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All The Presidents Men

The Presidents Cup is played every other year on opposite years of its more illustrious big brother, The Ryder Cup. It pits the best 12 American players against an International team made up of the best twelve players (excluding Europeans who make up the Ryder Cup). One would think that even though the Americans are the dominant single country in golf, that a team from all over the world, would give them everything they could handle.

But that has really never been the case, as the U.S. owns a dominant 11-1-1 record. The lone International victory happened in 1998 at venerable Royal Melbourne Golf Club, in Victoria Australia when an inspired team (who included icons, Nick Price, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh and a quartet of Aussie, Greg Norman, Steve Elkington, Stuart Appleby and Craig Parry) gave the U.S. a solid thumping, 20 ½ to 10 ½.

For the Internationals, that has been their only triumph in an otherwise one-sided biennial event that has always lacked the passion and competitiveness of the Ryder Cup.

Part of the hope for the Internationals was that a return to the scene of the only victory would provide the inspiration for what would be the biggest upset in modern day history.

South Africa’s Ernie Els was the Internationals Captain while Tiger Woods was the playing Captain (the first since Hale Irwin carried that double-title in the 1993 Ryder Cup) for the Americans.

On paper the Americans were prohibitive favorites. Ten of the twelve U.S. players were ranked in the Rolex World Golf rankings Top 20 while the only two Internationals on that list were Adam Scott (#18) and Louis Oosthuizen (#20). Just as well they don’t play the games on paper.     

Thursday’s first round was four-ball format (or more commonly known as best ball).

In the opening match U.S. playing Captain Tiger Woods and Justin Thomas dispatched the International duo of Marc Leishman (Australia) and Joaquin Niemann (Chile) handily, with a score of 4&3.

In the second match the tide began to turn in the Internationals’ favor when Adam Hadwin (Canada) and Sungjae Im (South Korea) edged out the heavily favored U.S. pair of Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay 1-up.

The third match provided some of the day’s best golf with the International duo of superstar and local home-boy, Adam Scott and South Korea’s Byeong Hun An defeating Americans, Bryson DeChambeau and Tony Finau 2&1.

The Internationals continued their superb play in the fourth match when Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama and Taiwan’s CT Pan just edged out the U.S. duo of Webb Simpson and Patrick Reed 1-up.

The biggest upset of the day was the fifth and final match when Abraham Ancer (Mexico) and Louis Oosthuizen (South Africa) dismantled overwhelming American favorites, Dustin Johnson and Gary Woodland 4&3.

Those stunning upsets would give the International side a commanding 4-1 advantage after the first day, and their first Day 1 lead since 2005.

At one point during Friday’s second day of Foursomes (alternate shot) the Internationals led in all five matches and appeared on the cusp of routing the Americans. Late day heroics though by Woods and Thomas would salvage their match against An and Matsuyama 1 up, while Cantlay and Schauffele prevailed in in similar nail-biter over Niemann and Hadwin.

Scott and Oosthuizen continued their superb play to beat Johnson and Matt Kuchar 3&2 while Ancer and Leishman prevailed over Simpson and Reed with the same score.

The final match was a see saw affair that ended in a tie between Fowler and Woodland against Cam Smith (Australia) and Im.

Although the days’ matches ended in a 2 ½ to 2 ½ stalemate, it was a moral victory for the U.S. team who could have been hopelessly out of it. Still, the Internationals held a commanding 6 ½ to 3 ½ lead at the halfway point.  

Fowler and Thomas provided a spark for the Americans in Saturday’s morning Fourball matches besting Leishman and Haotong Li 3& 2 but that surge was short lived. Ancer and Im played brilliantly to beat Cantlay and Schauffele 3&2 and Pan and Matsuyama easily dispatched Reed and Simpson 5&3. That is Reed’s 6th consecutive loss in team competitions in the Ryder and Presidents Cup and Captain America’s cape is getting a little ragged.

Finau, partnered with Kuchar, was inspired coming down the stretch making 3 birdies in his final 4 closing holes to get a vital tie with Scott and An. Despite Finau’s heroics though, the U.S. now trailed 5-9 heading into the 4 afternoon Foursome matches.

Johnson and Woodland gave the U.S. the momentum it so desperately needed with a hard fought 2&1 victory over the International’s best players, Scott and Oosthuizen. Cantlay and Schauffele continued their torrid play and prevailed 2&1 over Im and Smith.

When that match ended the Americans still led in both the remaining two matches giving them the opportunity to tie things up at the end of the day. Late round heroics by Leishman and Ancer saw them tie their match with Thomas and Fowler and An and Niemann also were able to salvage a tie with Finau and Kuchar.

The International side would take a 10-8 lead heading into Sunday’s singles matches setting the stage for one of the most closely contested Presidents Cups.

Woods, who had benched himself in Saturday’s matches, would lead off in Sunday’s singles matches, in the hopes that an early victory by him would inspire his teammates. He would face off against Ancer who had been the Internationals best player for the first three days and a worthy opponent for what will probably be Tiger’s final tournament appearance Down Under.  

Just as planned, Woods bested Ancer easily 3&2 in the first singles match to begin the American rally.

That win was followed by a tie by Matsuyama and Finau (which was like a loss for the Internationals as Matsuyama had a 4-up lead at one point). Reed would beat Pan 4&2 and when Johnson took care of Li 4&3, the U.S. team lead for the first time in the event, 11 ½ to 10 ½.

DeChambeau and Hadwin tied the next match and Im upset Woodland 4&3 to tie things up again at 12 points apiece.

The Americans would seal the deal though winning the next three matches. Cantlay defeated Niemann 3&2, Schauffele edged Scott 2&1 and Simpson beat An 2&1. Smith gave the Internationals a final glimmer of hope with a 2&1 win over Thomas but when Kuchar tied Oosthuizen On the penultimate match, it would clinch the Cup for the U.S. In the final match Fowler and Leishman tied making the final result a 16-14 win for the USA.

The International team was valiant in the face of an overwhelming force, with a great many of their players performing in the biggest stage of their lives. Aside from the tie in 2003 this was the closest contest in 14 Presidents Cups, but that Pyrrhic victory, cannot hide the dominance of the American side.

The Ryder Cup became exciting in the 1980’s when the European team finally won after decades of futility. One gets the feeling that unless the Internationals can start winning, the event will remain a nice off-season distraction, but not really a tournament that reaches the excitement level of its more famous cousin.