SAN FRANCISCO — Zach Johnson lay spread-eagled on the 15th green, flat on his back after South Africa’s Tim Clark holed yet another putt for yet another birdie. Call it a comedic compliment, because Johnson made five birdies on the back nine, including one at the 15th moments earlier, but Clark finished with seven straight 3s to deliver a knockout blow to Johnson, 4 and 3.
Johnson’s flop was the perfect microcosm of this Presidents Cup at chilly Harding Park, only in reverse. Johnson looked like the International squad felt after getting run over by the 18-wheeler that was the American team in Sunday’s singles finals.
The final score wasn’t indicative of the last-day whupping. The U.S. won the Cup, 19 1/2-14 1/2, but it wasn’t really that close.
How much of a rout was this? The Americans won the five matches they needed to clinch the Cup before the Internationals managed to score a single point. This time, Yogi Berra was wrong — it was over before it was over. The U.S. had the Presidents Cup wrapped up by 1:30 p.m. Pacific time. Woods did the honors himself, rolling in a putt for his fifth birdie to easily finish off Y.E. Yang, 6 and 5. Woods was a perfect 5-0 for the week.
It couldn’t have been good for NBC to have Tiger done and the Cup already won with 90 minutes of airtime left to fill and NFL games beckoning on other channels.
Woods was only the third player since Mark O’Meara and Shigeki Maruyama to have a 5-0 record in Presidents Cup play. It was hardly a surprise. If there was one singles match that seemed like a mortal lock, it was Woods vs. Yang. Tiger is a proven avenger. Any perceived slight or old defeat gets paid back, sooner or later. Yang, who beat Tiger at this year’s PGA Championship to become the first player to knock him off when he had the 54-hole lead in a major championship, was in trouble from the start. (Tiger also teamed with Steve Stricker to trounce Yang and Ryo Ishikawa in Saturday’s four-ball matches, 4 and 2.)
Woods was typically coy when asked if beating Yang meant anything special to him. “I tried to get my point, and I got my point,” he said with a knowing grin. In Tigerspeak, that’s as close to a “yes” as you’re going to get.
Unfortunately, the Presidents Cup finale wasn’t much of a show. The singles were a disappointing anticlimax after three days of close, hard-fought matches in which a handful of strokes effectively accounted for the Americans’ advantage. Captain Greg Norman’s players needed a good start Sunday and a huge effort to win the eight matches they needed. There was no such charge.
“Each of our guys gave 101 percent,” Norman said. “I look back over four days and five rounds and my guys stacked up in ballstriking. The Americans probably outputted us.”
That was pretty much the scouting report going into the matches. It certainly described the start of Sunday’s play. The Internationals badly needed a couple of early wins, but Hunter Mahan and Stewart Cink made sure that didn’t happen. Mahan handled Camilo Villegas in the opening singles match, 2 and 1, but it was actually Cink who drew first blood and put up the first point. He was five under par through 15 holes, soundly defeating Adam Scott, 4 and 3.
Two more blowouts helped eliminate any doubt about the outcome. Anthony Kim, who had struggled with his game the first three days, came to life and held a 4-up lead over Robert Allenby through 11 holes. He won, 5 and 3. Sean O’Hair, who had struggled with his putting stroke, got off to a birdie-birdie start and pummeled Ernie Els, 6 and 4.
It was easy to see those wins coming well before they were finalized. And on the tail end of the scoreboard, there was Woods administering his thrashing of Yang. Tiger was already 4 up at the turn, leaving little doubt about how that match was going to turn out. With three big leads in matches, it was well before 1:30 when the realization that the Presidents Cup was already over hit home.
“It was almost demoralizing,” said Vijay Singh, who conceded a putt to Lucas Glover on their final hole so their meaningless match would end in a halve.
“It was a good gesture,” said Glover. “We were out there when Tiger won on 13, and we were ready to go right in then.”
Woods will go down as the Man of the Matches this week because of his unbeaten mark, but he owes Stricker a big thank you. He couldn’t have done it without his partner. Stricker and Phil Mickelson probably played the best golf of anyone, although Stricker lost his singles match to Geoff Ogilvy and Mickelson and Sean O’Hair settled for a halve in their Saturday four-ball match.
Jim Furyk also had a noteworthy week, practically winning his Saturday four-ball match by himself when Kim was off his game. Kim bounced back with the big singles win. So did Cink and O’Hair. Like all Cup victories, this one really was a team effort.
“Basically, these guys did it all,” said U.S. captain Fred Couples. “For me, it was a fun thing to have Tiger and Steve beat up on everybody. I wanted Tiger to win every match, and I thought that was important to our team. Every tournament Tiger plays, everyone wants to know what he’s shooting and where he’s at, and the Presidents Cup is no different. For Tiger and Steve to win every match, we basically shut their team down from saying, ‘Hey, we have them where we want them.’ That was a big boost to us.”
There was agreement on both sides that the Cup’s turning point was when Woods and Stricker rallied from one down on the 17th hole in Saturday’s foursomes match to beat Mike Weir and Tim Clark on the 18th. Woods made a long birdie putt on the 17th to square the match and played a masterful 3-iron second shot into the par-5 18th green. That led to a conceded eagle and a 1-up win.
“That was a big change for the team,” Stricker said. “It gave us big momentum. It was a blast to play with Tiger, and I felt like I held up my end of the deal, which was a big concern for me coming into this. I wanted to make sure I contributed, and I felt like I did.”
The victory raised the Americans’ record to 6-1-1 in this event. In 2011, the Presidents Cup will be played at Royal Melbourne Golf Club in Australia. The captains haven’t been chosen yet, but it would be shocking if Norman, Australia’s greatest golfer, wasn’t asked for an encore performance. Couples seems a likely choice, too, and his star turn as captain has to have PGA of America officials looking at him as a prime candidate for Ryder Cup captain in 2012.
“Fred just seemed to be on top of everything — even details, which isn’t his personality,” said Mickelson. “We were impressed with the job he did.”
In the end, that’s what everyone was saying about the entire American team.