JERSEY CITY, N.J. – With 1,300 fans crowded in around the first tee at Liberty National it was impossible to see the scoreboard at the 12th Presidents Cup, but you really didn’t need to see the math to know the moment.
U.S. captain Steve Stricker could have marched two of his assistants – Tiger Woods and Davis Love III, one rehabbing from back surgery and the other inching toward retirement, being the popular choices – onto the tee for the afternoon fourball session and they really wouldn’t have changed what everyone crowded around the opening hole already knew.
This thing is over. Had been for some time.
It was over before the final team matches set out on a blustery afternoon along the Hudson River, and the U.S. side’s fourball performance, a 3-1 frame that extended the home side’s lead to 14 ½ to 3 ½, only put an exclamation point on a competition that had long ago turned ugly for the Rest of the World.
From the chants of the capacity crowd that echoed across the former toxic dump to the smiles on the faces of Stricker and his assistants, this was a blowout of historic proportions.
It took a heroic effort from India’s Anirban Lahiri, who birdied the 16th and 17th holes to hold off Charley Hoffman and Kevin Chappell, to keep the U.S. from closing out the Internationals on Saturday, which has never happened at either the Ryder or Presidents cups.
But then you didn’t need to see a scoreboard to know this thing had gotten out of hand. You could hear it. You could see it etched into the knowing grins of the Americans.
Rickie Fowler charged into the grandstands surrounding the first tee to lead the celebration, and Kevin Kisner followed him like he’d just cleared the hedges at Georgia’s Sanford Stadium – it was more celebration than competition at this point. Perhaps it was a bit premature, but it was perfectly understandable given the U.S. team’s performance.
The Americans high-fived and fist-pumped and performed strangely pre-rehearsed celebrations, while the Internationals mulled about with all the excitement of a wake, or maybe the awkwardness of a high school reunion would be more apropos considering the reintroduction that’s required every two years for the Rest of the World.
Adam Scott slumped into the shotgun seat of a golf cart stone faced, ½Hadwin marched down the 16th fairway as the afternoon session was winding down, hands stuffed deep into his pockets and hat pulled low – his own green mile of sorts.
“We've just come up against a juggernaut of an American team that has not put a foot wrong, it seems like, in three days,” said International captain Nick Price. “They have had all the momentum and we've had nothing.”
There were countless haymaker moments on Saturday at Liberty National. With their match all square against the American powerhouse of Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, Marc Leishman and Jason Day watched the U.S. tandem play their last four holes in 3 under – in foursomes – and never saw the 16th tee.
After dropping the morning session (3 ½ to ½), it must have felt like piling on for the likes of Hideki Matsuyama when he hit his approach shot at the first in the afternoon fourball session to birdie range with his opponents, Daniel Berger and Justin Thomas, both in trouble off the tee. Berger, playing in bare feet from a creek, toe-hooked his approach to tap-in range to halve the hole.
The look on Matsuyama’s normally stoic face spoke volumes.
“I legitimately thought we were going to have to get another captain out here to carry [Berger’s] stones around,” Thomas laughed following the duo’s 3-and-2 victory.
It was all a scene so unsightly one would half expect Lady Liberty, just some 1,000 yards from the layout’s posh clubhouse, to turn away in disgust. The Washington Generals had better results against the Harlem Globetrotters.
Four hours after the fourball frame began, the day’s final match reached the 18th tee and Fowler, who’d sat out the afternoon session, wandered up with a cup of coffee. The entire episode was sobering considering the extent of the American dominance.
The U.S. was denied the closeout, by Lahiri no less, a player who failed to earn even a half point in the matches two years ago in South Korea, but that didn’t stem the celebration.
Well on their way to the most lopsided defeat in match history, there was no solace to be found for the Internationals, just a genuine appreciation.
“I mean, there's no weaknesses in any of their pairings,” Price marveled. “They just get things done when they need to, and that's the difference.”
In 1947, the U.S. Ryder Cup team boat-raced Great Britain, 11-1, in Portland, Ore. Ben Hogan was the American captain and was probably angry he didn’t get the shutout. But unlike the Hawk, Stricker is the subdued compass of this U.S. team, and he didn’t have any interest in changing his message on the eve of Sunday’s walk regardless of how forgone the outcome may be.
“Take care of business tomorrow, to win the session,” Stricker said of his Sunday message to his team. “It's different playing with a big lead like we have, the message is it's not over yet.”
Stricker hasn’t missed on much this week, but on this he’s off the mark – the 12th Presidents Cup is over, he just hasn’t joined the celebration yet.