MELBOURNE — Not surprisingly, neither captain was giving much away beyond the identities of the participants for the first series of four-ball matches in the 13th Presidents Cup. Ernie Els of the International side and U.S. captain Tiger Woods admitted to having what Els called “a system,” but the details, for now at least, will remain secret.
“We’ve had a plan, and this is the way we figured it,” Els said. “I can't tell you exactly what we're doing in the team room, but we've got a system, and we're following that.”
Still, some of the pairings were predictable enough. In the back-and-forth of the pairing process that is unique to the Presidents Cup, Woods led off with himself and close pal, Justin Thomas, a formidable coupling clearly designed to get the defending champions off to a fast start against Australian Marc Leishman and rookie Joaquin Niemann of Chile.
There was also a place for Patrick Reed in the American lineup. Alongside Webb Simpson, the most controversial member of the visiting side will face Hideki Matsuyama and C.T. Pan in the fourth of the five matches. In contrast, Els omitted Cameron Smith, the man most critical of Reed in the wake of Reed’s two-shot penalty for improving his line of play last week at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas. The Australian will sit out Thursdays session along with Haotong Li of China.
Also on the sidelines are the last addition to the American side, Rickie Fowler, and Matt Kuchar, who has struggled to find his best form recently.
“We have game plans,” Woods said. “Obviously we're not going to reveal any of them, but we have options for each and every player. They have given their opinions of who they think is best suited for them—and it’s more than just one option. We have numerous options for each and every player, in case different scenarios happen as the week goes on.”
On paper at least, Match 3 is perhaps the most promising for the home team. There, Australian Adam Scott—the highest-ranked player on the International side—and Ben An of South Korea line up against Bryson DeChambeau and Tony Finau. Scott’s vast knowledge of the intricate Royal Melbourne composite course contrasts hugely with the inexperience of the other three.
Still, the most appetizing of the five matches is the last one. In that, the powerful figures of Dustin Johnson and Gary Woodland will take on former Australian Open champion Abraham Ancer of Mexico and former Open champion, South African Louis Oosthuizen.
Match 1: March Leishman/Joaquin Niemann (INT) vs. Justin Thomas/Tiger Woods (USA), 9:32 a.m. Australia/5:32 p.m. ET Wednesday
Match 2: Adam Hadwin/Sungjae Im (INT) vs. Xander Schauffele/Patrick Cantlay (USA), 9:47 a.m. Australia/5:47 p.m. ET Wednesday
Match 3: Adam Scott/Byeong Hun An (INT) vs. Bryson DeChambeau/Tony Finau (USA), 10:02 a.m. Australia/6:02 p.m. ET Wednesday
Match 4: Hideki Matsuyama/C.T. Pan (INT) vs. Webb Simpson/Patrick Reed (USA), 10:17 a.m. Australia/6:17 p.m. ET Wednesday
Match 5: Abraham Ancer/Louis Oosthuizen (INT) vs. Dustin Johnson/Gary Woodland, 10:32 a.m. Australia/ 6:32 p.m. ET Wednesday