JERSEY CITY, N.J.—When it comes to this Presidents Cup, former NFL coach Dennis Green already wrote the epitaph: they are who we thought they are. Which is to say, the U.S. team is deeper, stronger and more talented, and it showed on the leaderboard as they took a 3.5-1.5 lead. No thinking person expected the Internationals to win this thing; the only hope now is that they can scrounge up enough points so the Cup isn’t over on Saturday.
Dustin Johnson. With the U.S. enjoying blowouts in the first and third matches, the second one became crucial. Adam Scott and Jhonny Vegas led for most of the front nine but Johnson and Matt Kuchar brought it back to square through 15 holes. On the par-3 16th hole, DJ hit a laser to seven feet, setting up a crucial birdie that won the hole. On 18, another pure iron shot from Johnson closed out the taut 1-up victory.
Charl Schwartzel. He was sent out in the first match to provide a steadying influence but sunk his young partner Hideki Matsuyama with a early-round swoon, missing a bunny on the sixth hole and then dumping his tee shot into the middle of a lake on the seventh, clearing the stage for Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas’s tone-setting 6 & 4 blowout. Honorable mention to Jason Day (see his catalogue of Worst Shots, below) and Daniel Berger, who was quite shaky in his Presidents Cup debut, a 3 & 1 loss to the taciturn South African duo of Branden Grace and Louis Oosthuizen.
Marc Leishman’s lusty high-fiving of some overserved and overcostumed Canucks after chipping-in for sn eagle on the par-5 9th hole.
Mickelson and Kisner doing the double-slap-blow-it-up hand gesture that even elementary school kids find tedious.
Emiliano Grillo’s likeable pandering to the crowd by way of a Yankees cap.
The Americans’ chunky horizontal striped polos. Not only did they look like escaped cons, it wasn’t a particularly flattering pattern for the likes of Patrick Reed.
Having the 42nd, 43rd and 44th Presidents of the United States on hand for the opening ceremonies made for good fun.
Obama, in shades, looked ready to play a set at the Village Vanguard; the red-faced Clinton appeared as if he wandered in from the parking lot at a NASCAR event, having left his hat and sunglasses next to the keg; Bush had the jovial countenance of a dude sitting at his grandkid’s soccer game. Special shout-out to Mickelson for taking a selfie with all three; proving definitely that he’s not ready for SB2K18, Phil nearly cropped himself out of the frame.
Dustin and Rickie each had stylish hole-outs, but the nod here goes to Brooks Koepka’s 365-yard rocket off the first tee, all the more impressive because Obama and Clinton were crowding the box. Koepka’s hyper-aggressive line seemingly took on all of New York Harbor, but he easily cleared the water, leading to a flip-wedge birdie that won the hole.
Match 5 featured a cornucopia of them! All square playing the 11th hole, Mickelson drove his ball nearly off the property. Kisner had a fairly straightforward recovery out of the leaves but thinned his shot straight into a hillock a few feet in front of him. D’oh! The Internationals won the hole to take their first lead… and then Day stepped to the tee of the drivable 12th and dumped his tee shot into the water, losing the hole in a crucial momentum swing. Day later blew a must-make par putt on the 17th hole and then hooked his tee shot on the windy 18th into the rough on the short-side, then missed a par putt that could have offered salvation. Mickelson, with a chance to provide a defining moment, then missed his own putt, an unceremonious end to a rather boring day.
Most Inspired Pairing
Plenty of captains have been guilty of over-thinking things, but Stever Stricker went from strength to strength in putting together good buddies Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler. They displayed the expected good vibes and a ton of firepower in their blowout in the opening match.
Most Second-Guessable Pairing
Nick Price sent out two rookies together in Grillo and S.W. Kim and they got boat-raced by Jordan Spieth and Capt. America, Patrick Reed.
As always, they didn’t come from the U.S. fans, who mindlessly chant “U-S-A!” over and over. Among the greatest hits from the Internationals fans:
“In the Apple/the great Big Apple/the Louie sleeps tonight” to the tune of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” from The Lion King.
“Oh I believe in Jason Day/Why the vertigo/I don’t know/We couldn’t say” to the tune of “Yesterday” by the Beatles.
And my personal favorite: “I Si Woo Kim/ shakin’ that ass” to the tune of “I See You Baby” by Groove Armada.