WGC-World Cup in Portugal Preview

Arnold Palmer’s Victoria Clube de Golf is the host for the final World Golf Championship event of the season.

World Golf Championship LogoThe 2005 PGA Tour season may be over, but there is still good golf being played around the globe. The final World Golf Championship event of the season takes place this week in Portugal. Two-man teams from 24 different countries will be battling it out for their respective country’s bragging rights.

The defending champion and 18 other countries are determined by the world rankings, while the other five teams have to win a competition to earn their spot into the field. The format for the event is very simple. The golfers will start off playing four-ball in Thursday’s opening round, followed by foursomes on Friday. They will go back to four-ball on Saturday and finish the event with foursomes on Sunday.

Last year, England’s Luke Donald and Paul Casey won this event. The duo shot a final-round 64 in alternate-shot format to finish at -31. Spain’s Sergio Garcia and Miguel Angel Jimenez finished one shot back at -30, followed by Ireland’s Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley (-28). South Africa finished in fourth place, and Austria and Holland finished in a tie for fifth.

Luke Donald will be playing this year as well, but he will have a different partner this time around. Paul Casey has struggled all year, and David Howell will take his place. Howell is coming off the most impressive win in his career. He edged out Tiger Woods and others at the HSBC Championship last week in China. Both Donald and Howell are ranked in the top-20 in the world rankings and will be tough to beat this week.

Sergio Garcia and Miguel Angel Jimenez will be playing again this year. As I mentioned earlier, the duo finished runner-up to England last year. Both golfers have had decent seasons, and they will be looking to finish one spot higher than they did last year. The event will be played in nearby Portugal, so the Spaniards should have a little homefield advantage this week.

Ireland will also be represented by the same duo as last season. Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley return to this event once again in hopes of improving on their third-place finish from a year ago. Harrington has won a couple times on the PGA Tour in 2005, and McGinley won the European Tour’s Volvo Masters less than a month ago. This team will be tough to beat this week.

The United States team isn’t one of the best in recent memory, but Stewart Cink and Zach Johnson are still very respectable golfers and will be in contention. Neither finished in the top-30 on the PGA Tour money list, but both are capable of good things. The United States team hasn’t won this event since 2000, where Tiger Woods and David Duval dominated in Argentina.

South Africa, on the other hand, has had much better luck since this event became one of the four World Golf Championship events in 2000. The team of Ernie Els and Retief Goosen won in 2001, and Trevor Immelman and Rory Sabbatini won in 2003. The South Africans hope to continue that streak this year, as Tim Clark and Trevor Immelman represent the country.

Other notable teams include Australia (Peter Lonard and Mark Hensby), Sweden (Henrik Stenson and Niclas Fasth), and France (Thomas Levet and Raphael Jacquelin). These teams will be sleepers this year, but they are all capable of causing a stir at the top of the leaderboard.

The 2005 World Cup will be played at Arnold Palmer’s Victoria Clube de Golf. The course is about 7,150 yards (6,560 meters) in length and par is 72. The 17th hole is the course’s signature hole. The 17th is a 586-yard par 5 where beauty is inevitable. There are a number of waterfalls below the green, and if anything, the hole is at least pretty to look at. This hole will give up its fair share of birdies if the golfers can keep their focus off the waterfalls.

The finishing hole is a 461-yard par 4 that winds alongside a lake down the entire left side of the hole. The tee shot will have to be accurate, or the golfers will be hitting their third from the tee. Accuracy remains a “must” for the approach shot as well. There are some birdies available if the hole is played correctly, but the teams will surely take a par at the 18th.

There are only 24 teams playing the event, but I’ll try to pick a winner anyway. I’m going with the Spaniards, Sergio Garcia and Miguel Angel Jimenez. They came very close to winning the event last year, and they will get the job done this time around. For my “sleeper” pick, I’m going with Sweden. Henrik Stenson has played very well the past couple months and Niclas Fasth is capable of good things as well.

The WGC-World Cup field will be playing for an overall purse of $4 million. There are some big names in the World Cup this year, and it will be interesting to see if the United States team can hang with some of the stronger teams in the event. The WGC-World Cup can be seen on ESPN and ABC this week at the following times:

Thu    8:00-11:00am ET    ESPN
Fri    8:00-11:00am ET    ESPN
Sat    4:30- 7:00pm ET    ABC (Tape Delay)
Sun    3:00- 6:00pm ET    ABC (Tape Delay)

Also, both Thursday and Friday’s opening rounds will be re-aired those days from 1:00-3:00pm ET on ESPN.

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