MELBOURNE: Ernie Els opted on Thursday for the experience of Jason Day and Adam Hadwin alongside rookies Im Sung-jae and Joaquin Niemann as he made his Internationals Team Presidents Cup captain’s picks to face Tiger Woods’s Team USA next month.
The Internationals will tee off at Australia’s Royal Melbourne from December 12-15 against a star-studded US captained by Woods, who is expected to pick himself when he unveils his four wildcards on Friday.
Australia’s former world number one Day will feature in his fifth Presidents Cup despite having seen his ranking slip to 29th, while world number 44 Hadwin will make his second appearance after his debut in 2017.
South Korea’s 2019 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Im and Chile’s Niemann have been in spectacular form lately and both will make their Presidents Cup debuts.
Im, 21, tied for third with Rory McIlroy two weeks ago at the Zozo Championship in Japan, won by Woods, and the world number 34 followed up with tied 11th at the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai on Sunday.
Niemann, ranked 54, became the first player from Chile to win on the PGA Tour when he triumphed at the Greenbrier in September and the 21-year-old followed up with tied 12th in a high-quality field at the CJ Cup in South Korea last month.
“It was very difficult for me, but I needed guys in solid form,” said Els, speaking from Beijing. “That’s why I went for these four guys who are very consistent and strong under pressure.
“I’m really excited by the new blood that’s come in and we have experience too. I think it balances things really well,” he added.
US captain Woods should pick himself, says ELS
Eight players qualified automatically — debutants Li Haotong of China, Taiwan’s CT Pan and Mexico’s Abraham Ancer, along with Australian newcomer Cameron Smith and his more experienced compatriots Marc Leishman and Adam Scott.
South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen and Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama round out the International team.
Els believes Woods, the world number seven, will select himself for a wildcard after the 15-time major winner won the Zozo Championship in Japan late last month.
“I do think he will pick himself, I don’t think he has any choice,” he said. “He has a very strong team around him and he’s a good captain and it will be good for the event.”
The Internationals have a huge task ahead of them. They have won only once in the event’s 25-year history — in Melbourne in 1998, when they were captained by the late Peter Thomson.
The Americans are led by world number one and four-time major winner Brooks Koepka, along with fellow top-10 players Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele and Bryson DeChambeau plus Webb Simpson (ranked 11) and Matt Kuchar (22).
Koepka, Johnson, Kuchar and Thomas were all members of the US team that won 19-11 in New Jersey in 2017, their seventh straight triumph. Simpson played on winning sides in 2011 and 2013 while Schauffele, DeChambeau and Cantlay will be making their debuts. — AFP