Phil Mickelson's shotmaking skill was on display during Thursday's match.
Kohjiro Kinno/SI
Thursday, January 05, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO. Calif. - When Anthony Kim blew his tee shot right on the 10th hole Thursday, his partner Phil Mickelson, already in the landing zone down the fairway, ducked under the yellow gallery rope and made a beeline for the ball. So did almost everyone following their match, because they knew that every fan had inside-the-ropes access for this shot.

Seen on TV, Mickelson's ensuing strike — a clean hook off a downhill dirt lie, the ball curving left-to-right around a tree trunk and ending up 25 feet short of the pin — must have been neat. Up-close, in person, it was breathtaking in speed, sound and precision. Fans roared; some of them will remember that shot for the rest of their lives, describing it at cocktail parties, at the gym, at the club.

Magicians call that kind of access "up-close magic." It's different, allowing a heightened appreciation of genius.

To walk inside the ropes is to be availed of up-close magic all the time. Or not. Some of what you see up-close is just strange. Here are my observations from the Presidents Cup on Thursday:

• In the day's second-to-last match, Steve Stricker/Tiger Woods vs. Ryo Ishikawa/Geoff Ogilvy, Ishikawa appeared ready to stick his tee in the ground as soon as he was introduced on the first tee. But Tiger Woods had drawn the honor of going first.

Ishikawa backed off, watched Tiger hit a line drive down the right side of the fairway, then hauled off and creased his own drive slightly farther. He turned around and gave a thumbs-up to Greg Norman, who had made the 18-year-old a captain's pick. The Shark returned the gesture. Nerves? What nerves? You may have noticed Tiger has Frank the Headcover, the most famous piece of orange-and-black-striped felt in all of sport. It's even done commercials. Ishikawa's headcover is a miniature replica of himself, head to toe, complete with sunglasses.

Take that, Frank!

• Ogilvy chatted more with Woods on the practice green prior to their match than he did all day with Ryo. Blame it on the language barrier. Ishikawa speaks no English, and presumably Ogilvy speaks no Japanese. They needed a third option. Their only form of communication in the early going: After Ogilvy chipped to within tap-in range on the fourth hole, Ryo acknowledged the shot with a nod. Ogilvy nodded to acknowledge the acknowledgement. It was a warm moment all around.

Meanwhile Stricker and Woods, who cruised to an easy 6-and-4 victory, looked like a buddy movie waiting to happen. Their bromance continues Friday, when they'll play Ogilvy and ... Spanish-speaking Angel Cabrera. Ogilvy is rumored to be partnering with Marcel Marceau on Saturday.

Language. Chemistry. It's just one more reason why the U.S. enjoys a 5-1-1 advantage over the Internationals since the Presidents Cup began in 1994.

• Former San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds, sitting in the 15th fairway and watching the Kim/Mickelson vs. Tim Clark/Mike Weir match: "I like this group. There are two leftys."

• Each two-man team had two little red coolers packed with lunch, but the young officials charged with getting the players their food weren't sure how to do it. Rick Thomson of the Tour sat in a cart awaiting Kim just off the 10th tee; the cooler at Thomson's feet had a sandwich bag with "AK" written on it in black ink. "We bring peanut-butter-and-jelly and turkey," said Thomson, "but we put a couple extra slices on AK's per his request."

Alas, when Thomson finally caught up with Kim after the U.S. team had made par on 10, A.K. went for P.B. He took a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich, peeled off the jelly half and handed it to his caddie Eric Larson. Kim picked some seeds off the peanut butter half, folded it into a half sandwich, and ate it.

• Least recognized celebrity at Harding Park, what with Bonds and Michael Jordan hanging around, and former presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton making appearances along with the Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger: Bay Area bigwig Charles Schwab, longtime Mickelson partner in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Schwab followed the Phil match from inside the ropes.

• Kim and Mickelson birdied their last four holes to beat Tim Clark and Mike Weir, 3 and 2, so some of the shots Mickelson hit are destined to be forgotten amid the fireworks. But they deserve mention.

First, his second shot on 12, after Kim had dribbled his tee shot into the right fairway bunker, should be on Mickelson's great-escapes list. The ball was a foot in front of the bunker's back lip, on a downhill lie, and a tree branch threatened to clip Phil's backswing. He took a few stances, switched clubs, and then made perfect contact on a shot that scooted low over the front lip and found the front edge of the green.

"That's one you just try not to break your ankle on," said Mickelson's caddie, Jim (Bones) MacKay, as he raked the trap.

Clark and Weir missed their 12-foot birdie putt, Kim rolled his putt to tap-in range, and the U.S. had dodged a bullet.

The shot was typical Mickelson, but the one he hit on the next hole, the 336-yard, par-4 13th, was not. There was a time when Phil would have tried to drive the green, perhaps pulling it off, or perhaps hitting his ball into Lake Merced. Not this time. He hit a hybrid off the tee, taking a shallow divot, and found the fairway. Kim knocked a sand wedge close, Mickelson made the putt, and the birdie binge began.

• Glowing from his win with Kim, Mickelson seemed happily surprised to bump into Corey Pavin, the 2010 Ryder Cup captain, behind the 15th green. Except that Pavin's blue sweater matched the International team's outfit for the day. "Let's get a little red on you next time," Mickelson said.

"I didn't know," Pavin responded.

"Yeah, right," Mickelson quipped. "Because this is America; who would know that red would be our color?"

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