Squirrels, Tigers and Bears: This Presidents Cup lacked for nothing but real drama
DUBLIN, Ohio -- This Presidents Cup had almost everything.
A lucky squirrel mascot. Great play. Amazing hole-outs. Chip-ins. Long putts. Unique shots, like a ball caroming off a branch and then skipping over a pond (Phil Mickelson says thanks) or ricocheting off two rocks (Hunter Mahan says thanks a lot).
There was wind, torrential downpours, too many delays to count and through it all, spectators so loyal and hardy that it made you wonder.
There was a nice, tidy and glamorous clinching moment as Tiger Woods scored the decisive point and, incredibly, for the third straight Cup. It never hurts your credibility to have Tiger performing your highlight moment.
On top of that, it all happened at Muirfield Village Golf Club -- Jack’s house -- and with Jack Nicklaus on hand.
A Presidents Cup needs a President in attendance and George W. Bush filled the bill and was greeted on arrival near the first tee Thursday by one fan’s callout, “We miss you!”
Only one important ingredient was missing from this Presidents Cup.
Hopes for a tight finish vanished Sunday morning when the International squad suffered a letdown while finishing up the delayed foursomes matches. The Americans took a six-point lead into the singles matches, effectively killing any real suspense. When the Americans clinched at least a tie fairly early Sunday, assuring retained ownership of the Cup, we settled for the drama of waiting for a winning point that proved hard to come by.
That finally ended when Woods lagged a long putt close at the 18th hole for a win over Richard Sterne. That’s about as close as this Cup finish came to white knuckles. In other words, not very. The United States won this one, 18.5-15.5, and while the score wasn’t close at the end, the teams seemed evenly matched from the start.
American captain Fred Couples thought the suspense was plenty thick. “I must’ve asked 500 times, Where’s the fourth point coming from,” Couples said. “We knew we needed four points.”
He finally got it. At least that closing rally in a vain attempt to rescue a tie gave the Internationals a little something to feel good about, but in reality the outcome was never truly in doubt on Sunday.
Still, it was a good thing the Americans needed only four singles wins to claim the Cup because that’s all they managed. The Internationals took a 7-4-1 edge in the singles matches to make the final score look better. Replay this event with better weather and fewer delays and the outcome might be different. The Internationals were that impressive.
“We came here with a pretty good team,” International captain Nick Price said. “But the Americans played phenomenal golf. We found out what we were up against after that first nine holes.”
It was a fun week, not counting all those rain delays and mud and extended sessions, but in the end it was another notch in the reign of America’s dominance. The U.S. is now 8-1-1 against the Internationals. Interest in this event may start to wane if the Internationals don’t at least make it close at the 2015 Cup in Korea.
There were several things to take out of this Presidents Cup:
The course setup has a direct bearing on the tone of a tournament. Muirfield Village has never been this much fun before. But the blitz of birdies and eagles reflected well on the players and made this a pretty good show. Masters and USGA officials, please take note.
“The level of play was outstanding,” Ernie Els said. “If you count the number of birdies made to the other Presidents Cups, I feel this one had a lot more. We’ve got a strong team here and the Americans played exceptionally well.”
Team match play remains the most entertaining format in golf. There’s nothing like seeing Canadian Graham DeLaet hole a bunker shot on the final hole when he has to, or Marc Leishman drain a putt from the fringe on the final hole when he had to make it. That’s great stuff.
There were enough young stars showcased in this event to make the future of golf feel secure. Little-known players such as Brendon de Jonge, Hideki Matsuyama and Graham DeLaet seem destined for much bigger things after we got a close-up look at their impressive games. Ditto for Jordan Spieth, who’s been a one-man media blitz in America for the past two months. He is as good as advertised.
There was no shortage of superstars, either. You had to like the classic duel between 40-somethings Ernie Els and Steve Stricker, in which Ernie managed to squeak out a 1-up win. Angel Cabrera and Phil Mickelson went off last and although the team outcome was decided, Phil drew applause when he conceded Cabrera’s short par putt and the match -- although it was an afterthought, apparently, because Phil first holed his putt for bogey.
Woods is always part of the show. He added his own little story when he tweaked his back on the back nine and winced in pain on nearly every shot on the closing holes. Later, he joked that he really didn’t want to have to play any extra holes in case the match was halved, but he was able to hang on for the 1-up win that clinched the team’s victory.
There is also a curiosity factor. Why does the American team play so free and easy in the Presidents Cup, with great results, and isn’t able to take that to the Ryder Cup and do likewise? Some things remain a mystery.
“I get it, that we have won this thing several times and that there’s another team competition that we haven’t won many times in the last 20 years,” Couples said. “It’s really not that fun to be on the losing side.”
In other words, Fred doesn’t have any answers, either.
One other thing was technically missing from this Presidents Cup, too.
A closing ceremony. That was canceled due to wet grounds and a grim forecast of more rain. It was a good forecast, too, because right around 5:30 p.m. when the matches would’ve been ending if they hadn’t been moved up to the morning, another wave of heavy showers rolled in and doused everything again. So there was no pomp and circumstance, no parade of players and wives and officials, no Kenny G concert.
Instead, the handing of the trophy was combined with the press conference in the tent that was used for interviews next to the media center. It was crowded, a mix of media, photographers, officials and corporate bigwigs. It wasn’t the glitzy sendoff PGA Tour officials wanted but it was the best they could do.
That was this Presidents Cup in a nutshell -- the best they could do. Even Phil Mickelson, a noted orator, waxed philosophic at the end.
“We’ve laughed a lot this week and it’s been fun to hang together,” he said. “What I’ve found over the course of my career is that these weeks are some of the most special weeks of my career. They are weeks that we look back on fondly, where friendships form that last a lifetime. At the start of the year, it’s become a goal of all of ours to get on this team.
“When the Presidents Cup first came about in 1994, I was concerned that having a team event every year would be too much and lose its special feel. But the exact opposite has happened. Now I feel that we are the lucky side to be able to play in a team event every year.”
So drama? No. Feel-good moments? Absolutely.