The Presidents Cup opened for business Thursday at the Royal Melbourne Golf Club in Melbourne, Australia.
The Presidents Cup is the other bi-annual golf tournament, the new kid on the block to the venerable Ryder Cup which pits United States Tour pros versus European Tour players. The Presidents Cup is the United States versus International Tour players from the rest of the world.
The first difference between two is that the Presidents Cup is four days instead of just three. The second difference is that instead of playing four foursomes and four-ball matches each day until Sunday’s single matches, the Presidents Cup plays six foursomes matches the first day that gets all twelve players on each team out onto the course. There have been Ryder Cup matches where weak qualifiers have been hidden until Sunday. Not here. And it will be six four-ball matches on Friday.
Fred Couples and Greg Norman put together intriguing matchups for the first day that had everybody guessing how they were going to go. Oh, everybody had an opinion about which team would win which match in a squeaker or a blowout, but nobody really spoke with firm conviction. They know how mecurial golf games can be.
And within four holes in the lead match, Ernie Els and Ryo Ishikawa had Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson down by two. Uh, oh. Everybody knew that Ishikawa was a brilliant young player who would be well served by Els’ steady, guiding hand. But then the Americans birdied back to even on five and six and won seven with a par. The Internationals never made another mistake, but it took more than that to answer the three more U.S. birdies and they won the match 4 and 2.
On the other end of the spectrum Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker never got it on track against Adam Scott and K.J. Choi. They never made a birdie all day long, made three bogeys and got waxed 7 and 6. Everyone knew that Scott and Choi would be a formidable team, but then the Woods and Stricker pairing had become formidable in their own right. But they seemed always on the wrong side of the slopes that run through the greens and played “flat” most of the day.
But Hunter Mahan and David Toms picked up the slack with a 6 and 5 thrashing of Koreans K.T. Kim and Y.E. Yang. Their three birdies and a bogey trumped the Koreans on the pertinent holes. The Koreans managed to win only one hole on the day. A key factor surely was the Americans’ bearing which really came out in their post-round interview on the 13th green. They were happy, of course, but there was no exuberance, just calm assurance in what they had just pulled off.
And then Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk stopped Retief Goosen and Robert Allenby 4 and 3. Michelson stopped fooling around with the long putter, went back to a standard putter and made a bunch of key putts. A lot of that was helped by the fact that they had wanted to play together again after their initial success as a pair in an earlier Ryder Cup. But as they became the wily old veterans on successive teams, it was more important to pair them with younger players. But as Phil said, this team’s rookies are all excellent players that can stand on their own and they were delighted to play together again.
If there was a consensus on the board, it was that Geoff Ogilvy and Charl Schwartzel would probably beat Bill Haas and Nick Watney. Ogilvy is a member at Royal Melbourne, owns a home a short distance away and has played it since he was a kid. Schwartzel has been continuing his great play since he birdied the last four to win last year’s Masters. And his swing is clinically gorgeous. Somehow Haas’ FedExCup and Tour Championship was getting discounted and so was Watney’s impressive WGC victory at Doral. And so the match ended as it probably should have, the Americans fighting back to All Square on 15 and 16 and clinching a halve on the 18th green with each team winning a half a point.
And finally it came down to the Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar against Aaron Baddeley and Jason Day, the young and up-and-coming Aussies. By the 8th hole the Americans were down by three holes and Baddeley was making putts left and right. But then they won the 12th and the 17th to get back to just 1-down. On the 18th tee Kuchar ripped a long drive way down the fairway. Knowing that they only needed to halve the hole to win the match, Baddeley took a safer 3-wood to get his drive in play. Except it didn’t go well. He hit it a couple of steep inches fat and skied the ball into the woods right of the fairway. That forced Day to chip out and that was all the advantage the Americans needed to halve the match; Johnson made a six-footer to seal the deal.
So at the end of the day, the United States leads 4 to 2 and knowing that getting a jump like that on the first day usually is a reliable predictor of who will prevail when all is said and done.
Because of incoming weather that includes rain and 25 mile per hour winds in the afternoon, the tee times and television coverage has been moved up from 9 PM (ET) to 5:30 PM, again, on the Golf Channel.
They’ll be playing six four-ball matches and here are the pairings:
Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson versus Ernie Els and Ryo Ishikawa
Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson versus Jason Day and Aaron Baddeley
Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk versus Adam Scott and K.T. Kim
Bill Haas and Nick Watney versus Geoff Ogilvy and K.J. Choi
Steve Stricker and Matt Kuchar versus Y.E. Yang and Robert Allenby
Hunter Mahan and David Toms versus Charl Schwartzel and Retief Goosen
It’ll be very interesting to see how Tiger does with Dustin Johnson and how Adam Scott does with the young Korean, K.T. Kim. Stricker and Kuchar are such a good personality match, they should be fine.
We will, of course, see what the new day brings us.