresher than most. The problem when it comes to the World Cup is that he's by far and away the best Dutch golfer around, but Daan Huizing was once considered his likely successor and he arrives on the back of his best performance this year. Huizing finished third, agonisingly short of what was required, in the Challenge Tour Grand Final and has more to give having only recently turned 28. That he won both the Lytham and St Andrews trophies during a stellar amateur career suggests that Australian conditions will suit, too, despite a low-key effort on his sole previous visit.

New Zealand

  • Ryan Fox & Mark Brown

It's ten years since Mark Brown won twice in a fortnight and flirted with the world's top 50, and these days he's looking over his shoulder at risk of falling outside the top 500. His missed cut last week at the Australian Open was only by a single shot, but the bottom line is he's in amongst golfers of superior quality here and it's unlikely Ryan Fox can overcome the handicap. Fox, son of All Blacks legend Grant, is a huge-hitting winner-in-waiting on the European Tour who has played much of his best golf under firm and fast conditions. That all bodes well for this week but he was 11th alongside Danny Lee in 2016 and has a vastly less capable partner this time. As such a mid-pack finish is about as much as they can hope for in all likelihood.

Scotland

  • Russell Knox & Martin Laird

Rewind two years and Russell Knox drew criticism from some for selecting old college pal Duncan Stewart to play alongside him, rather than a higher-ranked Scot such as Martin Laird. But with Stewart having been involved in a gruelling six-round Q-School bid last week, Laird does get the call-up this time and on the face of it these two are among the more interesting contenders. Laird has been in solid form lately, seventh place in the Sanderson Farms demonstrating as much, while Knox has been mid-division in some quality European Tour events and started brightly in Dubai.

Russell Knox celebrates winning the Irish Open
Russell Knox celebrates winning the Irish Open earlier this year

South Africa

  • Dylan Frittelli & Erik van Rooyen

I can't say that I knew it was a thing, but Erik van Rooyen was a worthy recipient of the 'Graduate of the Year' award having coped admirably with the rise in grade from Challenge to European Tour. The only thing missing is a win but he was unfortunate to bump into one in Joburg and could well make amends on home soil in the coming months. Note that he loves links golf, which this almost is, and 26th in Dubai last week shows that his game is ticking over nicely. Dylan Frittelli played clearly the best golf in the field there over the weekend for seventh place overall and doesn't make many mistakes, particularly off the tee. Having grown used to strong winds when playing college golf in Texas, he should feel at home in Australia where he was second on his sole previous visit and this is a partnership to take very seriously.

South Korea

  • Byeong-hun An & Si-woo Kim

Bundles of talent across this pairing and some quality titles to go with it, Ben An having won the BMW PGA and Si-woo Kim a two-time PGA Tour winner, including the PLAYERS. As far as An goes, it was disappointing to see him crash down to 10th at the Australian Open having threatened to run away with it early, but one bad round can be forgiven and he's generally been in excellent form for a while now. Kim has been a big eye-catcher throughout the formative stages of the new PGA Tour season, his putting a particular positive, but he's not quite managed to see it through and return to the world's top 50. Still, he's an awesome talent and if these two catch fire during fourballs they could break 60; equally they could shoot 80 in foursomes. Hard to know which to expect.

Spain

  • Adrian Otaegui & Jorge Campillo

Two steady Spaniards whose form has been so strong this year that they were asked along to the Ryder Cup with a view to the future. Both will have to raise their games to achieve that lofty aspiration and this could be a good starting point, as they replace Ryder Cup pair Rafa Cabrera Bello and Jon Rahm. Spain's chances have of course diminished as a result but Otaegui was fourth last week and third in Turkey, so his game is in excellent shape. Campillo hasn't been so good but at least signed off with his best round of the week in Dubai and could take to the format. Still, he's without a professional win in close to a decade of trying and looks the weak link which will cost Spain.

Sweden

  • Alexander Bjork & Joakim Lagergren

Two young Swedes who have won for the first time at European Tour level this year. Indeed, one surely inspired the other as Alex Bjork won in China before Joakim Lagergren took a play-off for the Rocco Forte Sicilian Open, having lost one a year earlier in the Qatar Masters. Those tournaments might be significant as they favour players who are comfortable in the wind, but Lagergren is a difficult man to predict. We saw his best and his worst last week in Dubai, where Bjork failed to progress over the weekend but nevertheless finished an excellent 12th. Potential contenders, no doubt, if Lagergren is on a going week, but his form in Australia has so far been appalling and he'll need to turn it around.

Thailand

  • Kiradech Aphibarnrat & Prom Meesawat

It's been another solid late-season run for Kiradech Aphibarnrat and he's been very close to having a big chance to win, instead settling for ninth last week and fourth in the WGC-HSBC Champions. The putter blows hot and cold, the latter proving costly in Turkey, but the long game is right on and he'll look forward to a return to Australia having won the Perth Super 6 earlier this year. His World Cup form is also strong having been 19th in 2016 and fifth with his own ball under a different format in 2013. Prom Meesawat has been ticking over nicely of late and while not a name to strike fear into opponent pairings, his recent ventures to Australia have been fruitful.

