Tiger Woods and Ernie Els were once again separated by the partition of the interview room as they passed scribbled notes and whispers to their assistant captains on Wednesday afternoon. Woods deferring selecting his first pairing before Els kicked off proceedings.
Internationals Captain Els selected Victorian Marc Leishman and Chilean rookie Joaquin Niemann to lead off his team in the first four-ball match to get underway on Thursday morning.
Woods responded after much deliberation amongst his assistants – Fred Couples, Steve Stricker and Zach Johnson – with the pairing of Justin Thomas and himself, a pairing many saw coming after playing the early rounds together at the Hero World Challenge last week.
A pair of rookies will play the second match for the United States, with Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay taking on Canada’s Adam Hadwin and debutant Sungjae Im of Korea, who was the 2019 Rookie of the Year on the PGA Tour.
Announced as the third pairing from Els to perhaps the most surprised reception from the assembled media, was the South African’s unquestioned on course leader Adam Scott and the second Korean member of the team and late Jason Day replacement Byeong Hun. The Queenslander and his partner to play another pair of American Presidents Cup rookies in the shape of Bryson DeChambeau and Tony Finau.
RIGHT: Queenslander Cameron Smith was one of the two International team members to miss Thursday's matches. PHOTO: Daniel Pockett/Getty Images.
This week’s human headline Patrick Reed will go out in the fourth match alongside the experienced Webb Simpson. The pair of major champions will do battle in front of what is certain to be a slightly hostile crowd with Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama and another of Els’ first timers, C.T. Pan.
Rounding out Thursday’s opening matches will be 2018 Australian Open champion Abraham Ancer of Mexico alongside this year’s runner-up Louis Oosthuizen. The pair facing the power hitting duo of Gary Woodland and Dustin Johnson, who is set to play competitively for the first time since late August.
Once the tension of the announcements was complete, both captains answered questions from the press. Neither Woods nor Els giving much away as to the reasons behind their choices, with four more pairs to announce throughout the week and any questions of hesitation or uncertainty around combinations quickly dismissed.
“We've had a plan, and this is the way we figured it. Yeah, I can't give you exactly what we're doing in the team room, but you know, we've got a system and we're following that; let's put it that way,” Els said when asked about sending five of his seven rookies out on the opening day.
After Adam Scott earlier alluded the a sense of calm over Els, the Captain referenced his preparation and entire time as an assisting factor to “feeling good”.
“I have good assistants with me. I have a good team with me. I've got a lot of work that I've put in behind me. So yeah, we've got a system and we're just following that.”
Leaving Cameron Smith on the bench for Thursday, perhaps in light of his inflammatory comments surrounding the Reed rules situation that continues to linger over the entire event, Els was questioned as to whether sending the entire Aussie contingent of three out on the first morning was considered to further build crowd support. The Captain continuing to enforce the concept of the Internationals playing behind his newly designed logo, rather than representing individual countries.
Tiger Woods will immediately embrace his role as the second playing captain in Presidents Cup history tomorrow morning, playing alongside Thomas at Royal Melbourne in the first match of the week.
“I think from our side, we had a game plan, who we wanted to start out, and we were committed to putting Justin (Thomas) and myself out there – and that's who we're rolling with,” Woods said.
“Having my responsibility as a player, I want to get out there and play with Justin, but also as a captain, I want to see my guys play.”
The 15-time major champion said that he and his three assistants had undergone extensive planning in the build-up to the pairings being announced.
“We've had numerous options for each and every player, in case different scenarios happen as the week goes on,” Woods said.
Woods will play his ninth Presidents Cup this week and his third at Royal Melbourne Golf Club.
“I got a chance to play all of yesterday. Played a little bit today. Just to try to get a feel for this golf course. It is quick and it has dried out and hopefully the forecast will hold for each and every day. The preparation is very simple,” Woods said of the Composite Course.
The 43-year-old also confirmed Dustin Johnson has recovered from knee surgery and should be fully fit to partner US Open champion Woodland against Ancer and Oosthuizen.
“More than anything with DJ, it's just making sure that he recovered from the flight. He's feeling good. He's worked out each and every day we've been here. His lifts have been good.”
When asked who would captain the American side while he is playing tomorrow, Woods answered: “It will be Steve Stricker.”
The first match will get underway at 9:32am AEDT. The full list of matches and tee times is below.