PGA Tour: All Couples' Men Performed at Harding Park
The United States has dominated the Presidents Cup competitions since the inaugural event outside the nation's capital in 1994.
In this year's eighth rendition the outcome was the same, though the path to victory was entirely new and exciting.
Youthful and exuberant Fred Couples took over the captaincy of the heavily favored U.S. team.
Stoic and competitive Greg Norman led the International Team whose best player, at least on paper was Geoff Ogilvy, ranked No. 10 in the world.
Couples and Norman took over as captains for golfing legends Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player respectfully and respectively.
The tradition of worldwide friendship and good sportsmanship in golf certainly continued during the four days of competition at Harding Park Golf Course, a municipal course owned and operated by the county and city of San Francisco.
Norman's leadership, making the game of golf a global one, heightened as he selected Ryo Ishikawa an 18-year-old golfing phenom from Japan as one of his two Captain picks.
Make no mistake about it, golf is going global with a new Asian Amateur Champion eligible for next year's Masters and Olympic golf in South America in 2016.
Though a champion three times this year on the Japan Golf Tour Ishikawa's emergence on the PGA TOUR was reserved with missed cuts in the Masters and Open at Turnberry and a T56 at the PGA at Hazeltine.
This week was different as he beat Kenny Perry three times in all three Presidents Cup formats and lost to Tiger Woods twice. Even though he was beaten his best memory of the week will be "playing with Tiger."
Maybe age does matter in a youthful sense when it comes to the game of golf.
Norman's other Captain's pick started off strong with a Thursday's foursomes win partnered with Ernie Els, though finished weakly with a pivotal hammering by Stewart Cink in Sunday singles competition.
That American victory in the second group out was like the rising and overwhelming tidal wave that Scott so dearly loves to surf in his native Australia. This wave would wash out any hope of an international comeback.
Scott's 1-4-0 (W-L-Tie) record for the week gives credence to the basic tenet of golf. While friendship with the captain is important, performance and results in terms of strokes recorded on the golf course has been, is, and will continue to be the overwhelming metric in golf on the world stage.
Couples' Captain picks were a similar split personality with U.S. Open Champion Lucas Glover having a dismal 0-3-1 week and Hunter Mahan (2-1-1) coming through with a W against Camilo Villegas in the opening match on Sunday.
This Presidents Cup was the first in America away from the friendly confines of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club, where the national team recorded four victories without a loss.
The recent Ryder Cup and long time Presidents Cup trend of American supremacy in the foursomes format where teammates alternate shots continued at the new venue.
The dynamic and exciting duo of Phil Mickelson and Anthony Kim lead off for America in the Thursday foursomes competition. They ended their match with four straight birdies resulting in a 3 & 2 victory over the small in stature but big in heart and game twosome of Mike Weir and Tim Clark.
The teams of Kenny Perry/Zach Johnson and Tiger Woods/Steve Stricker would also win as Jim Furyk/Justin Leonard halved their match to give the United States a quick 3.5 to 2.5 lead on the first day.
Furyk missed a 14-inch putt on the last hole to win the match outright for the Americans.
The new team of Woods and Stricker recorded six birdies (in 14 holes) as they never lost a hole and trounced Ogilvy and Ishikawa.
The International team rebounded in Friday's fourball competition where the best ball of one team is matched against the best ball of the other team.
Mickelson/Leonard, Johnson/Mahan, and Stricker/Woods won for the U.S. while Els/Weir, Ishikawa/Yang, and Singh/Clark won their match for the International Team.
With a 3-3 split on Friday the internationals were only down 5.5 to 6.5 going into Saturday's marathon with five foursomes in the morning and five fourball matches in the afternoon.
Each team sat out two players for each match. For the Americans, Glover (0-2-0) and Kim (1-1-0) were benched in the morning while it was Perry (1-2-0) and Mahan (1-1-1) in the afternoon.
Internationals Ogilvy (0-2-0) and Cabrera (0-2-0) missed the foursomes while Goosen (0-2-1) and Villegas (0-3-0) missed the fourballs.
Once again on Saturday the foursome (1.5 to 3.5) completion would put the Internationals further behind while they held water in the fourball matches (2.5 to 2.5).
Mickelson teamed up with Presidents Cup rookie Sean O'Hair to win again in foursomes.
