US rally after Woods and Stricker trouncing

 

THE UNITED States recovered from a stunning collapse by Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker to take a 4-2 lead in the Presidents Cup at the end of yesterday’s opening foursomes as the nervous hosts stumbled late in the day.

Woods and former caddy Steve Williams had moved to defuse tensions following the New Zealander’s recent racial slur, the pair shaking hands at the Royal Melbourne Golf Club’s first tee on the opening day of the biennial tournament. But the former world number one and playing partner Stricker looked far from comfortable thereafter, as they crashed to a 76 loss to Australia’s Adam Scott and South Korean KJ Choi.

The US made light of the pair’s struggles, however, and it was their opponents who crumbled in front of packed galleries when the heat was on. Having led in five of the six groups, the Australian-stacked Internationals faltered late in their rounds as their traditional weakness in foursomes came back to haunt them.

Their team trailing 3½ points to 1½, the final all-Australian pairing of Aaron Baddeley and Jason Day blew the chance to take the last point against Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar. Baddeley burned the rim on a short putt that would have sealed the win on 17, then duffed his tee-shot into the right rough on the last as the nerves set in. Johnson calmly sank a six-footer to steal a half-point for the defending champions.

“Sometimes I know I feel probably worse than Aaron feels, because you know how he feels,” Internationals captain Greg Norman said. “He hit one bad shot in 18 holes. If he looks back, all of the great putts he made and all of the great shots, take all of those away from the day, don’t take away that poor tee shot on 18.”

The pairing of Australia’s Geoff Ogilvy and Charl Schwartzel were almost as profligate, surrendering a two-up lead in the last four holes to halve their match with Bill Haas and Nick Watney. “Well, obviously, point-wise, we are more excited than we were an hour and a half before the day ended,” US captain Fred Couples said. “But that’s happened before, and our guys fought hard.”

Couples paid tribute to the grit his players displayed but would also have been delighted with the performance of his first pair, Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson. The debutants hauled in Ernie Els and Ryo Ishikawa to give the US a 1-0 lead. The Americans quelled early jitters to come back from two-down after the first four holes and post an emphatic 42 win when Els conceded the match after missing a long birdie putt.

Woods and Stricker, who became the first pairing to win all four of their matches at the 2009 edition in San Francisco, were the sixth and final group out but trudged back to the clubhouse with four matches still to finish. Both struggled off the tee and on the fairways as Scott and Choi combined sublimely to slam the door on the 12th hole following a masterclass of putting and bunker play.

“We were just slightly off. On a golf course like this, it doesn’t take much,” said Woods after suffering his worst Presidents Cup loss in seven campaigns.

Hunter Mahan and David Toms were almost as ruthless as Scott and Choi as they handed Yang and his compatriot Kim Kyung-tae a 65 thrashing. Phil Mickelson also enjoyed a lopsided 43 victory, his first Presidents Cup win outside North America, as he and Jim Furyk won the veterans’ battle against South African Retief Goosen and Allenby.