MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — On current form and on a very familiar golf course, the two top-ranked players in the World Cup — Adam Scott and Matt Kuchar — are heavy favorites for individual honors when play begins Thursday at Royal Melbourne.
The second-ranked Scott has won two tournaments in a row — the Australian PGA and the Australian Masters, which was held last week at Royal Melbourne.
Seventh-ranked Kuchar led by two strokes late in the final round of the Masters before a double-bogey on 18 enabled Scott to successfully defend his title. Kuchar finished second.
"He has been in such good form," Kuchar said of Scott on Wednesday. "To at least give him a run it was awfully good. I stood five back going into Sunday. Unfortunately I got a bad break on 18 and that's part of golf."
The Australians, with Scott's teammate Jason Day at No. 18, are the highest-ranked team this week and will have the benefit of local crowds.
"It's an interesting week," Scott said Wednesday. "We playing together as a team but we still want to beat each other."
Added Day: "I don't know whether to love him or not if he beats me."
Kuchar and his teammate, Kevin Streelman, will attempt to successfully defend for the Americans the title that Kuchar and Gary Woodland won in 2011.
The differences between the tournament, format-wise, that Kuchar and Woodland won in 2011 is about as far as the distance between Royal Melbourne and Haiku, China, where the Americans won.
Then, it was a team event in keeping with the near 60-year history of the tournament. Two days of four-ball competition, two days of foursomes. This time, to prepare for golf's return to the Olympics and the format that will be used in Rio, it's basically an individual stroke-play event.
The financial emphasis is on the individual portion of the tournament — $7 million in prize money to be divided among the 60-man field, including $1.2 million to the winner. And just $1 million allocated for the team event, with money only going to the top three teams.
Kuchar said the change doesn't bother him.
"I know the format is different but the golf is the same," Kuchar said. "It's much more of an individual event ... but there is a team component and I think we have got as good a shot as anybody."
U.S. PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem defended the move away from the team-only concept at a media conference Wednesday at Royal Melbourne.
"I think it is way too soon to conclude that the team portion of the Cup is lost," Finchem said. "We haven't played yet so let's see how that plays out and then we will see. We feel like the tournament is more marketable. We think that it has a better chance of fulfilling its mission which is to create more interest in the game in unique ways."
"But we will see. If we go down this road and it doesn't work, we will adjust, but we are going to give this every chance to work."
The system being used to determine the entries at the Word Cup — rankings and number of players eligible from each country based on those rankings, will be used at Rio in 2016. The other difference is that there will be no team competition at the Olympics, and there, golfers from England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland who are playing as separate countries at the World Cup will play as Britain.
Also, at the World Cup, Ireland and Northern Ireland play as one team. So this week, Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell and Ireland's Shane Lowry will play together.
McDowell says Scott is unquestionably the favorite this week.
"From Scotty's point of view, he is just one of those guys you play with and you think to yourself 'Why does this guy not win every week'?" McDowell said Wednesday. "He's that impressive."
There are 26 teams taking part and eight individual golfers, including Fiji's Vijay Singh, who finished third at the Australian Masters and will also have course familiarity in his favor.