Internationals rally from way back to make this Presidents Cup one worth watching
DUBLIN, Ohio -- There is no mistaking this Presidents Cup for the Super Bowl. You're excused, though, if you flashed back to this year's Super Bowl blackout when a rogue thunderstorm rolled in and stopped play here for almost 90 minutes Thursday afternoon.
At the time, the beleaguered International team was behind in five matches and all square in the sixth and this Presidents Cup had the early makings of a landslide on the order of Nixon versus McGovern or, say, an actual landslide. It was early then, though, and the last match was only on the sixth hole. Plenty of golf left.
Still, the delay came at a time when a coach would've liked to call a timeout early in a basketball game when his team was down a quick 12 points.
Anyway, just as the San Francisco 49ers rallied after the blackout halted their Bad News Bears-like performance (although the Baltimore Ravens still won), the International team slowly came to life. Because of the delay? The time to regroup? Maybe, but more likely that's just match play golf. There is an ebb and flow and no one team usually rules the entire day.
The Americans escaped with a 3.5-2.5 lead on a day they were leading in five or all six matches most of the time. Two and a half points were huge for the underdog Internationals, given their position most of the day.
Give the Internationals credit for a remarkable rise that felt almost Ryder Cup-like. Jason Day holed a huge birdie putt on the final green to win the opening match for the Internationals. It had a Ryder Cup-like feel because Day came up big while Brandt Snedeker flared a drive into a fairway bunker under the pressure, then hit it heavy and short of the green while Hunter Mahan, from the fairway, badly flared his approach shot right and into a greenside bunker. They did not come up big and Day's huge putt meant neither of them had to risk their dignity with par putts that weren't gimmies.
Adam Scott and Hideki Matsuyama pulled out a halve with Bill Haas and Webb Simpson after the young Japanese star stiffed one to a few inches at the 18th. The Americans held the lead for 15 of the 18 holes but it was still half a point for the Internationals.
Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel made four birdies on the back nine to pull away from Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson and win, 2 and 1.
There are always highlights and lowlights in team match play. It's the most exciting form of golf to watch. And while the Internationals may have appeared to be hopeless underdogs early on, they showed a lot of fight in the opening round. For the good of the Presidents Cup, everyone was at least hoping for a close, dramatic finish. Thursday, the Internationals looked more than capable of providing just that, or maybe even an upset win.
They're tired of being the patsies in the lopsided event. They're 1-7-1 against the U.S., a sickening feeling the Americans are familiar with in their Ryder Cup dealings with Europe.
There didn't seem to be a good reason for Europe's Ryder dominance any more than why the Americans have whipped up on the Internationals. But this year, when International captain Nick Price used one of his wild-card selections on Brendon de Jonge, a steady but unspectacular player, you knew the team lacked starpower. That said, the unheralded de Jonge carried veteran Ernie Els on his back all day. De Jonge racked up eight birdies as the Internationals pushed Steve Stricker and Jordan Spieth to the 18th hole before losing, 1 down.
The rest of the world outnumbers the U.S. in population and, you'd figure, should certainly be on even footing in golf. What's been the problem?
Simple. Look at who's not playing this week.
Start with Australia's Geoff Ogilvy. He won the U.S. Open at Winged Foot in 2006 and looked like a savvy world-beater at times. His last victory was the winners-only event at Kapalua in 2010. He's 35 and not much of a factor on Tour these days, for whatever reason.
The story du jour a few years back was about the rise of Aussie golf. That country was churning out good players at a rapid rate. What happened? A lot of them flamed out after becoming stars, for a variety of reasons, including aging. Robert Allenby. Stuart Appleby. Aaron Baddeley. Rod Pampling. Craig Parry.
We've got some younger Aussies with potential like Marc Leishman and Day but, other than Adam Scott, the pickings are slim.
Vijay Singh was a Prez Cup warhorse but he's had physical issues (insert your outdated antler joke here -- I'm taking a pass) and his game has slipped.
Els has battled the putter in recent years, despite his British Open win in 2012. He's here but he hasn't looked like the Ernie we used to know.
Retief Goosen won a couple of U.S. Opens. He's had back issues, though, and has played sparingly and with little success of late.
Trevor Immelman won a Masters and also suffered injuries. He's trying to play his way back onto the PGA Tour and last month won one of the tournaments in the new Web.com qualifying series, so he'll regain his card. Immelman's superb iron play shut down Tiger Woods on the back nine Sunday in Augusta not so very long ago.
K.J. Choi, the greatest player in Korean men's golf history and a former Players champion, has experimented with a variety of putting styles, strokes and grips. He's 43 and had only two top-10 finishes this year.
The next big thing was supposed to be Japan's Ryo Ishikawa, who is a virtual rock star in his home country. He is only 22 and was scheduled to be one of the rocks of this International squad. In 2009 as an 18-year-old, he rocked the Presidents Cup at San Francisco's Harding Park with his virtuosity. He was the Jordan Spieth of that year's event.
Kenny Perry joked after losing to Ishikawa in singles then, "That kid sent me right into retirement. He beat me in three matches. I was pretty impressed. I threw a lot at him. He was awesome."
Said International captain Greg Norman, "We have all read about how good he is… but stepping up to the plate on a big stage and getting thrown to the wolves against Tiger Woods and then to bounce back the way he did. You have to be a player to know how good that is."
What ever happened to Ryo? Well, he had an abysmal 2013. He ranked 159th in driving accuracy and 173rd in strokes gained putting on the PGA Tour. That's a formula for disaster. Hideki Matsuyama with his two top-10 finishes in majors this year has already supplanted him as Japan's apparent Next Big Thing. Ishikawa, like Immelman, just won his PGA Tour card back in the Web.com tournament series.
Picture this International squad with a Matsuyama-Ishikawa duo at full strength. Not bad. Throw in Ogilvy and Appleby in prime form or Korea's Y.E. Yang, a PGA champion, at his best. Even better. International golf is every bit as strong as American golf. Major titles won in recent years by Adam Scott, Els, Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel, Angel Cabrera and Immelman prove that.
It never made sense that the Internationals were excluded from the Ryder Cup. All those years when Greg Norman was the best player in the game and he couldn't take part? That didn't seem right. Samuel Ryder, if he was starting an event now, would have included the whole world. The Presidents Cup is an opportunity that the Internationals have earned. They deserve to play on a world stage like this.
Thursday, with clutch play by Day and Matsuyama and Schwartzel and the rest, the Internationals proved it again.
This week's match, just like that once lopsided Super Bowl, could be a lot closer and more entertaining than you first thought. Don't go away.