Nearly two years ago, I took some time over the Thanksgiving holiday to catch a few hours of the Omega Mission Hills World Cup. Over time, the event had morphed into something barely a notch above a glorified exhibition, but year after year, it seemed to produce compelling team competition. The 2009 event in particular, was sensational, when the Molinari brothers brought a surprising win home to Italy, edging the Irish team of McIlroy and McDowell and the Swedes -- Stenson and Karlssson -- by one shot. The Americans hadn't won one of these since 2000, when Tiger Woods and David Duval (remember him?) took the crown in Argentina. There was no reason to think things would be any different for the Americans in 2011.
A funny thing happened on the way to the title. Matt Kuchar, a quality champion but not yet a superstar, picked as his partner the mostly unheralded Gary Woodland, a bomber with exactly one win on Tour. Not exactly Nicklaus-Palmer in terms of scaring their competitors, but that didn't seem to matter. Kuchar and Woodland hammered home a well-earned victory. Also-rans included the English team of Ian Poulter and Justin Rose, South Africa's Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen, and the heavy favorites, Ireland's Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell.
I had tuned in primarily to see Asia's newest and toughest tournament venue, Mission Hills' Blackstone, a Brian Curley design on Hainan Island. This beautiful brute stretched 7,800 yards, splashed with bunkers everywhere and framed by black volcanic lava rock, making recoveries next-to-impossible. The pros praised the layout as tough but fair -- and was not one that I thought would surrender a 24-under-par winning score. Woodland's power and Kuchar's consistency proved the perfect combination in the alternate-shot format, allowing the duo to birdie all four par-5s on Sunday on their way to an impressive 5-under 67.
"We really clicked," said Woodland.
Added Kuchar, "When I got selected to represent the United States in the World Cup, I also got to choose my partner, and I knew it was going to be a great honor to come here to play for my country. I thought if I picked the right partner, I'd have a real shot at winning the title. And I chose Gary Woodland, thinking that he would team up well with me. He played fantastic this week. I have no doubt that he was the best player in the field."
Since 2011, Kuchar has enhanced his status as one of the Tour's prime-timers, while Woodland has overcome a disastrous 2012 to win again in 2013. He'll feel the nerves, but the guess here is that based on the recent past, both men will bring out the best in the other -- with the edge to Kuchar.