United States

  • Kyle Stanley & Matt Kuchar

Matt Kuchar won this alongside Gary Woodland in 2011 and has a no less suitable partner here in Kyle Stanley, one of the best ball-strikers on the PGA Tour. Stanley simply doesn't make many mistakes from tee-to-green and if Kuchar's short-game is at its best, that could make for a very competitive score in foursomes - and it's not as though they look weak when it comes to fourballs. The concern for Stanley is that he does miss more than his share of putts, but the real conundrum here is the form of Kuchar. On the one hand he won two weeks ago in Mexico, on the other he shot 73-75 over the weekend in the Australian Open, where he was challenging for favouritism at halfway. Perhaps Mexico masks the reality - that he isn't the player he was in 2011 - and while the US are usually the ones to beat in this event, they might be worth taking on this time.

Matt Kuchar celebrates
Matt Kuchar celebrates in Mexico a fortnight ago

Venezuela

  • Jhonattan Vegas & Joseph Naffah

Jhonattan Vegas finished last but one alongside brother Julio two years ago and now tries to do better with a childhood friend, Joseph Naffah, who isn't up to this grade. It's a shame, as there have been one or two promising signs from three-time PGA Tour winner Vegas of late and he's the type who'd love to be in the thick of things for his country.

Wales

  • Stuart Manley & Bradley Dredge

Wales have some World Cup pedigree having won it twice before, including in 2005 when Bradley Dredge teamed up with Stephen Dodd. Things didn't go so well alongside Stuart Manley in 2016, a third-round 80 ending all hope of a place, but Manley has achieved World Cup notoriety having followed a hole-in-one with an 11 back in 2013. He's just successfully navigated the Challenge Tour and does have the right game for Australian golf if the wind blows, while Dredge's best performance this year came at the KLM Open. Those are the positives and Wales are still left with a mountain to climb.

Zimbabwe

  • Scott Vincent & Benjamin Follett-Smith

The undeniably promising Scott Vincent has missed a trick here, as Sean Crocker might've been up for a change in flags having been born in Zimbabwe. Instead, it's Benjamin Follett-Smith who gets the vote and while this youngster is a winner in 2018 via the Big Easy Challenge, he's totally unproven at this level. Vincent continues to edge closer to a first professional win but it'll be a big surprise if it comes here.


Verdict

The World Cup is effectively a small-field event with some serious deadwood - Greece, Zimbabwe and Venezuela simply can't win and it's very difficult to build cases for Malaysia and Wales. With Finland also expected to struggle and the likes of Germany and Italy appearing up against it, suddenly there are very few viable options yet it's 5/1 the field with generous each-way terms to boot.

AUSTRALIA really should go close, as they've a notable home advantage and two world-class players. Conditions here are very different to Dubai last week, or to Mexico, where Matt Kuchar won a fortnight ago, and they're perfect for Cameron Smith and Marc Leishman. The only thing to temper enthusiasm is the fact Leishman and Adam Scott were always on the back foot two years ago but otherwise the case is virtually flawless.

In 2013, Jason Day and Scott won the World Cup under a different format but in the here and now, a motivated Smith and a recently-winning Leishman might be the best two representatives regardless of what the rankings say and it'll be a surprise if they don't prove hard to beat.

England must head the list of dangers and are preferred to the USA, for whom there are just nagging form concerns despite Kuchar's recent win. England have them to some degree but Ian Poulter is an ideal type for both the format and the course while Tyrrell Hatton has been playing well for months and can take more than his share of the load if necessary.

The second wave of the market is headed by Belgium, but they look a false price. Thomas Pieters' propensity to throw in a shocker is the main concern but there's also an assumption they'll take to the conditions and I wouldn't be so sure. Both Ireland and defending champions Denmark look better suited to the course but China and South Africa are considered bigger threats to the favourites.

South Africa's pairing have both been in good heart and Dylan Frittelli lost a play-off on his sole previous trip Down Under. China meanwhile were a good second two years ago, the partnership is maintained, and both Ashun Wu and Haotong Li are deadly iron players who've played nicely of late. Of this collection of teams from 14/1 to 18/1, it's Scotland who appear by far the hardest to fancy and they're readily overlooked.

The each-way value at bigger prices could lie with Thailand and India, with Netherlands capable of running into a top-10 finish. Thailand's star man, Kiradech Aphibarnrat, is playing really well and won in Perth earlier this year. India's duo meanwhile know each other very well, they're highly motivated and their games could work really nicely together. As for the Netherlands, Joost Luiten looks to have a capable partner this time and he's wonderfully consistent.

Finally, consider the 'to finish last' market where Greece are worthy short-priced favourites. Their key man, who I imagine doesn't speak much Greek, has enjoyed a good year but is nowhere near the calibre of Jhonattan Vegas, whose Venezuela are second-favourites. Greece's team is made up by an Athens club pro and they could be cut adrift from an early stage, with a patriotic Vegas capable of keeping things respectable alongside a childhood friend who will also be outclassed.

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