US strong, but Tiger and Stricker stink
Tiger Woods was on the range at the Presidents Cup on Thursday, complaining about how uncomfortably hot he was in his lily white pants.
“Now I know how you guys feel at Augusta,” he said to some caddies, who have to wear white overalls at the Masters.
He may have been warm on a sunny Australian spring afternoon, but his interactions in the practice area with Adam Scott and Steve Williams were as cold as ice.
When Woods walked to the tee, however, with the cameras trained on him, he took the high road, extending a hand toward his estranged caddie, who’s been so publicly critical of him.
Williams, still bitter at being fired in July, took a beat but shook hands with the man for whom he pulled clubs in 13 major triumphs.
“As I said, life goes forward,” Woods said. “There are some great things that Stevie and I did. That’s how I look at it. I know he looks at it probably differently than I do. But, hey, life goes forward. I’m very happy with the things we did in our career together.”
Woods wasn’t as happy a few hours later, he and a very rusty Steve Stricker taking off their hats on the 12th green to shake hands again after being slaughtered at Royal Melbourne by Scott and K.J. Choi, 7 and 6.
It was the worst match-play loss of Woods’ career, in any competition, and matched the worst in Presidents Cup history.
“We were just slightly off,” Woods said, charitably. “On a golf course like this, it doesn’t take much. They partnered up well, shot 4 under on us, and we just couldn’t get any kind of pressure on them.”
His saving grace was that while he may have lost the battle, the United States rebounded to win Day 1 at Royal Melbourne, 4-2.
“We had some good comebacks,” Woods said, standing by the 18th green to cheer on teammates.
On greens that were every bit as fast and treacherous as Augusta’s, the Americans claimed a half in each of the two matches that made it to the closing hole to change the tone of the matches.
“Point-wise, we are more excited that we were an hour and a half before the day ended,” US captain Fred Couples said.
Rookies Bill Haas and Nick Watney never held a lead against Geoff Ogilvy, who has a house bordering Royal Melbourne, and Masters champion Charl Schwartzel. But the Americans fought back from two down with four to play to scratch out a half-point.
The one that really got away for Internationals captain Greg Norman came when Aaron Baddeley, one of his picks and another local boy, capitulated down the stretch. He and fellow Aussie Jason Day allowed Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar to snatch a half-point after having the Americans two down with two holes to play.
The Americans had been down since the third hole. The Aussies needed just a par on one of the last two holes, but a bad approach by Baddeley on 17 left Day in a tough spot, leading to a bogey, and then Baddeley blocked a drive way right on the last, forcing Day to chip out, setting up another bogey.
Norman, who’s aware the Internationals have won the first session only twice in the history of the Presidents Cup, knows his team threw away points.
At one point, the Internationals led in five of the six alternate-shot matches.
“I thought it would be a push,” Norman said. “For me, I’m disappointed for my guys. They felt like they let the thing slip. There’s no worse feeling that letting down your other team members.”
Woods and Stricker, who’s coming back from a neck injury, don’t often know that feeling. They were undefeated in the Presidents Cup two years ago, going 4-0, and won their first two matches at last year’s Ryder Cup before finally losing for the first time to Lee Westwood and Luke Donald.
But on Thursday they were the only team on either side not to make a birdie or win even a single hole.
“You have to drive the ball in the fairway and you have to get it down there where you have some kind of nine iron on down because it’s just not holding,” Woods said of the firm, crusty greens. “You have put some serious spin on it.”
Couples has broken up their partnership, pairing Woods with the long-hitting Johnson. They will go up against Baddeley and Day in the second match of the morning in the best-ball format. Stricker will be paired with Kuchar, another player who isn’t at his best.
Although Woods seemed surprisingly relaxed after the loss, he bristled when asked about the first hole, when Scott and Choi refused to concede a two-foot par putt and instead forced the automatic Stricker to make, which he did.
“I was very surprised,” he said. “Probably the best putter on the planet. I don’t think he’s missed one of those coming out of the womb.”