WASHINGTON — Presidents Cup II has descended on the Washington area bigger, better and wetter than the inaugural competition two years ago at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club. It also has a bit of a harder edge, and a Jumbo improvement in the caliber of the international team.
That would include the presence of Jumbo Ozaki, the greatest player Japan has ever produced, as well as Australia's Greg Norman and South Africa's Ernie Els. Norman, No. 1 in the world, was a spectator the first time around, suffering with abdominal problems. Els, now ranked No. 3, and Ozaki, No. 6, had other commitments in '94 and declined to break them for a competition that initially had the look of a knockoff Ryder Cup, but not much of the feel.
In two years, that has changed. The international team is so intent on winning, it mutinied against the captain at the helm of a 20-12 defeat in '94, forcing David Graham out in July and welcoming five-time British Open champion Peter Thomson into their formidable fold.
Play finally gets under way at 8 a.m. Friday after three mostly soggy days of practice on a rain-saturated par-72 golf course playing even longer than its listed 7,289 yards. A total of 32 matches will be contested through Sunday, with the first team earning 16 1/2 points declared the champion. If there is a 16-all tie, one player from each team will begin a sudden-death match for the Cup. Those faint of heart need not apply.
Friday morning the teams will play five four-ball matches. Friday afternoon, the format goes to foursomes, or alternate shot play.
A Ryder Cup staple though rarely played in the United States, team members hit alternate shots, with one player teeing off on odd numbered holes, the other on even. Obviously, as in four-ball play, low score wins the hole.
The four-ball matches will get off to a rousing start Friday morning with the U.S. team sending out Fred Couples and Davis Love III, winners of the past four World Cup match-play titles, against Norman and rising young Australian star Robert Allenby.
Thomson, who has made no secret of his team's determination to prevail this week, may have jump-started the Americans' internal engines Thursday when he ended a news conference by saying of Norman-Allenby: "I think they're invincible, frankly."
There are intriguing match-ups in the other four morning games, as well. At 8:10, Scott Hoch and PGA champion Mark Brooks will play Els and Mark McNulty of Zimbabwe. At 8:20, Phil Mickelson and Corey Pavin take on Ozaki and Vijay Singh of Fiji; at 8:30 it's Mark O'Meara and David Duval against Steve Elkington of Australia and Frank Nobilo of New Zealand and at 8:40, British Open champion Tom Lehman and Kemper Open winner Steve Stricker face Nick Price of Zimbabwe and Peter Senior of Australia.
Said Lehman, "We're all friends in this competition. However, once I see these pairings come up, my intensity level has gone up 100 percent. These guys are no longer fellow PGA Tour members; for the most part, they're the other side. ... So this is like take no prisoners from here out until Sunday night."