Woods stayed with Stricker and they won the pivotal match of the morning. Down two holes with six to play they won the 13th with a birdie. Then Woods made a 23-footer on No. 17 for birdie pressuring Weir to miss a four-footer to halve the hole and be dormie for the match.
Seizing the moment Woods' 3-iron from 232 yards stopped eight feet from the hole for eagle on the final green. Knowing it was pure, Woods did a celebratory twirl of the club and maestro hand gesture to accentuate the moment.
When the Internationals could do no better than par, the eagle putt was conceded and the Americans walked away with a point where they easily could have lost a point.
Down seven to 10, the Internationals looked to the afternoon fourballs to narrow the gap going into Sunday singles competition.
But the Americans held tough leaning on Woods/Stricker who beat Ishikawa/Yang to remain undefeated at 4-0-0 and Mickelson teamed with O'Hair again to halve a match with Singh/Clark.
While Woods rose to the occasion in the morning, it was Stricker to the rescue in the afternoon recording seven of the team's eight birdies in a match that went only 14 holes.
At the end of the third day of competition the margin of victory in foursomes would remain the difference in score with the Americans leading 12.5 to 10.5.
With historically strong performance in the Sunday singles format, where all 12 members of the team face a member of the opponent's team, the American team was heavily favored to go 6-1-1 in Presidents Cup competition and they did.
International captain Norman elected not to front load his team and let the chips fall where they may.
With the first four matches in on Sunday afternoon, the U.S. team posted four points and set the stage for Tiger Woods to sink a birdie putt on 13th hole and win the clinching point as he avenged his PGA Championship defeat and convincingly beat Y.E. Yang 6 & 5.
Open Champion Cink beat Scott, Kim beat Allenby, Mahan beat Villegas, O'Hair beat Els and Tiger scored the knockout punch as the Americans would go on to a 19.5 to 14.5 victory.
Quite incidentally that final tally is the same for the American wins in last year's Ryder Cup at Valhalla and the 2007 President's Cup in Montreal.
So in the end the outcome was the same while the story lines were quite different and exciting.
Michael Jordan, snubbed by the PGA TOUR as they banned him from the stage during the Opening Ceremony, didn't let it affect his ability to help this team jell to victory. Behind the scenes it may have been a rallying point for the American team as evidenced by the red "23s" on the white caps of the caddies during the competition.
Ryo Ishikawa has validated his claim as possibly the next Tiger Woods. Rory McIlroy, the 20-year-old from Northern Ireland, came onstage this year with high finishes in the Majors (Masters T20, U.S. Open Y10, British Open T47, and PGA T3).
Along with 16-year-old Italian amateur Matteo Manassero and America's own sensations 18-year-old Tadd Fujikawa and 20-year-old Rickie Fowler it will be interesting to see who takes it to the next level in the youth department.
Tiger Woods, perhaps feeling a little bit left out of the American victory at Valhalla last year, fully embraced the team concept in San Francisco and found a new best playing partner in Steve Stricker.
Though the fog and coolness rolled into Harding Park on Wednesday afternoon, this venue proved itself as equal to any other for being the stage for any world golf competition.
With elevated vistas of Lake Merced and ghostly, twisty, and knarled tall cypress trees that steal balls from golfers, this site can stand proud and tall when neighboring Olympic Club hosts the U.S. Open in 2012.
In the end Couples' three amigos who happen to be Nos. 1, 2, and 3 in the world, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, and Steve Stricker, came through for him.
Looking forward to the Ryder Cup next year in 2010 with Captains Corey Pavin for the U.S. and Colin Montgomerie for the Europeans, one surely cannot expect another love fest like the one we had this week in San Francisco.
That will have to wait until the next Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne in Australia in 2011.
Andy Reistetter is a freelance golf writer. He follows the PGA TOUR working part time for NBC Sports, CBS Sports, and The Golf Channel. The Presidents Cup marks his 17th event of the year. He attended 22 events in 2008.
Residing in Jacksonville Beach, Florida near the PGA TOUR headquarters and home of The PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, he enjoys pursuing his passion for the game of golf and everything associated with it. He can be reached through his website www.MrHickoryGolf.net or by e-mailing him to Andy@MrHickoryGolf.net
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