MELBOURNE, Australia — There was a mighty roar around a packed Royal Melbourne when Tiger Woods shook Steve Williams's hand on the first tee.
But it was, effectively, the last one Woods heard all day as the much-hyped first public meeting of the former mates since the Kiwi caddie's recent racial slur against his former boss turned into a day the American would rather forget.
Woods, teamed with Steve Stricker, suffered his worst match-play defeat ever,losing 7-and-6 to K.J. Choi and Williams’s new boss Adam Scott. It equaled the worst loss in Presidents Cup history. (David Frost hammered Kenny Perry in 12 holes in 1996 Sunday singles.) Yet the United States team dodged late bullets to surge to a 4-2 lead after a dramatic opening day of the 2011 Presidents Cup.
If before the day you'd told skipper Freddie Couples his 2009 aces would be smoked in the final match out, then added that local heroes Jason Day and Aaron Baddeley would have Matt Kuchar and his second-highest-ranked player Dustin Johnson (No. 6) on toast for much of the afternoon, he'd have been nervous.
But the Aussie pair crashed to two closing bogeys, following a similar finish by Geoff Ogilvy and Charl Schwartzel that handed valuable half-points to the visitors on a day when Woods and Stricker were, remarkably, their only losers.
Woods was, almost inevitably, the center of attention. School children clambered up boundary fences to watch him on their lunch break. Their timing had to be precise because it turned out that the former World No. 1 was only on course for two-and-a-half hours.
In facing Scott, Woods also came up against his former caddie Williams, whose acrimony at their split spilled into a racial slur in China earlier this month. Woods said that they had buried the hatchet with a private meeting before last week's Australian Open, but this was the first time their paths had crossed publicly.
They shook hands on the first tee and again only 11 holes later, but both were brief exchanges with no extraneous pleasantries, despite the 13 major championships victories they have shared.
Woods and Stricker won all their four games together in the 2009 Presidents Cup and had two more wins at the Ryder Cup last year before being blitzed 6-and-5 by Luke Donald and Lee Westwood. That had been Woods's heaviest match-play loss, but it has now been relegated after his team failed to make a single birdie or win a single hole Thursday.
"Unfortunately they got off to a quick start and we couldn't keep up," Woods said. "We kept finding ourselves on the wrong side of the slopes and the course is so difficult it's hard to make up shots."
It was the last match to begin, and the first to conclude. Every other player saw more holes at tricky Royal Melbourne, and by the end of the session the U.S. team was able to take back momentum, and the early lead, thanks to some spectacular shot-making.
Fiery Bubba Watson teamed with in-form Webb Simpson to steamroll Ernie Els and Ryo Ishikawa 4-and-2 to earn the Americans' first point.
Simpson put the Americans back on track with some key putts after they trailed by two holes early, but Watson stole the show when he rolled in a curling, uphill 55-foot par putt on the par-4 12th.
"It was so far away and all they had to do was two-putt if you miss, so you almost give 'em the hole, then you relax and hit a good putt,” Watson said about the bomb that triggered an exuberant two-handed fist-pumping celebration.
"But when it was halfway to the hole, I was thinking of the old highlights of people doing heroic stuff … and then it went in and I was like, `How do I celebrate? Do I yell?’” Watson said. “This isn't our hometown, I don't know what to do. No noise came out, but I shook my hands a little bit."
Ishikawa's normally precise irons went astray during the middle of the round, and the Americans cashed in, moving from 2-down to 3-up in the space of nine holes. And it took some precise Els bunker shots to keep it that close as he mopped up after his wayward Japanese teammate.
Hunter Mahan and David Toms were almost as impressive, demolishing Koreans Y.E. Yang and K.T. Kim 6-and-5, and the score became 3-1 when Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk blasted Retief Goosen and Robert Allenby 4-and-3.
At that point it still looked as though the Internationals would end the day square. But from 2-up with four to play, Ogilvy and Schwartzel lost the 15th and 16th and were relieved to finish all square with Bill Haas and Nick Watney after Haas missed a 13-footer to win at the last.
Worse followed for the Internationals. Baddeley and Day, who had been 3-up on Johnson and Kuchar with seven to play and were still two clear on the 17th tee, but Baddeley had two holes he'd rather forget.
The Melburnian missed the green short on the 17th, then, after failing to hole from six feet for the match, hit a shocking drive against a tree right of the 18th fairway to effectively cede the half-point and the momentum.
"It didn't look like 4-2 — we got a little lucky," Couples reflected afterwards.
Shot(s) of the Day
Both from the same match:
1) Webb Simpson, from 183 yards, blasted a 6-iron from a fairway trap on the long par-4 ninth to within three feet at a back, right pin for a conceded birdie.
2) Bubba Watson, from 55 feet, curled in an uphill swinging bomb to ultimately halve the 12th hole just as Ernie Els seemed set to mount a comeback. His celebration was one for the ages.
My Favorite Moment
Bubba Watson jokingly labeled himself an American team "veteran"
after his debut in the Stars and Stripes at last year's Ryder Cup.
But he used that knowledge to full advantage in helping first stabilize, then inspire PGA Tour revelation Webb Simpson to the first point of this year's Presidents Cup.
Their 4-and-2 victory was born when they pressed to be a pairing after a chat in a Bible study group in New Orleans earlier this year. And their teamwork and friendship were clearly evident during their match Thursday.
"He can see shots out of trouble, he loves hitting 'em and that's what I do, so it's a good gel," Watson said.
But it wasn't all golf swings that powered the duo. In fact, it was Watson’s comedy prowess that set the pair rolling in the right direction after trailing 2-down through four holes.
"I made a couple of loose swings, but Bubba told me on the fourth green that I'm one of the best players in the world and to just start hitting golf shots," Simpson said. "Then he told me a couple of jokes and made me laugh out there like crazy.
"I felt much better after that, much more relaxed, made a couple of putts [for birdies on five and six] and … it put confidence in my head,” Simpson said.
"I told Freddie that if he puts me with anyone else, I'm going home.”