Thursday, January 05, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. - A handful of inside-the-ropes types came to the same conclusion on Day 2 of the Presidents Cup matches at Harding Park on Friday: Position A for up-close golf watching is between the green of the 13th, a driveable par-4, and the tee of the 14th, a reasonably birdie-friendly par-3.

"Absolutely the best spot on the course," NBC's Johnny Miller said to 2010 Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin as the U.S. and International teams battled to a 3-3 draw, giving the Americans a 6 1/2 - 5 1/2 lead.

The two former major winners stood chatting for more than an hour as the six groups played through.

Anthony Kim hit a wild push-slice on 14, and Miller was moved to comment on how few players these days work the ball proficiently. Miller was doing homework for the weekend, when he'll be on the air for NBC for 16 hours.

Ryo Ishikawa, a 4-and-3 winner with Y.E. Yang over Sean O'Hair and Kenny Perry, hit a shot just left of the pin for a good birdie chance on 14.

"He's the real deal," Miller said.

Hunter Mahan/Zach Johnson and Robert Allenby/Camilo Villegas took the tee, by which time another noted TV wag had appeared: Bay Area resident and retired NFL coach/analyst John Madden, who walked to the bench left of the 14th tee and plopped his ample self down. Pow!

Mahan recognized Madden, and before hitting his tee shot the golfer removed his cap and walked over to introduce himself. The old Raiders coach and video-game-football giant, wearing his Super Bowl ring, smiled and shook Mahan's hand, but he didn't get up.

Stewart Cink, Tim Clark, Jim Furyk, Ishikawa, Johnson, Mike Weir and Vijay Singh hit good-to-great tee shots. Tiger Woods was among the large group who did not, ending up in the right-front trap.

Mahan also hit a weak shot right. Maybe the thought of Madden watching, ready to diagram the young football fan's shot in his brain, was too much.

O'Hair hit the left side of the putting surface. Miller, in his sunglasses and white NBC cap, opined to anyone within earshot that O'Hair didn't seem to have caught it cleanly.

After all the players had gone through, he and Madden stood on the 14th tee and talked shop. The NFL guy seemed surprised that the golf guy would have to be on-air for 10 hours Saturday. Miller said the key was to get so involved in the action that you didn't look at your watch.

But then, Miller added, Madden already knew that from experience.

• Before Clark's winning eagle putt on 18, fans in the first few rows of bleachers barked at media and players. The fans' gripe: They couldn't see unless those in front would consent to kneel down.

This is a common friction, the privileged inside-the-ropes gang getting in the way of those ordinary Joes and Janes who paid good money for their tickets. And while the fans have an excellent point, their gripes aren't always so delicately put.

Mike Weir, who had just pulled out a comeback with Ernie Els, beating Jim Furyk and Kim, 2 up, turned around and said, "Nicer would probably do it."

But he'd barely gotten the words out of his mouth when an elderly lady yelped, "Get down!"

"If you were a little nicer about it," Weir said.

"Well we'd like to see the game," the woman responded. Most of the media and the players kneeled. And fans ended up seeing a nice eagle by the broomstick-putter-wielding Clark.

• Angel Cabrera may have hit the best shot of the day, from the right fairway bunker on 15. His ball had ended up on a severe sideslope, so it was almost knee-high as he addressed it. He managed to catch it cleanly and played for enough of a hook to get it not just on the green but on the correct tier, about 20 feet from the pin.

Alas, he and Geoff Ogilvy were throttled, 5 and 3, by Steve Stricker and Woods, the week's top team (2-0) through the first two days. The American duo will play Clark and Weir — whom one fan likened to "little Chihuahuas" on Thursday — at 7:55 a.m. local time (10:55 Eastern) on Saturday.

• As good as the players are, Friday reminded us that they're human. There were some truly awful shots amid all the brilliant ones. Two examples:

Anthony Kim hit a left-to-left hook over the trees on the par-4 seventh hole that was shocking in its misdirection. (Kim will sit out the alternate-shot matches Saturday morning, as will Lucas Glover.)

Adam Scott yanked his tee shot way left on the par-3 ninth hole, and later fluffed a chip, but he played reasonably well and has looked better than fellow Australian Geoff Ogilvy. (International captain Greg Norman benched Angel Cabrera and Ogilvy for the Saturday-morning matches.)

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