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Let's tweak Presidents Cup format

DUBLIN, Ohio -- I am a patriotic American and loyal fan of my favorite teams, yet it rarely bothers me to see my country lose in international sports competitions or when my beloved Atlanta Braves or Georgia Bulldogs get whipped by one of their rivals.

It was competitive balance that made the Cold War-era battles between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union enjoyable to watch in the Olympics and the Goodwill Games.

Soccer continues to grow in popularity in the States, due in large part to the U.S. Soccer Federation's efforts to field a team good enough to win a men's World Cup.

Eight different teams have won the World Series since the New York Yankees won four out of five between 1996 and 2000. That's good for baseball and the parity that the national pastime deserves.

I'm ready for somebody to knock out Floyd Mayweather Jr. and to beat Nick Saban and his Alabama Crimson Tide.

I love underdogs and the thrill of an exciting and drama-packed sporting event. But what I hate are blowouts and the promise of more blowouts.

So it was that I found myself this weekend rooting for the Internationals to beat the U.S. in the Presidents Cup at Muirfield Village. The Americans had a 7-1-1 record in the nine previous matches.

A victory by the Internationals might give them the kind of jolt that the Ryder Cup received in 1985 after the Europeans won the cup outright for the first time since 1957.

I wasn't looking for an epic, just a well-played, close match. I got mostly good golf, but the outcome was predictable as the U.S. won 18½ to 15½. It was America's fifth straight win by three points or more.

What now?

Something has to change for there to be any interest when the matches go to South Korea in 2015. The PGA Tour, which launched the Presidents Cup in 1994 to give players outside of Great Britain, Ireland and continental Europe an opportunity to play in a match-play competition against the U.S., needs to do a major overhaul to save its baby from ruin.

The tour can't engineer closer matches or fix wins for the Internationals. The players still have to play excellent golf. But the Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.-based organization can make revisions to its match format.

Earlier this year, International captain Nick Price and team member Ernie Els called for the competition committee to consider reducing the number of points from 34 to 28, going to a format similar to the one used for the Ryder Cup, in which there are six fewer matches.

In this way, the Europeans are able to hide their weaker players against an American team that's always got more depth than its opponents.

In the Presidents Cup, the 12 players from each team have to play all four days.

"The more points we play for," Els said, "the worse off we are."

On Sunday afternoon, Price said that it was those six points that made the difference in the matches he wants stripped from the format. But the 56-year-old Zimbabwean refused to go into more detail about his disagreements with the Presidents Cup format.

"Let's let the Americans enjoy this win, and let's look to the future as to what we can do to make this perhaps more competitive," he said.

The tour has uniformly rejected the call for change. It has a right to insist on the Presidents Cup being distinctive from the Ryder Cup, but if it ever wants these matches to have the success of its much-older sibling, it should consider taking from it something that's worked magnificently for the good of the game.

"Why has the Ryder Cup been so successful?" said Louis Oosthuizen, a 30-year-old South African who went 1-3-1 in matches. "It's been successful because the matches have been close. Why not copy what they do in terms of the point system?

"You can only lose for so long. You want to experience the winning. It's not a case of hiding your players. It's a case of putting your best team out. What other sport in the world doesn't have a bench?"

The U.S. contingent isn't likely to accept any changes to the format without a fight.

"We like this format," said Davis Love III, a U.S. team assistant captain. "It's something different. You can't hide any guys, and everybody gets to play, and it's always worked out well for us. I think it shows how strong [our] team is, so it's a fun format.

"I like this format, and I like the Ryder Cup format. I think it works out well to leave both of them like they are."

In 1979, players from continental Europe were included in the Ryder Cup, and those matches became instantly more competitive. The inclusion of stars like Spain's Seve Ballesteros and Germany's Bernhard Langer took those matches to true international stardom.

The International team at Muirfield Village represented a very wide swath of the golf world: five South Africans; one Zimbabwean; three Australians; one Canadian; one Argentinian; and one player from Japan.

That kind of global reach would be an advantage in most sectors of society, but not in golf, in which there is unprecedented depth on the American side. There are dozens of American players who didn't make this team who could have provided the same result.

What's certain is that it's been very difficult for these various nations to come together under one flag against a very formidable American foe. A team of 12 Australians or 12 South Africans might be more competitive head-to-head against the U.S. than a smattering of players from various countries that plays several different tours around the world.

As much as Price boasted of his team's continuity, it could not match the camaraderie of an American team that all lives and plays the U.S.-based PGA Tour. Perhaps the International team could be formed early in the year to give the players more time to jell?

The U.S. team partied on Sunday evening as hard rains came to Muirfield Village for the fourth consecutive day. Steve Stricker was already looking ahead to the Ryder Cup next year in Scotland and back to their painful loss at Medinah, where the U.S. blew a four-point lead to lose 14½ to 13½.

This time, his team held onto the big lead that it carried into the singles.

"It was a good step for us to win again," Stricker said. "It had a scenario brewing much like the Ryder Cup last year coming down to the end."

On a broader level, it would have been a step forward for the Presidents Cup had the Internationals erased the six-point deficit and won its first cup since 1998.

A change is eventually going to come. Let's hope it's the one that makes these matches more competitive.