Mother Nature and captains muddy waters of Presidents Cup
Those fans hoping to see world number one Tiger Woods take on number two Adam Scott were left bitterly disappointed
Tiger Woods on the 15th during his singles match against Richard Sterne of South Africa.
As if on cue, the curtain of rain parted on Sunday to reveal Tiger Woods on centre stage. With a one-up lead over his International team opponent, Woods stood on the 18th green at Muirfield Village with the decisive point in the Presidents Cup on his putter. He hit a long birdie putt to within concession range to clinch the 18th point, and the Cup, for the United States.
Woods is the world number one, with five PGA Tour victories this year. The International team had the world number two, Adam Scott, whose two tour victories included the Masters. Rarely does competitive golf produce the showdowns between numbers one and two that help fuel the popularity of sports like tennis and college football.
And fans did not get to see one Sunday. Golf was the big loser at the 10th Presidents Cup, but not because the US – by the score of 18½-15½ – defeated an International team composed of the top non-European players for the fifth consecutive time and the eighth time in the event’s history. The time is coming when the rising talent in Asia will leave the Americans, who led at one point by 17-10, longing for the days when success in the event was as much of a gimme as Woods’ second putt on 18.
With the authority to wring some excitement out of a four-day deluge interrupted by what amounted to a lavishly produced exhibition of golf, the captains Fred Couples and Nick Price whiffed. The format calls for them to pick their match-ups the way people do their fantasy teams, in an open draft.
The circumstances were tailor-made to manufacture enough buzz to help cut through both the nasty weather. Woods versus Scott could have been thrilling, like watching Usain Bolt race Tyson Gay. Also there for the public’s entertainment loomed Jordan Spieth versus Hideki Matsuyama in a showdown of rookies whose average age is under 21, and Ernie Els versus Phil Mickelson in a pairing of the last two British Open champions.
The possibilities were thrilling. The line-up that Couples and Price came up with was considerably less so, and included Els versus Stricker in a match-up of players old enough to be Matsuyama’s and Spieth’s fathers; Hunter Mahan versus Matsuyama; Graham DeLaet versus Spieth; Scott versus Bill Haas; and Woods versus Richard Sterne.
‘Win the Cup’
“I did my pairings this morning to try and win the Cup, not to put (world number) one or two together,” Price said during the post-match news conference. Later, outside the press room, Price added: “You can’t go to your opposing captain and say, ‘Let’s put Adam and Tiger together’. Maybe the commissioner could do that, but I’m not going to do it.”
It seemed perhaps fitting then that Urban Meyer, the Ohio State coach whose home overlooks the seventh green at Muirfield Village, stood with Couples and the tournament host, Jack Nicklaus, at the first tee for the start of the singles matches.
The Buckeyes know competitive mismatches, having forged a nation-leading 18-game winning streak against opponents that have included Florida A&M. The Rattlers were defanged, 76-0, last month in Columbus, raising the question: If that is drama, who needs farce?
While Woods versus Sterne was not as one-sided as Ohio State versus Florida A&M, it was also not Alabama versus Oregon. Sterne (32), a South African who was appearing in his first Presidents Cup, was winless in his first three matches. Ranked number 41 in the world, Sterne has zero wins on the PGA Tour to Woods’ 79.
Sterne took a one-up lead at the seventh with a birdie, one of two he made on the front side. Woods, whose back tightened up toward the end, squared the match with a birdie at number nine and won despite not making a birdie on the back side.
Els pulled out a one-up victory against Stricker; Scott beat Haas by 2 and 1; Mahan put Matsuyama away by 3 and 2; and Spieth lost by one-up to DeLaet, who holed a bunker shot to secure the point. Angel Cabrera defeated Mickelson, one-up.
As Price pointed out, the singles were the only session the International team won, by a score of 7½-4½. “Jack said it was close,” Price said, referring to the margin of victory. “Fred said it was close. To me, as a veteran of these, we were behind the eight ball all day.”
Two weeks ago, Mickelson, who has competed in every Presidents Cup, was asked about the United States’ dominance in the event. He said, “Who loses and by how much isn’t as important as having the guys get together in a competitive, friendly environment, put on a good show or display of golf and have some fun doing it.”
On Sunday he supported the singles match-ups. “The captain’s role is not to set it up for television,” Mickelson said. “The captain’s role is to put players in the spots where they are needed.”
With a really good show Sunday, golf might have grown its fan base, but Mother Nature and the captains muddied it up.
New York Times Service