The Presidents Cup continued into Sunday’s finale at the Royal Melbourne Golf Club in Melbourne, Australia. Twelve singles matches for glory. And in the case of the Internationals, it was going to take a glorious day.
With the U.S. leading coming into the day 13-9 and needing only five matches to win the Cup, the Internationals had to win nine of the twelve matches to win. Probably not going to happen, but with captain Greg Norman, the Great White Shark, urging you to play with your greatest comeback victories in your career in mind, that is a very powerful state of mind in which to play. A thought like that can be like turning a switch on.
Korean K.T. Kim took the encouragement to heart. His teammate, Ryo Ishikawa from Japan convinced Norman that Kim was a phenomenal match play player and that he should lead off against U.S. firebrand Webb Simpson. And by the 7th hole he had built a 3-up lead over Simpson. But Simpson didn’t get where he was by accident and fought all the way back to even by the 16th. But in a big career boost, Kim hung on to win 1-up over the top-ranked player in so many statistical categories on the PGA Tour. Big.
But it was Hunter Mahan playing in the fifth slot who earned the first U.S. point by burying Aussie sparkplug, Jason Day, who got swallowed up by five holes by the 8th and that’s where it ended on the 15th; five holes down. Day was the highest world-ranked International player in the Cup (No. 6) and was one of the icons for the promise of the hot, new international players. And the fact that he was an Aussie playing in Oz, well, the stars had all finally aligned for an International win. But he was only able to win 1½ points when America’s Jim Furyk won 5. It wasn’t all Day’s fault, of course. But he was emblematic of anointed young guns falling prey to the pressure of living up to expectations, being a standard bearer for a nation and an age group.
Bubba Watson got off to a great start by winning the first hole, but young Japanese superstar, Ryo Ishikawa, turned his comeback into an cascading avalanche that had Watson down by as much as four holes late. Ishikawa is such a phenom that his ball manufacturer puts custom logos on his balls for him. What kind of logos? Caricatures of Ryo, of course. He wasn’t much of a factor early on, but with his sea legs under him, he really blossomed Sunday. Remember his name.
Charl Schwartzel manhandled Dustin Johnson in the second slot all day long: that it ended 2&1 was not a reflection of how poorly Johnson played. He only won 1 ½ points on the week which tied him with Bill Haas and Matt Kuchar as lowest point producers. But the difference was that Haas’ and Kuchar’s low point totals seemed to be more circumstantial as often happens in match play. But Sunday Johnson looked vulnerable and very nervous. It had to have been a vivid experience for him which will make him stronger in the future, just as Ryder Cup “goat,” Hunter Mahan, dominated his President Cup matches. It’s a process.
Phil Mickelson played so poorly in his first three holes against Aussie mainstay Adam Scott that he picked up and conceded the holes. He made a miracle birdie on 15 from 33 feet to stay alive. And then another on 16 from 18 feet…and managed to drag his match all the way to the 17th hole before he ran out of holes, 2&1. Being able to keep a losing match going is so important in these events because it takes the crowd’s emotions down; they’re unable to begin raucous, emotional celebrations.
And then Nick Watney provided a big hope crusher when he took out K.J. Choi 3&2. This one didn’t clinch the Cup, but it was buckets of cold water on the dreams the Internationals had of winning nine of the matches.
And then David Toms stomped on Robert Allenby 7&5. Allenby was a Captain’s pick and didn’t win a point all week. Norman picked him because he was an Aussie and had had success at Royal Melbourne. His lack of production was so odd since he is acknowledged to be one of the best ball-strikers on the PGA Tour; it’s his putting that kills him.
And then Geoff Ogilvy took out Tour Championship and FedExCup winner, Bill Haas, 1-up in a great match. Haas almost made a birdie-from-nowhere to at least create the possibility of a halve, but it stopped just short of the hole dead on line. Ogilvy could 3-putt to win, but in what appeared an act of desperation, Haas made him putt anyway. But Ogilvy explained later that Haas is such a great guy, that what he was actually doing was giving Ogilvy a chance to make a birdie in front of his home crowd.
And then Jim Furyk went undefeated for the week by taking out Ernie Els 4&3. He gave Phil Mickelson credit for taking him under his wing in spite of his dismal year. That restored his confidence and allowed him to do the same for some of the younger players. It was the reappearance of his excellent putting that caused the shift for him.
The sheer joy among his teammates when Tiger Woods took out Aaron Baddeley 4&3 was palpable. He was getting hugs and slaps on the back and huge break-your-face smiles. With his performance Sunday, he proved that he’s come all the way back. His putting had still been a little spotty, but Sunday he made everything; it looked just like old times. He has a week off and then he’s playing in his Chevron tournament in California, so we’ll see just how durable today’s dominant, sparkling play really is.
Retief Goosen outlasted Matt Kuchar 1-Up. Kuchar managed to confidently win the 1st hole, but that was the extent of his highlight reel…except, of course, that he managed to drag Goosen all the way to the 18th hole before he lost. As late as the 11th, he was 3-Down, so what he accomplished for the team bordered on heroic.
And finally Steve Stricker led from the 4th hole in his match with Y.E. Yang and managed to finish him off, 2&1, on the 17th. But the Cup having been clinched at that point, the conversation around Stricker was all about how he was the one who gave Tiger the crucial putting tips that turned him into Tiger Woods of old on Sunday.
And so the United States won the Presidents Cup 19-15.
In the end, when Fred Couples was asked if he’d be willing to be the captain in two years when the Cup matches return to Muirfield Village in Dublin, Ohio, at first he modestly demurred to the effect that there were so many other deserving guys whose turns were up. And then, in the next breath, that, yes, he would be willing to do it again if asked. Given that Couples is 2-0, that would be something to look forward to.