Jack Nicklaus recognizes the Americans appear to be unbeatable in this week’s Presidents Cup, but the four-time captain of the U.S. squad suggested that the visitors may stun the home team much as their European counterparts did in last year's Ryder Cup.
"They will surprise you this week," Nicklaus, host of the matches at his Muirfield Village Golf Club, told reporters Tuesday. "The International team is a lot better than you think it is."
Nicklaus’ comments flew in the face of conventional wisdom -- and International captain Nick Price’s and top player Adam Scott’s concerns -- that pegs this year’s 10th Prez Cup competition as a must-win for the 1-7-1 global outfit.
For sure, the U.S. unit, led by world No. 1 Tiger Woods and stocked with superstar Phil Mickelson and four other major champions, present a formidable opponent for Price and his guys. But just because fans and pundits know more about PGA Tour golfers who play "here every week," Nicklaus cautioned partisans not to overlook the talent on the other side.
Nicklaus also believes team tilts like the Presidents Cup run in cycles and that today’s favorites could be tomorrow’s underdogs.
"Four years from now," Nicklaus said, "the Americans may be begging for mercy."
Still, Scott and Price were worried about the future of the event if their team loses its fourth straight match in 10 starts.
"I think it's crucial. We have to win this year," Scott, a six-time Presidents Cup competitor, said to AFP’s Jim Slater. "The Cup loses any credibility whatsoever if [the Internationals] don't start winning soon."
Price echoed his lead player’s observations but stopped short of pushing the panic button if his team, once again, were to come up short of the winner’s circle.
"I think all of us who have been involved with the Presidents Cup know how important this one is," Price, who played in the first five PC events and is making his debut as captain, said in his Tuesday press conference. "I wouldn’t say it’s a must-win -- that’s a hard thing to put on anyone -- but this one needs to be competitive because ... the last four President Cups ... haven’t been."
While Price said the first couple of PC matches, which started in 1994, were "pretty exciting," four of the five matches played in the last decade (the teams tied in 2003) have been far less compelling than he would like.
"We don’t like getting beaten," Price said. "For all of us, I think it’s a really big week."
Nicklaus expressed far less urgency about the need for an International triumph.
"The teams this year are probably skewed a little stronger toward the American side," conceded the owner of 18 major championship titles, who noted that Ernie Els and others were "not playing as well as they used to."
Not to worry, though, since youngsters will soon force out the struggling veterans.
"They will be replaced by young guys that you don’t know much about," Nicklaus said. "You don’t know much about Branden Grace but Branden Grace is an awfully good player."
Grace, for those unfamiliar with the 25-year-old South African’s body of work, is a Presidents Cup rookie. He finished T18 at the Masters and has five worldwide top 10s this year, including coming in second to Mickelson at the Scottish Open.