A biennial tournament that has struggled for relevance under a heavy weight of American supremacy will roar back into life when Tiger Woods returns to the Presidents Cup as a playing captain at Royal Melbourne this week.
The 15-times major champion missed the 2015 tournament and was a non-playing assistant two years ago when Steve Stricker’s United States steamrolled the Internationals 19-11 at Liberty National.
Woods, though, used one of his four captain’s picks on himself and will be front and centre at the famed sandbelt course, calling the shots in the locker room and out on the fairways as the visitors bid for an eighth straight title.
Now 43, Woods may not take a big playing load while juggling management duties but his presence is a bonanza for organisers and certain to bring huge crowds flooding to the usually sleepy bayside suburb of Black Rock.
It also spells trouble for an Internationals team short on quality and experience that appears ill-equipped to end the U.S. tyranny.
They have exactly that in Woods, however.
He played the course in 1998 when the U.S. suffered their lone Presidents Cup defeat and returned 13 years later to roll in the winning putt at the 2011 tournament.
“On paper, we certainly have the advantage in the world rankings,” Woods said last month.
“(But) when you start out on Thursday, it’s 0-0. We have to go out and win this Cup.”
Webb Simpson was also part of the 19-15 win in 2011 and can offer tips to his younger team mates.
The youthful Internationals have seven debutants compared to five for the visitors and will be looking to fully exploit every advantage they can muster.
They will lean heavily on captain Ernie Els, who set the course record at Royal Melbourne’s composite layout when he shot a 12-under 60 in 2004 and counts the 1998 and 2011 tournaments among his eight Presidents Cups as a player.
The team’s three Australians — Scott, Marc Leishman and Cameron Smith — also know their way around the sandbelt but they are well aware that local knowledge counted for little in 2011.
Four of the five Australians in the 2011 Team International bombed in front of home fans, with Robert Allenby infamously blaming his playing partners for his failure to earn a point.
Once heavily stacked with Australians and South Africans, the team representing the world outside the Ryder Cup nations has a more cosmopolitan look this time round.
Chile’s Joaquin Niemann, Mexican Abraham Ancer and Li Haotong of China will all represent their nations for the first time at the tournament, along with Taiwan’s CT Pan.
Els has been at pains to build camaraderie for the team and coaxed many of them Down Under early to compete at the Australian Open in Sydney over the weekend.
All of the U.S. team barring Dustin Johnson warmed up at Woods’s charity invitational, the Hero World Challenge, in the Bahamas before making the long-haul flight to Melbourne.
The U.S. suffered a considerable blow when Brooks Koepka was a late withdrawal due to injury, while one of his predecessors as world number one, Jason Day, pulled out of the International team with a back problem.
On paper, the Americans should have more than enough firepower to extend their winning streak but the strange alchemy of team events can do unusual things.
Most of Team International are at least free of the scars of past thrashings. If they start well and fire up an Australian crowd who proved far too polite to the Americans in 2011, they could make a decent contest of it.
Pan described the Internationals as young and “fearless”.
“We have a great opportunity and plus we have a home advantage,” he said. “Obviously, history tells a lot, but what we are looking at is our future.”
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Europe beckons for South African rugby after Kiwi snub
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, Jul 20 – World Cup-winning Springbok Schalk Brits believes the future of South African rugby lies in Europe after New Zealand said there was no room for sides from the republic in Super Rugby.
“All of this jet lag and flying across different time zones just does not work,” said the hooker who retired after the triumphant 2019 World Cup campaign.
“We have got so many South Africans playing in Europe and it would be awesome to see them in action here for European clubs.”
With New Zealand favouring a trans-Tasman Super Rugby competition, South Africa Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux will address the media Tuesday about the way forward.
There has been no rugby in South Africa since mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic, which claimed 5,033 lives by late Sunday, the most in an African country.
Here, AFP Sport looks at the possibilities for the world champions Springboks and Super Rugby teams the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers.
There has been speculation that the six-round annual tournament will be cut to four matches with New Zealand and Australia playing in South Africa only every second year.
That would be a huge blow for SA Rugby coffers as the century-old rivalry with the All Blacks makes them a huge drawcard.
South Africa might consider abandoning the Championship and pursuing a suggestion by former All Blacks Justin Marshall and Jeff Wilson for three-Test tours between the great rivals.
“British and Irish Lions tours are so successful because we look forward to them,” noted another ex-All Black, John Kirwan. The same could be said of an All Blacks-Springboks series.
Should South African franchises move north, would the Springboks follow suit and apply to join England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales in a ‘Seven Nations’ championship?
Having the world champions on board would surely excite the organisers and costs would be greatly reduced if the Springboks played their three away matches on consecutive weekends.
England, Ireland, France and Wales, in particular, would bring freshness for rugby followers, who have not rushed to the turnstiles for Championship visits by Australia and Argentina.
Ask the SA Rugby treasurer for his ‘dream’ line-up and he would surely say a multi-Test tour by the All Blacks and participation in the ‘Seven Nations’.
Although not official yet, the reality is that New Zealand want to play some Australian sides and the Pacific Islands in a new competition while excluding South Africa and Argentina.
The original version, a Super 10 between 1993 and 1995, was a superb competition, but constant tinkering and expansion has led to waning interest in a difficult-to-follow event.
Even those supporting the Golden Lions of South Africa could not have derived too much satisfaction from a 94-7 thrashing of Japanese visitors the Sunwolves three years ago.
South Africa sides often battled with time differences in Australasia — New Zealand is 11 hours ahead of the republic — and were weary after four-match tours.
Pro14 chief executive Martin Anayi says he would welcome Super Rugby ‘rejects’ the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers into an expanded edition.
“The tournament works well but could be even better if we added some South African teams,” he said, referring to a competition that also includes Irish, Italian, Scottish and Welsh teams.
But there may be no room for the two current South African Pro14 participants, the Cheetahs and Kings, who have experienced very different fortunes.
While the Cheetahs have been competitive, the Kings won just four of 55 matches in three seasons with some of the losing margins embarrassing.
The domestic competition has survived constant format changes to remain the vital ‘nursery’ from which Springboks emerge.
First staged in 1892, it was the bedrock of South African rugby until the dawn of professionalism after the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
As Test and Super Rugby fixtures took up an increasing amount of the season, the Currie Cup often battled for calendar space.
But it survived and this year could feature the four Super Rugby sides plus the Cheetahs, Kings, Griquas and Pumas, if play is possible amid the coronavirus.
Kenya records highest number of deaths from Covid-19
Kenya’s coronavirus cases rise to 13,771 after 418 more infections
Kenya on Monday reported 418 more Covid-19 infections, raising the country’s tally to 13,771 since the virus was first confirmed on March 13.
Health Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) Rashid Aman also reported four more deaths, raising the toll to 238. He rectified an earlier report about 19 deaths in a single day, which would have been the highest number ever recorded in Kenya.
The 418 new patients were found following the testing of 2,474 samples in the last 24 hours.
Four hundred and eight of them were Kenyans and 10 foreigners while male patients numbered 263 and female patients 155.
Dr Aman also announced that 494 patients had been discharged, raising the country’s total number of recoveries to 5,616.
Of the recovered patients, 465 were under home care and the rest in hospitals.
More to follow