Rookies shine for Americans in Australia

Playing in his first Presidents Cup, Bubba Watson took it upon

himself to be the voice of experience in the opening round at Royal

Melbourne.

Watson played in the Ryder Cup last year in Wales, his first

time in a team competition with the Stars & Stripes on his

sleeve. Next to him was Webb Simpson, a two-time winner on the PGA

Tour this year who finished second on the money list. Even so, he

was nervous in his first Presidents Cup, and Watson could sense

it.

”I saw he was a little jittery,” Watson said. ”He hit a shot

he normally doesn’t hit. It cut a little bit on No. 4 and I went up

to him and told him he’s the best player here. … And I calmed him

down and made a couple of jokes after that got him laughing and

thinking about the other stuff and not the swing.”

It seemed to have worked. They birdied the next two holes to

square the match and were on their way, combining for seven birdies

in the foursomes match – the most of any team in the difficult

alternate-shot format – and sailed to a 4-and-2 win.

Simpson is among three newcomers to cup competition for the

United States, and they all came through.

The other two are Bill Haas and Nick Watney, who played together

and battled back from 2 down with four holes to play to earn a

halve against Melbourne native Geoff Ogilvy and Masters champion

Charl Schwartzel.

U.S. captain Fred Couples could have put the rookies with

veterans for the opening session. Instead, he had Phil Mickelson

and Jim Furyk reunite for the first time in 12 years. They have

played on 32 cups between them.

Mickelson played his last two Ryder Cups with rookies Anthony

Kim (2008) and Dustin Johnson (2010). He played in the last

Presidents Cup with another rookie, Sean O’Hair. Mickelson also had

rookie David Toms with him at The Belfry in 2002.

”The last few years, there have been some young guys that we

wanted to get out with,” Mickelson said. ”And this year, we feel

like our young guys are ready to play with each other or want to

play with each other and are going to play well with each other –

which they are. That gave Jim and I a chance to do what we have

been wanting to do for a few years.”

If Simpson had the jitters, it didn’t show right away.

Watson crushed his opening tee shot, and Simpson followed with a

short wedge to a back pin on greens that were fast and firm. To get

too aggressive would mean sending the ball over the green. His shot

caught part of the lip.

Oddly enough, his relationship with Watson dates to New Orleans,

when Watson beat Simpson in a playoff. Simpson approached Watson in

early September about playing together in Melbourne, and Watson

already was thinking along the same lines.

”I’m glad Bubba was hitting the first tee shot,” Simpson said.

”He gave me a good pep talk. He could see I was really nervous and

he really helped me. I knew him pretty well before this week, but

now I know him really well and already he’s one of my best friends

and can make me laugh like crazy. I told Freddie if he puts me with

anyone else, I’m going back home.”

Rookies on the International team didn’t fare so well –

Schwartzel having to settle for a halve, and K.T. Kim paired with

Y.E. Yang when they got steamrolled by Toms and Hunter Mahan.

What really stood out were the two Australians, Jason Day and

Aaron Baddeley. They were 3 up with seven holes to play against

Johnson and Matt Kuchar when they let it get away. The Americans

didn’t make a birdie over the last seven holes and still earned a

halve.

Baddeley, the last man picked for the International team by

captain Greg Norman, hit a poor tee shot and a worse chip on the

12th hole that led to bogey. From the middle of the fairway on the

17th, Baddeley missed the green to the left and missed an 8-foot

par putt that would have won the match.

And his worst drive came on the 18th, so far right that Day

could only chop back to the fairway.

”I wasn’t that nervous on that last tee shot,” Baddeley said.

”I don’t know, it was weird. Just hit a terrible shot.”

He and Day spoke of their good experience, saying a half-point

was still better than losing and should give them confidence going

into Friday’s fourballs.

”Sometimes I know I feel probably worse than Aaron feels

because you know how he feels,” Norman said. ”You know he’s

carrying the weight of everybody else. I said, ‘Look, just keep

your head high. Just suck it up. It’s over and done with. It’s

water over the dam and just accept it and it’s done.’

”Now he feels better,” Norman said. ”Now he’s OK, and he

knows he’s playing well.”

Even though the Presidents Cup is held over four days – there is

little time to think compared with the seamless, three-day

competition of the Ryder Cup – Baddeley and Day had to get right

back out there.

Their fourballs match Friday was against Johnson and Tiger

Woods.