Presidents Cup 2011: 9 Highlights from Royal Melbourne

Fred Altvater@@tolohgolfrContributor IINovember 20, 2011

Presidents Cup 2011: 9 Highlights from Royal Melbourne

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    The U. S. Team continued its dominance in the Presidents Cup competition and completed a 19-15 point win Sunday in Australia.  Controversial Captain's pick, Tiger Woods, scored the point to clinch the cup for the American team by defeating Australian Aaron Baddeley 4-3.  This is the seventh win in just nine Presidents Cup competitions.

    Royal Melbourne lived up to its ranking as one of the most challenging golf courses in the world.  Many players were left scratching their heads as errant approach shots rolled helplessly into treacherous green-side bunkers. 

    Many putts from the wrong portion of the green were impossible to get close and even some downhill downwind putts ended up 25 yards off the green.

    The International Team found itself four points down, and then dug themselves into a very deep hole going into Sunday's final singles matches.  The U. S. team dominated the team matches and set up the easy victory march in the singles.

    Here are a few things that we learned from the Presidents Cup. 

Webb Simpson Appears Ready to Be a Factor in 2012 Majors

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    Presidents Cup Rookie Webb Simpson had a dream season in 2011.  He has become one of the most consistent players on tour with two wins and three second-place finishes to go along with his 12 top-10 finishes in 26 starts on the PGA Tour.

    Simpson was second on the PGA Money list and in the FedEx Cup point standings.  He is also at the top of the list in the PGA Player of the Year balloting.

    He partnered with Bubba Watson to go 3-1 in the Presidents Cup team matches.  Even though he came up a little short, his singles match to South Korean sensation K. T. Kim was a thriller.  He had three three-putt holes in a row and was three down to Kim after nine holes.  He turned his putting around on the back nine and forced Kim to make a difficult birdie putt on 17th hole to secure the win. 

    The good showing here in the Presidents Cup should only add to Simpson's confidence and he is definitely one of the youngsters that appear ready to compete for major titles in 2012.

Tiger Showing Signs of Improvement

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    Tiger Woods put the finishing touches on a fairly successful two weeks of golf down under.  He finished third in last week's Emirate's Australian Open and except for an untidy third round 75 played extremely well and was a factor right to the end.

    Woods only captured one point in the team matches. He lost the first session foursomes with long-time partner Steve Stricker in a record-setting fashion 7-6.  Although Woods struck the ball well, the severely undulating and lightning-quick Royal Melbourne greens proved too much for him. 

    Stricker proved to be more than rusty after not playing since the FedEx Cup playoffs due to a neck injury that has hampered his practice schedule.

    Captain Couples paired Woods with Dustin Johnson for the balance of the team matches and they were only able to pick up one point for the U. S. team.  Again, Tiger struck the ball extremely well, but putting proved to be a mystery.

    Tiger finally put it all together in his singles match with Aaron Baddeley.  He made five birdies in his first 11 holes and went on to dominate Badds 4-3 to ring up the 18th point, which sealed the deal for the Americans.

    Tiger played with more confidence and flair than we have seen from him in quite some time.  The swing seems to be solid.  He appears to be healthy and struck the ball beautifully all week.

    Is he finally recovered from his personal problems and ready to get back to surpassing Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major titles?

Jim Furyk Found His Lost Putting Stroke and Was 5-0 at Presidents Cup

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    Coming off his $10 million FedEx Cup victory in 2010, Jim Furyk had a less than successful 2011 campaign on the PGA Tour.

    With only four top-10 finishes in 26 starts, Furyk fell to 41st in the world golf rankings.  He plays a controlled golf game and relies on a steady short game and sound putting to compete on tour.  His putting stroke left him in 2011 and caused him to struggle all year.

    Miraculously, he found his touch on the diabolical Royal Melbourne greens and finished a perfect 5-0.

    Phil Mickelson asked Captain Fred Couples to be paired with Furyk and the Furyk/Mickelson team went 3-0 in their first three matches. 

