What Hero World Challenge pairings may tell us about the Presidents Cup

The five all-Presidents Cup pairings tee off in a row at Hero World Challenge, with the other groups playing before and after Team USA.

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Justin Thomas and Tiger Woods will be paired together in Round 1 at Albany (David Cannon - Getty Images)

Dec 04, 2019: The tournament host also is the U.S. captain, so it’s safe to assume that the first-round pairings for the Hero World Challenge were made with next week’s Presidents Cup in mind.

Nine twosomes will tee off Wednesday in the first round of the Hero World Challenge, which is hosted by Tiger Woods at Albany Golf Club in the Bahamas. Five of those pairings feature players who will be teammates at Royal Melbourne. Those who will not take the charter flight to Australia on Saturday – either because they hail from Europe or didn’t qualify for the U.S. team – also are playing together Wednesday.

It’s clear that Woods wanted to keep his team close together. The five all-Presidents Cup pairings tee off in a row, with the other groups playing before and after Team USA. Here’s a look at the pairings with Presidents Cup implications and what they may reveal about Tiger Woods’ thinking before next week’s Presidents Cup.

Xander Schauffele-Gary Woodland (11:02 a.m.): Neither player has competed in a Presidents Cup or Ryder Cup. The only time either player has competed for the U.S. as a pro came in 2011, when Woodland was a member of the winning World Cup team (with Matt Kuchar). Both players are known for being tough competitors. Schauffele has a knack for summoning his best golf during the biggest events, while Woodland displayed his mettle by holding off Brooks Koepka in the final round of this year’s U.S. Open. Woodland is one of the TOUR’s best ball-strikers, but ranked outside the top 100 in both Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green and Strokes Gained: Putting last season. Schauffele, who ranked in the top 50 in all four Strokes Gained categories, could complement him well if they do pair up at the Presidents Cup.

Bryson DeChambeau-Webb Simpson (11:13 a.m.): Simpson was the youngest member of the U.S. Team in the 2011 Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne. Now, at 34, he’s one of the team’s veterans. He’s a well-liked player whose well-rounded game could complement almost anyone. The only thing Simpson lacks is distance off the tee, but he’s one of the TOUR’s best from approach shots on in. Last season, he ranked in the top 20 in Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green, Around-the-Green and Putting. He’s also one of the United States’ hottest players, with four runners-up in his last 10 starts. Starting with a T5 at the Masters, Simpson’s worst finish in his last 14 starts is T30. DeChambeau has spent the past few weeks beefing up in the gym, so his added distance off the tee may make up for Simpson’s one shortcoming.

Patrick Reed-Patrick Cantlay (11:24 a.m.): We saw this one coming. In fairness, it wasn’t hard to spot. Their relationship dates back to their days in amateur golf. They’ve paired together in all three team editions of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, including a T7 finish in 2018. “We’ve always enjoyed each other’s company and enjoyed each other’s competitiveness,” Reed said. “We are both pretty intense and like team competitions.” This will be Cantlay’s first time competing for the U.S. as a professional. Reed, who had to rely on a captain’s pick, is the only player to compete on every U.S. team and qualify for every TOUR Championship since 2014.

Tiger Woods-Justin Thomas (11:35 a.m.): Tiger gets the pick of the litter, and it appears he’s selected Thomas. Woods has been a mentor for his South Florida neighbor, and even hosted the celebratory dinner after Thomas won his first major. As Woods has returned to form, though, his wellspring of advice has dried up. “I think now they’re starting to see me as a competitor because I’m starting to come back again. For a while there, that wasn’t the case. I’m just a person that they could bounce ideas off of — what did I used to do and how do I feel these things, what do I do in certain situations, certain shots,” Woods said in 2018. That doesn’t mean they can’t be friends. Woods and Thomas are both coming off wins on the Asian Swing. Thomas has two wins (and two other top-10s) in his last five starts. Combine that form with Woods’ wisdom around Royal Melbourne and this team could be hard to beat.

Rickie Fowler-Tony Finau (11:46 a.m.): Finau was a captain’s pick, while Fowler was a fill-in for the injured Brooks Koepka. They’re two of the nicest guys on TOUR, and they’re known for their consistent play, but if there’s one concern it could be recent form. The recently-married Fowler hasn’t competed since the TOUR Championship. Finau has finished outside the top 50 in his last three starts. They both should find a firm and fast Royal Melbourne to their liking, though. Fowler has long said that The Open Championship is his favorite major because it allows him to exercise his creative side, while Finau has five top-10s in the past eight majors.

Matt Kuchar-Chez Reavie (11:57 a.m.): There are an odd number of U.S. team members in the Hero field after Dustin Johnson’s WD (he still plans on competing next week). That leaves Kuchar as the lone player not paired with a Presidents Cup teammate. Instead, he’s playing with the man who replaced Johnson in the field, Chez Reavie. It’s safe to assume that the plan was for Kuchar and Johnson to play together. They’ve paired together in the last Presidents Cup, going 2-0 as a Foursomes team.

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