Yo, Europe: How bout 'dem apples?
Welcome to the new era of U.S. team golf, where Tiger Woods has found his new BFF, Phil Mickelson sprinkles gold dust on anything in his path and Freddy (What, Me Worry?) Couples revolutionizes the art of American captaincy.
Couples' game plan: no earpieces to communicate on the course, no walkie-talkie in hand, no kibitzing on the tee box – no stress, no mess.
To call Couples the "Laissez-Faire Captain" is an insult to hard-working laissez-faire people everywhere. The man who once said he didn't like to answer the phone "because somebody might be on the other end" employed a strategy of firing off occasional text messages to his troops, picking out red shirts for Sunday in honor of Tiger and then spending the rest of the time just being Fred Couples, which is nice work, if you can get it.
Couples' pre-Presidents Cup pep talk probably went something like this: Guys, just make sure the plasma HD in the team cabin is tuned to the Yankee playoff games, send Tiger and Steve Stricker out together and I'll see you at the closing ceremony. Hey, anybody seen the remote?
Can't argue with success. The Presidents Cup was drained of drama as soon as Tiger hit that 3-iron from 229 to about 4 feet to win the Saturday morning match. He held a pose with his arms that was part Superman/part mummy-walk, a pure original and a hell of a pose for a future statue. The rest was left for the San Francisco galleries to don their Niners and Giants fleeces and enjoy some leisurely strolls around lovely Harding Park, cheering the butt-kickings on Sunday as needed.
I ain't no mathematician, but counting the '07 Presidents Cup in Montreal, the '08 Ryder Cup at Valhalla and the '09 de-finning of the Shark at Harding, that's three wins in a row for Team USA. The U.S. may be hitting its stride as mid-30s Tiger takes on the role of elder statesman, Steve Stricker continues his Vijay-like explosion in his early 40s and young'uns like Anthony Kim (3-1) and Hunter Mahan (2.5 points) round out the team photo.
Oh, and having Mickelson go 4-0-1 with three different partners – including his reclamation project of Sean O'Hair, turning O'Hair's week around by letting O'Hair bask in the glow of the Mickelson's goofy grin – helps, too. Even Michael Jordan gave Phil a special shout-out after it was all over, citing Mickelson's work with different partners. An assist from MJ? Phil must have felt like Scottie Pippen. By the way, don't mess with Mickelson in California – Torrey Pines, Riviera, Pebble and now Harding. Put Philly Mick in the Pacific time zone and it's Lefty, bar the door.
We may, fellow Yankee golf fans, be easing past the painful days of routine spankings from those Euros in their lavender pants, and from the perplexing days of inexplicable draws against the International team in the gloaming of South Africa.
Of course, it helps to have International captain Greg Norman pick slumping players like Adam Scott (1-4) as a captain's choice and for Camilo Villegas and Retief Goosen to go point-free all week. To be sure, the Internationals played the stooges all too well, and it may be tough to read too much into Team America spanking 'em silly.
For starters, the International team needs to learn how to build a little hate out there. Granted, a bunch of International players are regularly on the PGA Tour, and granted, a bunch of them live in the same Florida neighborhoods as the plucky Americans, but would it take too much effort to at least pretend that they're not regular dinner partners with the Yanks?
I watched one foursome tee off on Thursday and as they walked off the tee box, International team man Vijay Singh fell into lockstep with Stewart Cink, chatting amiably like it was a Tuesday practice round at Quail Hollow. Here we are, trying to work up our best "U-S-A!" chant, and instead the rival player is exchanging warm pleasantries with our guy. I mean, what were they saying? Stew, I forgot to tell you, I have to be out of town next week. Can you guys watch our dog for us?
After Sunday's matches ended and the teams mingled like Little League squads at a year-end BBQ, the increasingly familiar phalanx of cameras were shooting the Japanese teen sensation Ryo Ishikawa. South African Tim Clark sidled up next to Ishikawa, saying, "I want my picture in the paper, I'm gonna stand next to Ryo."
Ishikawa motioned to Ernie Els, telling him to come in for a shot. Angel Cabrera did, too. Pretty soon, they were all grinning as the flashbulbs popped. With a wide smile, Els said, to nobody in particular: "Hey, losing picture!"
They didn't exactly look like the pain would burn in their guts all winter as they cardio-trained in the snowdrifts, a la Rocky Balboa in "Rocky 4."
So watch out, Colin Montgomerie, Euro captain in 2010. The days of Hal Sutton sending out Phil and Tiger together as the Dysfunctional Duo are over. Between Paul Azinger whooping it up at Valhalla last year and "Boom Boom" Couples ambling around Harding talking '90s NBA trivia with His Airness the assistant, Team USA may have found its mojo.
Heads up, Wales: You're next!
Scorecard of the week
Woods/Stricker d. Ogilvy/Angel Cabrera, 5 and 3.
Woods/Stricker d. Ishikawa/Y.E. Yang, 4 and 2.
Woods/Stricker d. Mike Weir/Tim Clark, 1 up.
Woods d. Yang, 6 and 5.
That's what you call a perfect 5-0-0 week for the world's No. 1 player – a first for T-Dub in either the Ryder or the Presidents Cup – and that sound you hear is the paper shredder tearing up the theory that Tiger cares so little about these team events that he'll always be a liability.
Don't get me wrong, I still think Tiger holds these team events somewhere about two thousands spots below major championships on his to-do list, but I'm pitching the theory that Tiger at age 33 is a better teammate and American weapon than Tiger at age 23.
He's been through some life changes – marriage, fatherhood, the passing of his father and, let's not forget, 14 major championships on his ledger. Tiger has less on his individual agenda to prove than he did a decade ago, and as his role as one of the been-there, done-that guys means he's feeling a little less selfish and a little more team-ish.