    Mickelson chose to sit out the Saturday afternoon Four-ball session, so Furyk teamed with youngster Nick Watney to add another victory for the American Team.

    Furyk drew another golfing superstar Ernie Els for his singles match.  Ernie has played Royal Melbourne many times throughout his career, and even holds the course record.  Furyk played flawlessly, making putt after putt to down Els 4-3 to keep his record spotless at 5-0.

    Furyk gave credit to his improved putting to his father, who coaches him, for reverting to an old trick of fitting his putter with an upside down grip.  The grip is larger at the base of the grip and makes it easier to keep the putter face square throughout his stroke.

Greg Norman Is 0-2 as Presidents Cup Captain

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    No one will ever question Greg Norman as a success story that has few equals, but his record as Captain of the International Team in Presidents Cup competitions is somewhat less than stellar.

    Greg was the No. 1 ranked golfer in the world for 331 weeks, won two British Opens and was a factor in all of the major championships during his playing days.  He is a "Captain of Industry & Finance" and has been successful in every facet of his life, except for that pesky Presidents Cup thing.

    Even with a team loaded with Australians familiar with Royal Melbourne, the fact remains that they were simply out-manned. 

    The U. S. Team featured 10 players in the top 25 in the Official World Golf Rankings versus only 4 for the International Team.  2010 FedEx Cup $10 million man, Jim Furyk at No. 41 and 14-time major winner, Tiger Woods at No. 50, were the only two Americans outside the top 25 in the rankings. 

    Jim found his putting stroke. Tiger found his game. The two regained the form that made them the best players in the world.  Sorry, Greg.

    I wouldn't feel too sorry for Greg, however.  He will go back to the yacht, mansions, sports cars, Montana ranch, and all of the other toys that befit a billionaire.

Sometimes Age & Experience Beats Youth & Enthusiasm

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    Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk teamed up to go 3-0 in the first three sessions of the 2011 President's Cup from Royal Melbourne.

    Retief Goosen & Robert Allenby were 4-3 victims of Mickelson/Furyk in Thursday's foursome match as the U. S. team jumped out to an early 4-2 lead.

    Captain Fred Couples paired the veteran duo together once again in Friday's four-ball match as Mickelson's aggressive play and Furyk's conservative plodding style helped the Americans squeak out a 2-1 win over the Internationals' highest-ranked player Adam Scott and Korean K. T. Kim.

    In another close match in Saturday's foursomes, short game wizard Aaron Baddeley and world-ranked No. 8, Jason Day were the next to fall 2-1 to the 40 somethings.  The veteran duo of Mickelson and Furyk accounted for three of the Americans 11 points going into the Saturday afternoon session.

    Mickelson decided he needed an afternoon nap to get ready for Sunday singles, but Furyk grabbed a new dance partner, long-hitting Nick Watney, and proceeded to add another point for the U. S. team with a one-up win over the formidable team of Adam Scott and Ernie Els.  The Americans took an insurmountable lead ahead of the International team, 13-9.

    Mickelson's nap didn't help on Sunday as he lost to Adam Scott in singles 2-1 and the match was never that close.  Phil made a couple of freak birdies late to win a couple of holes and push the match to the 17th hole, but Scott was clearly in command for the first 13 holes. 

    Still Mickelson added three points to the American Team total, and, pairing with Furyk, made a huge contribution to the team.

    Ernie Els never had a chance against Jim Furyk's rejuvenated putter.  The stoic Furyk made about 30 miles of putts, and only took 15 holes to close out Els 4-3 to keep his 2011 Presidents Cup scorecard free of any losses and finished 5-0.

Historic Royal Melbourne Was Truly the Star of the 2011 Presidents Cup

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    Royal Melbourne has been recognized as one of the best and most demanding golf courses in the world for a long time.  Everyone who has ever been lucky enough to play the Alister McKenzie design sings its praises.

