Woods still winless, but US still winning

Too often in international competitions, the United States has relied on Tiger Woods to lead the way.

But no more.

Perhaps it’s indicative of a new order in golf, of the era of parity that’s following the Tiger era, that the load is being shared by those wearing the stars and stripes at this Presidents Cup.

A team of rookies, Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson, and the veteran pairing of Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk have won both their opening matches to help the US to a 7-5 edge against Greg Norman’s Internationals going into the weekend at Royal Melbourne.

Woods, stunningly, is the only American without a point.

For the first time in a Presidents Cup — and only the second time in his career, the other being the 2004 Ryder Cup when Hal Sutton disastrously paired him with nemesis Mickelson — Woods has started with two losses.

How was he taking it?

"He laughed about it," US captain Fred Couples said. "Not many times where he doesn’t win a point through a couple of rounds. But you know what, we are up by two points and that’s all I really care about. And I would say Tiger does the same.

"He played very well today. Jason Day and Aaron Baddeley threw it all at them and they won 1-up."

It’s certainly true Woods had to carry the rusty Steve Stricker in the first match — played in the alternate-shot format — and that he hit a lot of impressive shots in a losing effort while paired in the less restrictive best-ball format with Dustin Johnson on Friday.

But there was something less tangible missing.

There was a time when Woods would’ve hit it a little closer or made another putt here or there, chipped one in; sprinkled a little magic dust on a match like this and found a way to win 1-up instead of losing 1-down.

In his defense, it wasn’t easy. Indeed, golf’s rarely more brutal than it was on Friday.

Before the second day’s play began, Norman felt the hot winds gusting off the dry Australian interior — the famous "nor’westerlies," which feel like a giant blow dryer on your face, changing speeds, but never offering a moment of comfort — and declared that the players were in store for a difficult test.

"On a scale of one to 10, give it an 11," the Shark said.

He wasn’t exaggerating.

"It’s carnage on a golf course like this today," Aussie star Adam Scott said. "Thank goodness it’s match play and we weren’t really counting our strokes."

Ernie Els once shot 60 around here, but on Friday he was much closer to 80, and he wasn’t alone.

Watson hit a good putt for birdie on the fourth green and watched his ball roll off the green and into the fairway, 100 feet away. The par-3 fifth played just 135 yards, yet it was near-impossible to stop the ball on the cement-like putting surface.

"This is crazy," Mickelson said. "We’ll never see something like this in an everyday golf course. We rarely see it in a major.

"To have green speeds over 14 with wind blowing 15, 25 miles an hour, that was incredible. To have to read the wind of a putt more so than the break, that’s pretty cool.

"If you had this situation in a US Open or a British Open, we would probably curse."

Geoff Ogilvy, who has a home bordering the course and as much experience playing here as anyone other than Norman, declared that "Royal Melbourne doesn’t get any harder than this."

"It’s just unbelievable how short a club you have to hit downwind," he said.

"You catch yourself thinking, ‘There’s just no way from 165 yards I can hit sand iron,’ but it’s the only sensible club to hit, because anything more is going to go off the back.

"Anyone breaking par, it’s an astonishing score."

Woods couldn’t have agreed more.

"Just trying to hit the greens, that was definitely an accomplishment," he said.

Couples might have thought the day would’ve gone better for his team, but there were two clutch moments by the Internationals that kept Norman’s team close.

Baddeley — who’d been the goat on the first day, imploding down the stretch to hand the US a half-point — redeemed himself by sealing the victory against Woods and Johnson with a 3½-foot tester on the last.

"Badds has got a lot of heart," said his partner, Day.

The other big point came when Ogilvy drained a difficult six-footer on the last to get the win against Bill Haas and Nick Watney.

"To me, it was looking like a 4-2 again," Norman said of the way the session was going. "I’m extremely proud of the boys, especially Aaron Baddeley. I know he was gut-wrenched a little bit by what happened on the 18th, but to see what (he and Ogilvy did) really helped us generate a lot of momentum."

But Couples pointed to the scoreboard.

"We hung in there, we won three points, we didn’t lose any ground and we’re still up by two."