All About the Golf

Saturday September 29th, 2007

MONTREAL — OK, if you didn't know it before, you should know it now: of the professional golf competitions that don't mean anything — and there are two, one named for a seed merchant, Samuel Ryder — the Presidents Cup is way superior.

You could see that at Royal Montreal on Friday. Why? The Ryder Cup features drunk fans and, when it's all over, a drunk winning team. The Presidents Cup is all about the golf. Here, we offer just two examples, one from the American team, the other from the Internationals.

First, the U.S.A.'s Woody Austin on Friday. Swimming. In suburban Montreal. In late September. With his clothes on.

All he was doing was trying too hard on a slippery lakeside shot. His exclamation mark was to put his face in the water like a toddler in the shallow end showing off for mom. And there was Tiger Woods, walking the course after a loss, watching on one of those jumbo outdoor TVs, such a gent that he managed to stifle his smile. When Austin lost holes he looked mad. Crazy mad, like Van Gogh mad. When he won holes — like he did on the 16th and 17th — he looked madder yet. At the end of the day, he and his partner, David Toms, halved their match against Trevor Immelman and Rory Sabbatini. Perfect. By dusk Jack Nicklaus, the American captain, was calling him Jacques Cousteau.

Second, Mike Weir, the pride of Canada and the only Northlander on the International squad, trying to justify his inclusion on the team. (His captain, Gary Player, could have picked any number of golfers playing better than Weir. Aaron Baddeley, Rod Pampling and Camilo Villegas come to mind.) But you needed a Canadian for the event in Canada.

On day one, playing with the gigantic Vijay Singh, the little lefthander helped his club get its only half-point. On day two, playing with the gigantic Ernie Els, he helped set the tone for the International team. On the 11th, Els made a bogey. Their American opponents, Zach Johnson and Charles Howell III, made bogeys. Weir had seven feet for par to put his team 3 up. It went in and evoked the kind of roar you used to hear at Augusta National, back in the day. A great sight was Els's massive forearm over Weir's slim shoulder after the putt.

You could see that Woods was enjoying the day, which was amazing because he and Jim Furyk were trounced, 5 and 4, by Singh and Stuart Appleby. But he spent the afternoon walking the course, chatting with reporters and rules officials, high-fiving his teammates and their caddies, and looking like he was having the time of his life. On a day that he lost. On a day that his team was getting spanked. You have never seen Woods like that at a Ryder Cup.

But the liveliest guy of the day — ahead of W. Austin and T. Woods and M. Weir and everybody else — was Gary Player. The man was everywhere, signing autographs, chatting up his players, leaning his head into a walkie-talkie to get minute-by-minute updates.

For much of the day, he was getting good news, and every time he did he gave a little fist pump. But when he heard that Angel Cabrera and Retief Goosen were going to the 18th tee all square in their match against Phil Mickelson and Hunter Mahan, he let out, in that classic South African accent of his, "Dommit, mon." There's real emotion there.

Then Cabrera, 0-for-the-year since the U.S. Open, made a birdie on 18, and the I-team won its second point of the day. Player's little fist pump was the real deal: the joy of competition without a thing on the line, except winning.

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