DUBLIN, Ohio (Reuters) - Charl Schwartzel has victory in his sights at this week’s Memorial Tournament but also has the Presidents Cup in sharp focus, even though the biennial competition is four months away.
The Ryder Cup-style event which pits a 12-man team from the United States against a line-up of international players from outside Europe will be held from Oct 4-6 at Muirfield Village Golf Club, the same venue staging this week’s PGA Tour stop.
South African Schwartzel was among several likely members of the Internationals team who linked up with captain Nick Price and his assistants here earlier in the week, the latest meeting to plot how to break the virtual U.S. stranglehold on the Cup.
The Americans, captained by Fred Couples, will be bidding to lift the trophy for an eighth time in 10 editions to continue a dominant run which Schwartzel finds hard to explain.
“It’s difficult,” the 2011 Masters champion told Reuters after taking control of the Memorial Tournament with a sizzling seven-under-par 65 in the opening round at Muirfield Village.
“I don’t know why they (the Internationals) have lost so many times but if you look at the stats, the American are always a lot stronger.
“Their 12th man is a lot of times ranked as high as our fourth or fifth so we’ve got eight other guys who are a lot weaker. We are the underdogs. The stats don’t lie.”
Schwartzel, who made his Presidents Cup debut at Royal Melbourne Golf Club in Australia in 2011 when the U.S. triumphed 19-15, accepted that matchplay golf was highly unpredictable but felt that respective rankings would always be a big factor.
“In 18-hole matchplay, anyone can beat anyone at the end of the day, but you know you’ve earned that 30th world ranking by being more consistent than the guy who is 60th,” the slender South African said.
“So over four days the guy who is 30th is going to beat the guy ranked 60th more often than not. That’s why he’s 30th, so coming down the stretch the Americans will have a stronger team.”
Schwartzel, who clinched his maiden major title with a grandstand four-birdie finish to win the 2011 Masters by two strokes, also felt the Internationals could learn from Europe, who have generally gelled superbly as a team at the Ryder Cup.
“We need to get a bit more into it, a bit like the Europeans do, be more of a team and beat the U.S. guys that way,” said Schwartzel, referring to Europe’s impressive run of seven Ryder Cup victories in the last nine editions.
“We are going to try and play as many practice rounds together as we can (at PGA Tour events) with the guys who are currently in the team.
“The guys are really going to try this year to be up for it, see if we can be more of a team and arrive at Muirfield Village earlier in the week.”
Schwartzel predicted that team bonding by the Internationals would be further enhanced by the laidback captaincy style already adopted by three-times major winner Price, a veteran of five Presidents Cups as a player.
“Nick will be a great captain,” said Schwartzel. “He is very relaxed which is a good thing because guys who are more relaxed normally play better. I think we will bond a lot earlier this time.
“We’ve already had a few meetings with Nick and he’s asked us to spend a bit of time on certain parts of our games. At the end of the day, though, he wants us to walk off on the Sunday with everyone on the team having had a really good time.”
The leading 10 players in the Internationals points standings after the Deutsche Bank Championship ends on September 2 will automatically qualify for the Presidents Cup and Schwartzel is excited that seven South Africans already occupy those spots.
“In a way it’s going to be to our benefit because normally you’ve got players from all over the world on the Internationals team,” he said.
“As we all know, you sort of stick with the guys that you know from the same country, so I think it will be a big benefit for us if there are a lot of South Africans and a lot of Australians.”
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Frank Pingue