By Jeffrey A. Rendall; Photos by Jeffrey A. Rendall
LAKE MANASSAS, VA – A few things were obvious when watching the 2005 version of the Presidents Cup. First, that there’s no reason, at all, to take these matches less seriously than the Ryder Cup. Second, the American Team’s clutch play kept things close on the first three days, then took over on Sunday.
Finally, the Americans were motivated... very motivated, in fact.
|Always a fan favorite, Australian Adam Scott rarely had trouble standing out from a crowd.|
On point one, both the players and the spectators were very into it. We gathered from NBC that the players were close… that they’d held meetings and told stories and ‘bonded’ together. Then we heard them say the right things into the microphone – heck, I’d even say I almost saw Jack Nicklaus with tears in his eyes on several occasions. And I loved every minute of it.
You almost expected someone to say the Yanks were visited by a Svengali and became blood related through association.
The 2005 Presidents Cup was everything the last two Ryder Cups lacked, at least from the Americans’ perspective. Maybe it’s because they don’t take it as seriously, and don’t feel as much pressure. Maybe it’s because the format suits them. Maybe they just like the International players more. Or maybe, they finally found a way to look the other team in the eye, and not give a squat what happens.
|Much was made of David Toms' heart condition, but in the end, it was some gutty play that earned him a victory on Sunday.|
Whatever the answer, it worked. The Internationals may have appeared slightly more talented on paper, yet when it came down to making the putts, the Americans prevailed. Europe should take note – with a newfound proficiency in this type of setting, the Americans will ‘bring it’ when they visit Ireland next year to challenge for the Ryder Cup.
Els Wasn’t There… So What?
Folks are already lining up to make excuses for the Internationals, primarily because of the absence of their second ranked player, Ernie Els, who was sidelined due to injury. Would it have made a difference?
|Vijay Singh follows the path of a putt -- perhaps wondering how some solid play could net him so few points. If he'd putted better, the Internationals might have won.|
Perhaps, but not three points’ worth, which was the margin of victory.
That’s because, at the top of the International line-up, there were still plenty of points to be had. One of the most deadly pairings of all-time had to be the team of Retief Goosen and Adam Scott, who achieved what the Woods/Mickelson coupling (of 2004) didn’t even close to doing – staging a series of dominating victories on the first three days of competition. Goosen then went on to defeat Woods in singles – something a lot of guys can mark their careers by.
Els is marginally (in a statistical sense) better than his replacement, Trevor Immelman, but his presence wouldn’t have made the difference. Immelman is a fine player, and earned a point for his team on the first day’s matches. Els has been inconsistent with injuries and other issues in 2005, and we can only wonder ‘what might have been’ if he’d been at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in 2005. But being there wouldn’t have tipped the balance for the International team.
|Scott Verplank didn't win every match, but still managed to make an impact as a reliable, if unspectacular player.|
The Guys Came to Play
After last year’s drubbing in the Ryder Cup, one had to wonder how the American team would respond. Would they fold? Would they charge? Could Jack Nicklaus expect more from them than Hal Sutton had been able to bring out?
Thanks to some fruitful pairings, there was no such thing as ‘quit’ in this American squad. Though world #1 Tiger Woods continued to struggle in the team match play format, his ‘mates’ came through. 2006 Ryder Cup Captain Tom Lehman had his burden lessened considerably this week, in that he found partners for his two biggest stars, and won’t have to waste points speculating on whether they will gel well together.
|Retief Goosen did his part replacing Ernie Els -- he played in five matches and surrendered only one-half point.|
Woods seemed to team well with Furyk, as they often shared the greens-reading burden and genuinely looked comfortable together on the course – something that’s usually lacking with whoever is with Tiger.
Similarly, the same can be said of the DiMarco/Mickelson duo, whose performances paralleled that of Scott/Goosen. DiMarco has the perfect personality for team competitions, as he wears his heart on his sleeve – and then has the game to back it up. Watching him sink putt after putt, it almost reminded me of Colin Montgomerie in the 2002 Ryder Cup. The guy just seemed like he was in a trance, and Mickelson rode the wave.
Another Notable Absence
|Jim Furyk sizes up a putt on Sunday. He nearly had to pull out of Friday's match due to a rib injury, but it was only the Internationals who were hurting after that.|
Much was made of the absence of Els, but how about another notable ‘distraction’ missing – Tiger’s regular caddy, Steve Williams? The lack of Williams seemed to have a positive effect on Woods, in that we saw quite a more ‘gentlemanly’ Tiger, and the galleries weren’t constantly berated by Williams’ replacement, Billy Foster (who usually carries for Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke).
It would only be a guess, but perhaps Woods got more involved with the ‘partnering’ duties with Furyk because he wanted a second opinion on the greens, and didn’t have Williams there to play the role.
