MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) – Greg Norman and Fred Couples kept asking questions long after they tried to give answers, both of them curious about the carnage inflicted by Royal Melbourne at the Presidents Cup.
“How many birdies? There couldn't have been that many,'' Norman said.
In six better-balls matches, 24 of the best players in golf managed only 42 birdies and one eagle out of 408 chances Friday. Thirteen holes were won with pars. Two holes were halved with bogeys.
And perhaps the most amazing statistic of all?
The Americans had a 7-5 lead without getting a single point from Tiger Woods. In two matches with two partners, Woods' team won just one of the 30 holes it has played.
“Not many times where he doesn't win a point through a couple of rounds,'' Couples said. “But you know what? We're up by two points, and that's really all I care about at the moment. And I would say Tiger does the same.''
Woods is 0-2 for the first time in seven trips to the Presidents Cup, and it was the first time since the 2004 Ryder Cup, when he was paired with Phil Mickelson, that he was shut out in his opening two matches in any team competition. He was the only American who had failed to record a point going into the weekend.
Yet he has looked fine, about the way he did last week when he finished third at the Australian Open.
For Woods – and every other player who endured the vicious northerly wind at Royal Melbourne – it was difficult to tell how anyone was doing. They all were simply trying to survive conditions so difficult that it took some six hours to finish a match.
“Just trying to hit the greens, that was a heck of an accomplishment,'' Woods said. “Wedges weren't holding, balls were oscillating on the greens, you've got to play the wind on putts. It was a tough day.''
It was evident with every shot that bounded over the green, with putts that ran off the green and back into the fairway, chip shots from just off the green that rarely got inside 6 feet, and putts in which the players paid more attention to the wind than the slope.
Leave it to Norman to illustrate the degree of difficulty.
Not long after Geoff Ogilvy holed a 6-foot putt that gave the International team one last point, Norman pulled out a water bottle and poured it onto the 18th green. The water raced down the slope, none of it absorbed by the baked, brick-like greens.
“There's probably no where else in the world where that would happen,'' Norman said. “It just gives you an idea what these players were up against today.''
The most welcome sight were storm clouds that gathered late Friday, dousing Royal Melbourne with rain. What also pleased the players was not having to put scores next to their names. This was match play. Stroke play could have been ugly.
“I've played the course many, many times,'' said Ernie Els, who once shot 60 around the composite course at Royal Melbourne. “And this is probably the fastest.''
Norman saw it coming before Els and Ryo Ishikawa went out against Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson in the first of six fourballs. On a scale of 1 to 10, he gave Royal Melbourne an 11. Those are strong words coming from Norman, who knows this course as well as anyone.
Watson and Simpson won the leadoff match for the second straight day, again beating Els and Ishikawa, 3 and 1. Even though Watson putted off the green and into the fairway on No. 4, he muscled his way around Royal Melbourne when he could.
Mickelson and Jim Furyk also are 2-0, this time getting past Adam Scott and K.T. Kim. Scott has emerged as an emotional leader on this International team, yet even in defeat, he kept it in perspective.
“It's carnage on a golf course like this today,'' he said. “Today is a day where it's hard to feel like you're playing well.''
Ogilvy grew up playing across the street at Victoria Golf Club and has played Royal Melbourne many times.
“It's just really, really hard, which is why it's fun, which is why people praise this course,'' Ogilvy said. “Anyone breaking par, it's an astonishing score. But it's there if you play great shots.''
There were some great shots, just not as many as one typically sees in this format.
Bill Haas drove the 11th green to 8 feet, an eagle that was conceded, although it wasn't enough for him and Nick Watney to catch up to Ogilvy and K.J. Choi. Matt Kuchar hit a putt from off the green that skirted the edge of a bunker. It caught the slope and the wind blew it back on line as it tumbled into the cup for birdie.
Woods almost had a few of them himself.
He holed a 25-foot birdie putt on the toughest green at No. 4, accompanied by a fist pump rarely seen these days. It was his first birdie of the Presidents Cup, and the first – and only hole – that he won. He and Dustin Johnson were 1 down with over the last five holes. Woods had a 60-foot eagle putt on the 15th hole that grazed the lip. And on the last hole, his birdie chip from behind the 18th just ran by the cup as Woods sank to his knees.
For Baddeley and Day, it was a small measure of redemption.
In the opening session, they were headed for a win when Baddeley made blunders on the last two holes – a poor approach and a missed 10-footer for par on the 17th, and a poor 3-wood off the 18th tee into the rough that forced his team to settle for a halve.
Under pressure again, Baddeley delivered with a 25-foot birdie on the 13th to take the lead, a big drive on the 18th and a two-putt par from 45 feet on the 18th, making the par from 3 1/2 feet when it looked to him to be twice that long.
“We are extremely proud of the way Aaron Baddeley bounced back from yesterday,'' Norman said. “I know he was kind of gut wrenched a little bit by what happened on the 18th, but to see what he did – holing that 3 1/2-footer for a win on the last hole – did him a world of good. Did the team a world of good.''