Els adds 2 more Presidents Cup rookies with captain’s picks

National Sports

Jason Day of Australia watches his tee shot on the 11th hole during the first round of the Zozo Championship PGA Tour at the Accordia Golf Narashino country club in Inzai, east of Tokyo, Japan, Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

Ernie Els filled out his International team already loaded with newcomers by choosing two more Presidents Cup rookies with his captain’s picks Wednesday night.

Els took a pair of 21-year-old rookies, Joaquin Niemann of Chile and Sungjae Im of South Korea, with two of his picks. That will give the International team six rookies as it tries to end a streak of seven straight losses to the Americans.

He also took Jason Day of Australia and Adam Hadwin of Canada. Day is playing the Presidents Cup for the fifth time, but first as a captain’s pick. Hadwin made his debut in 2017 at Liberty National, a loss so bad the Americans nearly clinched it before Sunday singles.

Els said he was not afraid to play anyone, and he had no plans to hide anyone by sitting them out.

“I’m picking guys to play, to get enough points to get over the line,” Els said. “And that’s what the players’ mission is — to get enough points to get the cup back.”

U.S. captain Tiger Woods makes his four picks Thursday. Woods, the Masters champion who captured his 82nd career PGA Tour victory two weeks ago in Japan, is expected to pick himself. He would be the first playing-captain since Hale Irwin at the inaugural Presidents Cup in 1994.

The Presidents Cup is Dec. 12-15 at Royal Melbourne in Australia, where the International team of players from every continent but Europe won for the only time in 1998. The United States won the last time it was Royal Melbourne in 2011.

Els said he relied some on statistics, but he leaned just as heavily on a long run of good golf. Unlike the Ryder Cup, where the captain’s picks are decided two weeks before the matches, the Presidents Cup is still six weeks away.

Im was the PGA Tour rookie of the year last season, the only rookie to reach the Tour Championship. His only victory this year was at the Genesis Championship on the Korean Tour. Niemann, the first player from Chile to be in the Presidents Cup, earned his PGA Tour card the year he turned pro. He won at the Greenbrier last month for his first PGA Tour victory.

“We’re really going to lean on you,” Els told Niemann during a conference call.

Day was the obvious choice, even though he failed to win for the second time in the last three PGA Tour seasons and has dropped to No. 29 in the world ranking. Day is 1-7-2 in his last two Presidents Cup.

Hadwin has a pair of runner-up finishes this year, most recently in the Safeway Open.

“I’m hungry for a second shot,” said Hadwin, part of the International team what was soundly beaten at Liberty National in 2017.

The rest of the International team features Hideki Matsuyama, Adam Scott, Louis Oosthuizen and Marc Leishman, along with Presidents Cup rookies Abraham Ancer of Mexico, Li Haotong of China, Cameron Smith of Australia and C.T. Pan of Taiwan.

“These guys are world-class players and they’ve proven themselves,” Els said. “Take age out of the equation. They’re got one hell of a big future in this event. I’m real excited by the new blood that’s coming in. It balances the team.”

Among picks Els considered were Corey Conners of Canada, Byeong Hun An of South Korea, and South Africans Branden Grace and Erik van Rooyen.

The Presidents Cup has been a lopsided affair since it began in 1994, patterned after the Ryder Cup to give international players from outside Europe a chance to compete in a team event. The United States leads the series 10-1-1, with the tie coming in South Africa and Els and Woods tied a playoff match in darkness.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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