Royal Melbourne shows its teeth at Presidents Cup

November 18, 2011

MELBOURNE, Australia — Two nights before the Presidents Cup began, Greg Norman titillated a gala crowd when he compared Royal Melbourne in benign conditions to a lady who'll give you a look up her skirt.

In the next breath, he warned not to get too excited because she'll shut you down in a heartbeat should you become too enamored.

Just 24 hours after some breathtaking scoring, Royal Melbourne delivered that dismissive slap during the fourball session on day two of the Cup.

A sedate Thursday gave way to a gusting northerly wind on Friday, and the course that yielded birdies everywhere during the alternate-shot matches on day one gave away precious few during the better-ball matches on day two: just 42 birdies (and one eagle) among 24 of the world's best players.

Before play, International captain Norman called the pin positions "brutal." Afterward, he poured water on a green. Rather than soaking in, it sat like wine spilled on a table before slowly trickling down the contours that had so baffled the world's best only minutes earlier.

This was a day that will be remembered for the venerable old lady of Australian golf brushing off every advance and getting revenge with some vicious slaps of her own. As the hot, dry wind gusted as high as 40 miles per hour, holes that had been sitting ducks spread their wings and became soaring falcons.

It will also be recalled for Aaron Baddeley finding redemption just 24 hours after being distraught at having cost his team a near certain point on day one after a drive on the home hole that would have made an amateur blush.

This time around, on the same hole, Baddeley made a 4-foot putt to save par and spare himself and Jason Day the blushes of another late collapse. They beat Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson, 1 up.

"Yesterday was very disappointing, even though we still got a halve," Baddeley said. "But it was great to bounce back. We are a team, and I feel like we feed well off each other, and we get on great out there. To beat Tiger and Dustin, which is a tough pair to beat, it's pretty special."

The win enabled the International team to split the day's six points, leaving the Americans with a 7-5 lead heading into day three.

It also left Woods with an unwanted distinction as the only American without a point. In fact, his win on the fourth hole is the only one he and his partners have enjoyed in the 30 holes he has played through two days.

At the other end of the scale, veterans Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk joined Presidents Cup rookies Webb Simpson and Bubba Watson, along with the International team's K.J. Choi, as the only players to have won both points available to them so far.

After Mickelson and Furyk wrestled Adam Scott and K.T. Kim for almost six hours in their 2-and-1 victory, which locked in the visitors' third point of the day after a late International rally, Mickelson summed up the manic day.

"This is crazy, when you get wind like this on greens that are 14-plus on the stimpmeter, it's hard to even imagine it because you never see it at the local club," Mickelson said. "It was Augusta (National) in the 1990s … it was a case when we were trying to read the wind on putts."

American assistant captain Jay Haas said: "I don't think I've played anything this difficult."

Yet despite such graphic descriptions, barely a negative word was uttered of the first lady of the Sandbelt. The admiration for Royal Melbourne's nuances was universal among the players, even those to whom she put to the sword.

It's a course that relies on mother nature as its frontline defense.

The fairways are typically generous and at times more than 50 yards wider than some used in U.S. Opens, but that was the most common comparison after Royal's showing on Friday.

It's remarkable that a course that was largely the brainchild of world-revered designer Alister MacKenzie — conceived in 1926 when balls more closely resembled oversized concrete marbles than today's aerodynamic rockets — can still tame the world's best.

Her one-two punch of slate-like putting surfaces and the positional play required to access tricky pins is still a potentially lethal combination.

In these days of NASA technology in every hacker's golf bag, it's endearing that an old-fashioned dame can still carry a big stick for those who dare to give her a hard time.

Even if she occasionally hikes up her skirt above the kneeline.