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Presidents Cup not a preview of the Ryder Cup

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Presidents CupSAN FRANCISCO – This had all the trappings of an international incident, at least by golf’s standards.

Retief Goosen removed his cap and appeared to be conceding a 3-foot putt. Goosen realized he had the score wrong and the putt meant something, so he moved back to the edge of the green and watched as Justin Leonard missed.

It was all a misunderstanding. No hard feelings. Leonard said so himself, confirming Goosen’s good intentions and blaming only himself for a bad putt that cost his team a point.
Ryder Cup trophy
The Ryder Cup is far different from the Presidents Cup. (Getty Images)
This was in the opening round of the Presidents Cup.

And if this had taken place in Wales next year at the Ryder Cup? Leonard couldn’t contain his laughter.

“You guys,” he said to a few reporters, “would have made it a much bigger deal.”

It’s not a good idea to compare the two cups, even in the aftermath of an impressive U.S. victory. The Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup are nothing alike except for the size of the teams (12 players) and the excess of ceremonies and celebrities.

The golf was spectacular at times, and the Americans have rarely looked this strong. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson were unbeaten in all five of their matches for the first time in a team competition.

Just don’t jump to any conclusions about the Ryder Cup next year. There is no comparison with the cups when it comes to the intensity, scrutiny, pressure and hyperbole. That doesn’t make it better, just different.

No one sprayed champagne Sunday afternoon from the clubhouse balcony at Harding Park, and not just because the public course doesn’t have a balcony, or even much of a clubhouse.

Woods delivered the cup-clinching point and didn’t know it, even after U.S. captain Fred Couples told him.

The Presidents Cup once was described as matches between the United States and an International team from Florida. That’s no longer true because two International players have homes in Arizona. And while the Presidents Cup features 24 of the world’s best players, all but one of them – 18-year-old Ryo Ishikawa of Japan – is a PGA Tour member.

What makes the Ryder Cup so compelling, beyond its 80 years of history, is the pride of one tour (Europe) and the pressure on another tour (United States).

No one handles the spotlight as well as Woods. No other player in his generation has faced more significant shots. Still, one can’t help but wonder if he produces better shots at the Presidents Cup because the matches are more about amity than enmity.

Woods delivered the defining moment of this Presidents Cup when he holed a 25-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole, then twirled his club and struck a conductor’s pose upon hitting 3-iron from 218 yards into 8 feet for an eagle that was conceded, and a stunning foursomes victory in what turned out to be the pivotal match of the week.

Consider his top highlights from the Ryder Cup:

  • An eagle putt that he knocked across the green and into the water at Valderrama.
  • The pained expression on his face when Mickelson, his partner, hit a tee shot out of play on the 18th hole at Oakland Hills.
  • His caddie dropping a 9-iron into the River Liffey during a singles match at The K Club in Ireland.

To suggest that Woods has finally figured out team play is to get carried away with the results of one cup. He didn’t care any less before. He didn’t try any harder this time.

“I didn’t notice any more intensity,” Mike Weir said. “He’s always like that.”

Couples summed it up beautifully earlier in the week when he said the key to getting points from the world’s No. 1 player is to give him a partner who contributes, arguing that two-against-one is not a fair fight, even when Woods is involved.

Stricker pulled his share of the load and then some, although NBC Sports analyst Johnny Miller was either playing favorites or not paying attention when he said of Woods, “If he didn’t have Steve Stricker as a partner, he would have lost both his matches (Saturday).” Woods carried their foursome match in the morning, then turned it over to Stricker’s awesome putting in the afternoon fourball.

They became the first Presidents Cup partners to win all four matches, and the first 4-0 team in any cup since 1979.

“It was a blast to play with him,” Stricker said. “I felt like I held up my end of the deal, which was a big concern for me coming into this because I knew I was going to play with him. I wanted to make sure I contributed, and I felt like I did at times.”

Sure, there are lessons that Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin can take from Harding Park.

“Sign up Michael Jordan,” Couples suggested.

Jordan said the Americans looked like a real team last week, meaning he hasn’t been paying attention, either. The Americans have always gotten along well as a team. They just couldn’t make putts. When putts go in, points go on the board, smiles broaden, everyone has a good time. It really is that simple.

Pavin surely saw that Woods and Stricker make great partners, and that Mickelson can play great with anyone. Pavin should take one thing away from Couples and Jack Nicklaus, captain of the previous three Presidents Cup teams. Instead of over-analyzing, they asked the players who they wanted as partners. It shouldn’t be that hard.

Next year is the Ryder Cup.

The players will be different, including the Americans. The audience will be greater, the stakes higher. And the scrutiny will be keener than ever. Especially if the Americans lose.