PGA Tour

Australian pair embrace favourites tag at World Cup

Marc Leishman (AFP)
Marc Leishman (AFP)

Melbourne - Australian pair Marc Leishman and Cameron Smith are embracing the favourites tag at this week's World Cup, insisting they are laid-back enough to deal with the pressure.

The 59th staging of the tournament at the Metropolitan Golf Club marks its third-consecutive playing in Melbourne's famous sandbelt region, where bunkers can be cut right on the edge of a green.

Starting Thursday, 28 teams will vie for $7 million in prize money over 72 holes of stroke play. The first and third days will be fourball play and the second and final days foursomes.

World No 21 Leishman is on home turf and he couldn't be happier.

"It will be different, being favourites, for sure. But I think most of it is pressure you put on yourself," said the Australian, who won the PGA Tour-sanctioned CIMB Classic in Malaysia last month.

"We are mindful of that. We have been playing with each other's golf balls, chipping around, thinking about what we are going to do in foursomes.

"We are laid-back enough that the pressure and expectation shouldn't faze us. But it will be a new experience for us both, going in as a favourite. It would be nice to prove everyone right."

Australia's top-ranked player Jason Day ruled himself out of a trip home with his wife recently giving birth in the United States, meaning Leishman became his country's top eligible player and was able to choose his teammate.

He opted for Smith over the more seasoned Adam Scott, and admits it was a tough call to make.

"It was a very hard phone call to make to Scotty, I'm great mates with (him) and Cam," Leishman said.

"Cam pretty much made it impossible for me not to pick him when he was next in line on the rankings."

Scott teamed with Day to win the event in 2013.

Denmark's Soren Kjeldsen and Thorbjorn Olesen proved the perfect blend of flamboyant youth and wily experience to capture the 2016 edition at Kingston Heath Golf Club.

They are back to defend their title, but will have their work cut out in what could be a tough tournament in Melbourne's fickle weather. Rain is forecast and the winds are expected to howl.

Many of the world's top golfers, though, have stayed away after a long and gruelling season.

Ryder Cup teammates Tyrrell Hatton and Ian Poulter are representing England, with the likes of world number one Justin Rose and ninth-ranked Tommy Fleetwood opting to give it a miss.

While Australia are the early favourites, Poulter has plenty of World Cup experience and a superb record in team events.

He has represented England five times and was desperate to play again, approaching 25th-ranked Hatton to pick him as his partner.

"Team events are pretty special, they don't happen often enough," said Poulter.

"When you look at the type of course we are playing on this week, it's easy to get very fired up to play good golf.

"Obviously on our rankings, we're supposed to finish up there, but sometimes that is difficult.

"So I'm not taking it lightly that we're coming in here and going to have an easy week. We need to play well, we need to play smart, it's (a) tricky course."

The American challenge comes from Kyle Stanley and Matt Kuchar, who won in Mexico this month, with none of the US contingent in the world's top 10 wanting to make the long trek Down Under.

Mexico could be a dark horse, led by Abraham Ancer who convincingly won the Australian Open in Sydney on Sunday by five shots, ahead of the likes of Smith and Kuchar.

A list of confirmed players for the 28 teams based on the Official World Golf Ranking competing at the World Cup of Golf beginning on Thursday at Metropolitan:

Australia: Marc Leishman, Cameron Smith

Belgium: Thomas Pieters, Thomas Detry

Canada: Adam Hadwin, Nick Taylor

China: Li Haotong, Wu Ashun

Denmark: Thorbjorn Olesen, Soren Kjeldsen

England: Tyrrell Hatton, Ian Poulter

Finland: Mikko Korhonen, Mikko Ilonen

France: Alexander Levy, Michaal Lorenzo-Vera

Germany, Martin Kaymer, Maximilian Kieffer

Greece: Peter Karmis, Alexander Tranacher

India: Anirban Lahiri, Gaganjeet Bhullar

Ireland: Shane Lowry, Paul Dunne

Italy: Andrea Pavan, Renato Paratore.

Japan: Satoshi Kodaira, Hideto Tanihara

Malaysia: Gavin Green, Ben Leong

Mexico: Abraham Ancer, Roberto Diaz

Netherlands: Joost Luiten, Daan Huizing

New Zealand: Ryan Fox, Mark Brown

Scotland: Russell Knox, Martin Laird

South Africa: Dylan Frittelli, Erik van Rooyen

South Korea: Byeong Hun An, Si Woo Kim

Spain: Adrian Otaegui, Jorge Campillo

Sweden: Alexander Bjork, Joakim Lagergren

Thailand: Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Prom Meesawat

United States: Kyle Stanley, Matt Kuchar

Venezuela: Jhonattan Vegas, Joseph Naffah

Wales: Stuart Manley, Bradley Dredge

Zimbabwe: Scott Vincent, Benjamin Follett-Smith

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