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Straightforward Presidents Cup win for powerful US team

Fred Couples had his best week in golf without ever swinging a club.

The U.S. captain sat at the center of the table, lined on both sides by a dozen players who had done just about everything right at the Presidents Cup and walked away with another overwhelming victory Sunday over the International team.

Sitting next to each other were Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, who didn’t lose a match all week. Woods became only the third player in the Presidents Cup to go 5-0, while Mickelson was 4-0-1 and every bit as impressive the way he raised the level of three partners.

At the far end of the table was NBA icon Michael Jordan, who inspired awe and preached teamwork.

No wonder it all felt so easy.

“Basically, these guys played golf and did it all,” Couples said. “I would like to say that I didn’t have a whole lot to do with it.”

A strong American team lived up to its reputation at Harding Park with a 19 1/2 -14 1/2 victory, keeping their record perfect on American soil and winning the gold cup for the third straight time.

“They are just one hell of a team,” Ernie Els said. “We have to pretty much go back to the drawing board, because they are a pretty well-oiled team, and it’s hard to beat that kind of team.”

Woods and Steve Stricker became the first partnership in the Presidents Cup to win all four of their matches. Woods looked every bit the world’s No. 1 player in the world when he delivered the defining moment of these matches—on the verge of losing in foursomes Saturday, he holed a 25-foot birdie putt on the 17th and hit a 3-iron to 8 feet for an eagle that was conceded in a crucial victory.

Stricker, the No. 3 player in the world who won three times this year, pulled more than his weight in his pairings with Woods.

Mickelson was unbeaten for the second time in the last three Presidents Cup, only this was more impressive. He took Anthony Kim and Sean O’Hair along for his ride, and picked up Justin Leonard in another match on the day after Leonard missed a short putt that might have given the International team momentum.

“Phil Mickelson—if I had to say anything from my perspective—was able to take guys who had not really been successful on certain days and turned them … giving them confidence to help them rebound and get back to their game form,” Jordan said in his only remarks at the winning press conference.

“That, to me, symbolizes what a team is all about.”

The top three players in the world—all Americans in every sense—combined to go 13-1-1.

Perhaps it was only fitting that the clinching putt went to Woods, the first time that has happened in the 11 times he has competed in the Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup.

Much was made about his match with Y.E. Yang, who ended one of golf’s great streaks by coming from behind in the final round to beat Woods at the PGA Championship and end his otherwise splendid year without a major.

That was for a major. This was only for a point.

“I tried to get my point,” Woods said. “And I got my point.”

He lost the first hole, and that was it. With three birdies in a five-hole stretch at the turn, he piled up the lead and kept his head down, not bothering to look at a board to do the math and realize his match would be the one that gave the Americans the winning point.

“I was 5 up, trying to make it 6,” Woods said, and it ended at the 13th hole for a 6-and-5 victory.

Ahead of him, British Open champion Stewart Cink earned his first outright victory of the week by cruising past Adam Scott, while Kim and O’Hair followed with blowout victories, and Hunter Mahan wore down Camilo Villegas.

Behind him, Mickelson was the last match on the course and made a birdie on the 17th for a 2-and-1 victory over Retief Goosen.

Couples never wore an ear piece attached to a radio so he could keep tabs on every player and stay abreast of every match. He wondered about Harding Park, cutting up with both teams.

His only nervous moment came Saturday night with the final pairings, when International captain Greg Norman surprised him by not loading his best players at the top. Couples was uneasy about the matches, but not for long.

“I’m sure we tried our best all week,” Geoff Ogilvy said after his 2-and-1 victory over Stricker. “Coming in today, we had too much to do and the U.S. team was obviously very motivated.”

Woods joined Mark O’Meara (1996) and Shigeki Maruyama (1998) as the only Presidents Cup players to go 5-0, and his 18 career wins is the most by anyone in the Presidents Cup.

Even after his best performance in a team event, he kept the focus on team.

“It’s one of my better Cup experiences—we won, and that’s the name of the game, whether you go 0-5 or 5-0,” Woods said. “The fact that we won, that’s the No. 1 thing. We came here to win as a team, and we did it.”

The International team was left searching for answers.

It didn’t have the strongest players this time, yet that doesn’t always matter in his format. More troublesome is that the International side lost by at least three points for the third consecutive time, and the overall points in this series favors the Americans by 144-119.

Norman attributed the difference this week to putting, which is true in golf no matter what the occasion. He also conceded that America’s best three players made it tough on his team.

“Woods won all five matches—that’s huge,” Norman said. “But that’s what you expect out of your No. 1 player in the world. You need him to step up to the plate, and sometimes he hasn’t done that. And this time, he did do it.

“You need your big gun … and he stepped up the plate big time for his team.”

Norman got some good performance from his side.

Ryo Ishikawa, the 18-year-old sensation from Japan, beat 49-year-old Kenny Perry and was 3-2 for the week. Vijay Singh earned the most points for the International team by going 2-0-3, and he won praise for his sportsmanship when he conceded a 7-foot birdie putt to Lucas Glover on the 18th hole to halve the match.

Norman would willingly be captain again for 2011, especially since the Presidents Cup returns to Australia at Royal Melbourne. It was last played there in 1998, the only time the International team won the trophy.

 

October 13, 2009




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