    McKenzie laid out the original design for the West Course in the mid-1920s on a trip to Australia, but the actual construction of the course was completed by Australian Alex Russell and head greens keeper Mick Morcom. 

    The course can make even the best players in the world look like mere hacks.  Severe undulation on the large greens mandate approach shots that will permit acceptable putts on the fast greens.  False fronts and steep slopes allow balls to roll up to 25 yards away from the green.

    Dustin Johnson failed to get two successive chip shots over the false front on one green and ended up with a double bogey on the par-3 after his tee shot had landed approximately eight feet from the front pin placement on Sunday.

    Several players were forced to chip back onto the green after they watched as their putts rolled helplessly off the green after being struck too firmly.

    The bunkers around the green complexes feature deep traps with steep faces strategically placed to catch errant approach shots and award bogeys and worse.

    Watching the players from both teams struggle on Royal Melbourne was truly one of the highlights of the 2011 Presidents Cup.

American Golf Is in Good Hands

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    It appears that the future of American golf is fairly bright.  U. S. Team members, Dustin Johnson, Webb Simpson, Hunter Mahan, Matt Kucher, Bubba Watson, Bill Haas, and Nick Watney—all ranked in the top 22—are part of the youth movement on the PGA Tour.

    Rickie Fowler, Brandt Snedecker, and PGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley are in the top 30, but didn't qualify for the U. S. Team.

    After having a less than pleasant Ryder Cup experience in 2010, Hunter Mahan played superb golf throughout the week and led the youth group with a 4-1-0 record.

    Webb Simpson, 3-2-0, was simply outstanding in his matches. He was nearly unbeatable when paired with Bubba Watson and barely lost a close singles match to K. T. Kim. 

    Bubba Watson, 3-2-0, was the recipient of Webb Simpson's great play in the team matches, but had an unforgettable performance against Charl Schwartzel on Sunday.

    Nick Watney, 2-1-1, was fairly steady and had a great win over K. J. Choi in singles.

    Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar, and Bill Haas were each 1-3-1, but the experience gained will serve them well in the coming season.

Norman's Captains Picks Failed to Impress

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    International Team Captain Greg Norman chose Australians, Robert Allenby and Aaron Baddeley as his two Captain's picks.  They both have PGA and International golfing experience and have both had previous success at Royal Melbourne.

    Past performance did not, however, necessarily translate into peak performance this time around.  Allenby and Baddeley were a combined 1-7-1

    Ouch.

    Allenby has been a world class golfer for many years but has struggled over the last couple of years with putting problems.  Royal Melbourne's tough greens exposed the poorest part of Allenby's game and left him at a severe disadvantage in his matches.  He was the only player on either team to be shut out, 0-4.

    It seems that 30-year-old Aaron Baddeley has been around the world golf scene forever.  He joined the PGA Tour in 2007, has three wins and has amassed over $14 million in earnings.  Badds has one of the best short games in the world, and it was clearly on display at Royal Melbourne.  Although he played well, he came up short against the U. S. team.

    In contrast Fred Couples' picks, Tiger Woods and Bill Haas, were a combined 3-6-1.

    You don't have to look much further to understand why the American team is bringing the Presidents Cup Trophy home with them.

Team Events Are Fun to Watch

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    Most of all, we learned that professional golf team events are fun to watch. 

    All you have to do is look at the smile of pure satisfaction and enjoyment on Tiger Woods' face after his singles win on Sunday.  There was more hugging and back slapping going on than is ever seen at any family reunion.

    Golf is normally a lonely endeavor with long hours on the practice range and putting green followed by numerous hours spent traveling and being alone in hotel rooms between rounds.

    Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup events allow professional golfers the opportunity to experience the same companionship and male bonding that average golfers enjoy on their golf outings.  That's without all the TV cameras, private jets, and blondes at their elbows.

    I saw a great deal of relief, confidence, and yes even a little swagger from the world's long time No. 1, Tiger Woods.

    I would not be surprised to see him hoisting a major tournament trophy or two in 2012.