And maybe, just maybe, missing last year's Ryder Cup with the knee surgery made him miss it all a little bit. Previously, Ryder Cups and Presidents Cups were nothing but the steady nosebleed of team functions and dinners and never-ending commitments, and Tiger didn't like it. Watching last year's American team have a blast at Valhalla might have made Tiger, watching on the couch, think, Hey, give me another run at one of those. I'll drop a 5-spot on the Internationals in no time.
Plus, he has a new best pal in Stricker. Mind you, the life of a Tiger BFF can be perilously short. Just ask former Tiger morning practice-round buddies like David Duval, or Sean O'Hair. Tiger will move on to a new buddy as soon as he spots somebody whose moxie he fancies, but right now, Stricker is that guy.
They're calling Stricker "Mr. September" for his work in the FedEx Cup of late, but with he and Tiger forming Team Buzzsaw at Harding Park, he is now known by his new nickname: "Tiger's Wingman." Afterward, Tiger eschewed any warm and fuzzy analysis of his new partner Stricker, instead paying him a Tiger-esque compliment: The reason he liked playing with him is that they read greens in similar ways.
Plus, Tiger loves it when a partner plays well in his presence, so once the Tiger-Stricker pairing put its first pelt on the wall with a dismembering of Ogilvy and Ishikawa, I'm sure word got back to Freddy: Don't mess.
Couples, like the great hands-off captain he is, didn't mess.
Corey Pavin, take note in Wales 2010: The Cheesehead and the Striped One go off together in the Friday morning sessions.
Broadcast moment of the week
• "And Tiger is saying: Thank you very much … my game is like a Michelangelo!" – Johnny Miller, NBC, as Tiger watched his 3-iron from 229 settle 4 feet from the cup on the 18th hole of the Saturday morning foursomes match to clinch a 1-up win.
For an event that was over pretty much by the time the Niners kicked off against the Falcons a few miles away at Candlestick, the Presidents Cup was short on epic moments of climax.
That's why Saturday morning's Tiger Moment will be the signature shot of Harding's Team USA romp. At the time, the International team was still hanging around, and if Weir and Clark could halve a match with Tiger and Stricker, there'd be some merit to a Sunday that meant something. Faced with 229 yards into a par-5, Tiger hit the 3-iron of the week, and his pose was an entirely new one: arms extended and held parallel to the ground, but at a stylish angle. He held those arms out and stared down his golf ball as he marched to the hole, and even through the TV screen, you knew it was one of those Tiger Things.
He pured it, and when the camera caught up to him stalking up the fairway, he was ripping off his golf glove with a defiant pride, tearing that Velcro for all it was worth after a perfect golf shot. You had to laugh at how good it all was.
Staring at the replay of Tiger's arms-out flourish, Miller dropped his Michelangelo line. I was so enthralled by the moment, I cued it up on TiVo for my wife, who wasn't exactly enthralled by the Presidents Cup, but gets the deal that sometimes, Tiger is good TV even by her standards. I asked her what she thought.
"He looks like Michelangelo, admiring a statue," she observed, completely unaware of Miller's comment.
Holy golf analysis, Batman! My babe and Johnny Miller dropping dueling Michelangelo references. What are the odds, I ask you?
Great minds do think alike. Now I'll wait for my wife to start channeling more Johnny Miller and start telling me I'm "choking" on doing the dishes.
Mulligan of the week
• I hate to pick on Greg Norman, and I hate to give MOW status to the same thing twice, but after watching Adam Scott futz his way around Harding Park, toting a 1-4 mark and looking lost and bereft of his confidence, it's only appropriate to call the Shark out for his "homeboy" pick of fellow Aussie Scott. Love of Aussie rules football and the early albums of Men at Work can only go so far in these situations.
All told, it's been a rough couple of weeks for Norman. He had shoulder surgery last week, had his mesh cowboy hat handed to him by Freddy Couples and then there was the whole Chrissy Evert thing. As fortnights go, Norman's had better.
So let's go back to that fateful day Norman picked Scott, and once more, with feeling … give that man a mulligan!
Mulligan of the week, part two
• Having Mike Jordan stroll the grounds all week was an undeniably enjoyable angle to an otherwise buzz-free Presidents Cup, and by the gushing admiration from some of the young guys – O'Hair and Mahan, in particular, nearly bragged about losing money to Jordan in practice rounds – it was a great move by Cap'n Couples to add sizzle to the event.
What was weak was the news early in the week that Jordan's affinity for fine cigars would earn him a fine from the city of San Francisco, which instituted a "no-smoking" policy on its public golf courses a couple years back.
Say what? In the ultimate open-air venue, how is one man's stogie affecting another man's airspace? My beloved hometown of San Francisco is many wonderful things – physically the most beautiful city in America, wonderfully diverse, rich with quirky history – but it is also a world-class wet-blanket town if it tells Jordan he can't smoke a stogie at Harding.
And trust me, as a guy who has played Harding for the last 20 years, especially back before the renovation when its municipal golf course flag flew proudly amid worn-down fairways and overgrown greens – the notion of banning "smoking," ahem, ahem, cough, cough, for some of my old playing partners who liked to duck into the forest for some private time, would not go over too well. After all, this is San Francisco, friends – home of the Grateful Dead, if you know what I mean.
So Michael, in honor of the big American 'W': Smoke 'em if you got 'em!
Where do we go from here?
• Just got a text from Cap'n Freddy: Party in the American team cabin! No worries: Jordan is providing the smokes.
- Tiger Woods
- Steve Stricker