COMMENTARY | International captain Nick Price's fight to switch the four-ball session to Thursday proved to be a savvy move, albeit not an overwhelming one. Trailing the American squad 3.5 to 2.5 after the first six matches, the International team finds itself much more competitive through Day One than in Presidents Cups gone by.
(The Americans have gotten out to a combined 13.5 to 4.5 lead following the first day's foursomes matches over the past three Presidents Cups.)
Price's angle for the switch was an effort to get his players settled into team competition before having to play alternate shot. However, it took a 1:22 weather delay to kick-start the International team after falling behind in five of six matches and tied in the other when a cell of rain closed in on Dublin, Ohio, forcing players off the course.
The Internationals rallied after the respite, winning two matches, halving another and taking the final match on the course to the 18th hole where it took an all-world up-and-down by Steve Stricker to preserve a point for the American side.
Entering the second session foursomes, Price believes his team will be better acclimated to the atmosphere and in turn, perform better in the alternate shot format.
"It has generally been very hard for us in foursomes," Price said after announcing his lineup for Day Two. "I think one of the reasons being it's the hardest format of the lot, without a doubt, alternate‑shot. You're playing basically half a round. But I think the two guys have to spur each other on. I really think that they are all ready to take their games to the next level so to speak team‑wise. "
While Price has held true to his Day One pairings, US captain Fred Couples made an interesting move that affected two pairings, splitting up Bill Haas and Webb Simpson, switching them out with Hunter Mahan and Brandt Snedeker, respectively.
Even so, both American duos are favorites, as are the rest of the US squads with one exception.
(*Odds were drawn from the Las Vegas Hotel and Casino Superbook on Oct. 3.)
Phil Mickelson/Keegan Bradley (-120) vs. Jason Day/Graham DeLaet (Even)
Mickelson and Bradley remain favorites despite being the victims of perhaps the biggest upset of the day on Thursday. Day and DeLaet played well together in four-ball and seem to be a top squad for Capt. Price. While Day and DeLaet may have a slight edge, still look for Mickelson and Bradley to play the Internationals tough in front of a weekend crowd (read: well-served) at Muirfield Village.
Pick: Match Halved.
Bill Haas/Hunter Mahan (-135) vs. Ernie Els/Brenden de Jonge (+115)
Alternate shot requires both players to play well and buoy their partners. De Jonge proved yesterday that he could nearly carry Els to a halve with Stricker and Spieth, but with the Big Easy a little off, the steady play of Haas and Mahan should win out here, comfortably.
Pick: Americans, 3 & 2.
Steve Stricker/Jordan Spieth (-200) vs. Branden Grace/Richard Sterne (+175)
Capt. Couples keeps referring to Stricker and Spieth as a father-and-son-type who play very similarly. Spieth showed some nerves late in the day on Thursday, but Pops held him steady. Grace and Sterne didn't do much to instill any kind of confidence in bettors, but the South African connection could click at any time.
Pick: Americans, 2 & 1.
Webb Simpson/Brandt Snedeker (-165) vs. Angel Cabrera/Marc Leishman
Another one of the more disappointing International squads from four-ball is paired together again and Simpson and Snedeker have similar style games, which alternate shot calls for. Cabrera and Leishman didn't show much yesterday with El Pato looking simply outmatched. If International fans can take any consolation from the Argentine's play on Thursday, it's that Cabrera doesn't seem to let much get to him.
Pick: Americans, 3 & 2.
Tiger Woods/Matt Kuchar (-180) vs. Louis Oosthuizen/Charl Schwartzel (+160)
With a handful of seemingly overmatched pairs out in the middle of the day, the International side pits one of its best against arguably the American's best. Oosthuizen seemed to have knocked off whatever rust there was lingering from his back/neck injury and combined with Schwartzel, they may be aesthetically the best swinging alternate shot duo ever. Still, the childhood friends will have a tough time keeping up with a duo channeling their (fictitious) West Philadelphia roots.
Pick: Americans, 1-up.
Adam Scott/Hideki Matsuyama (-120) vs. Jason Dufner/Zach Johnson (Even)
Dufner and Johnson quietly, as always, went about their business on Thursday dismantling Grace and Sterne, but a sterner task awaits them on Day Two. For what Scott and Matsuyama lack in being able to hold a conversation, they make up for in ball-striking. As Scott said earlier this week, "'Good shot' is the international language. Everyone understands that." Dufner and ZJ are tough, though. Consistency usually wins out in alternate shot, but this may be too close to call.
Pick: Match Halved.
Chris Chaney is a Cincinnati, Ohio-based sportswriter. He has written for multiple outlets including WrongFairway.com, Hoopville.com, The Cincinnati (OH) Enquirer and The Clermont (OH) Sun.
Follow him on Twitter @Wrong_Fairway.
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