The Team Ideal
|Angel Cabrera wowed the spectators with his spectacular length off the tee. He's done well for years in the Masters... now, perhaps, people will recognize him as a world-class player.|
Perhaps the largest single advantage that the Americans will take into next year’s Ryder Cup (and learned from the 2005 Presidents Cup) is that the team doesn’t revolve around Tiger Woods. Make no mistake, Tiger’s ability to execute miraculous shots and get the crowds involved will always be an asset – but the core of the team appears to be comprised of a couple grinders, Jim Furyk and Chris DiMarco (and to a lesser extent, someone like Fred Couples).
No one doubts the individual abilities of Woods and Phil Mickelson, and over the course of a four-round regular tournament, only a fool would bet against them on a regular basis. But in this winner-takes-all match play format where one bad bounce can make all the difference, you’ve got to have the temperament to take a punch, then deliver one back almost immediately. Furyk and DiMarco are those types of players, and it was proven over and over again, especially on the putting greens.
A lot’s being made of Furyk and DiMarco being the perfect compliments to Woods and Mickelson, but arguably, you could’ve paired these two with any of the other players and the results would’ve been the same.
|Tiger Woods enjoyed his usual huge galleries everytime he played. Here, he's eyeing an approach shot that would net him a birdie.|
When you make six or seven birdies in a Four-Ball (Best-Ball) match, you’re going to make somebody look awful good. The fact that the two best American players were standing next to you when you do it – well, everyone thinks magic was made. And Furyk’s taking it to Adam Scott on Sunday (in their singles match) should not be discounted – he had one heck of a week, and beat arguably the Internationals’ hottest player.
DiMarco’s crucial putt on the 18th hole was certainly dramatic, but not necessarily more important than several others he made earlier on to win or halve holes. DiMarco’s a perfect symbol for American team golf, because he’s a likeable guy, does some rather unorthodox things (claw putting grip and somewhat unusual swing) and has endured some heartbreaking ‘individual’ losses in the past.
Furyk is a rock-solid player, and also does some unusual things. He’s won a US Open, but what most people remember is the fact that he’s a nice guy as well as a real champion.
|Another relative unknown for the Internationals, Mark Hensby held up well during the Presidents Cup.|
These guys are your team leaders, even though their rankings might not indicate it. And these players will be the core of next year’s Ryder Cup matches for the United States Team.
Teams Without Logos
Here’s one commentator who doesn’t mind the commercialization of professional sports – it’s just an avenue for manufacturers to show what they can do, and gives the players some added income. Only a token few at the highest level derive huge chunks of cash from them, while the vast majority of journeymen professionals need the sponsorship to pursue their dreams.
|As quietly as is possible for a player of his stature, Phil Mickelson redeemed himself for a very poor performance last year in the Ryder Cup, and in 2003 in the last Presidents Cup.|
Without sponsors and logos, the game wouldn’t be where it’s at.
But wasn’t it nice to see all these players grouped together without a commercial to be found? Someone in the gallery pointed out Goosen’s shoes (with the Adidas’ trademark of three stripes), but other than that, it was difficult to decipher who’s paying whom to wear or play what.
For a week each year, at least, the best players in professional golf give it up for the team, and country. So do the manufacturers – not to be left out.
|Peter Lonard hits from a fairway bunker. The winner of this year's Heritage Classic, Lonard's an Australian whose name will become more known as time and tournaments go by.|
With that being said, wasn’t it weird to see NBC’s close-up shots of Tiger Woods playing a Callaway ball (during the alternate shot matches with Jim Furyk as partner)?
At least in some respects, it never quite goes away. And that’s fine.
A Grand Stage
|Chris DiMarco in a fairway bunker on Sunday. He didn't hit from trouble very often, and when he did, he got out of it. In the future, when you think '2005 Presidents Cup,' you'll think 'Chris DiMarco.'|
In our Presidents Cup preview, the Golf Channel’s Frank Nobilo said an event of this type needs a grand stage – and Robert Trent Jones Golf Club met the bill. With the front nine’s three spectacular par threes, a couple par fives that surrendered eagles and some incredibly scenic holes on the back nine – it was a memorable setting for a historic event.
They did some working with the numbering of the holes to make it work even better, including making the ‘real’ 18th hole play as the 16th (so it wouldn’t be bypassed by concluded matches), but the course itself held its own very well.
All in all, a great event.
The Presidents Cup
September 22-25, 2005
Robert Trent Jones Golf Club
Gary Player, International team
International: Vijay Singh, Retief Goosen, Adam Scott, Angel Cabrera, Tim Clark, Michael Campbell, Stuart Appleby, Mike Weir, Nick O’Hern, Mark Hensby, Peter Lonard and Trevor Immelman.
For more information: http://www.pgatour.com/tournaments/presidentscup
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