Presidents Cup

SAN FRANCISCO – The Internationals never had a chance.

 That’s what it sounded like in the aftermath of the United States’ 19 ½ to 14 ½ Presidents Cup victory Sunday at Harding Park.

There were intangible forces almost as formidable as an American team stacked with the top three players in the world.

There was Michael Jordan’s motivational speech before the United States took the turf Sunday, and there was captain Fred Couples’ highly unusual incentive-laden game plan and there was a boisterous home crowd nastier than your average Ryder Cup crowd.

Hunter Mahan Camilo Villegas Presidents Cup
Hunter Mahan defeated Camilo Villegas 2 and 1 during Sunday's singles matches at Harding Park. (Getty Images)

Couples said his players were moved by Jordan’s speech, but they were equally moved knowing they were playing for a chance to claim one of the NBA Hall of Famer’s jerseys from his days with the Chicago Bulls.

Couples let players know MVP efforts would be rewarded with the presentation of four of Jordan’s official game jerseys.

Woods, Stricker and Anthony Kim ended up walking away with one. So did Phil Mickelson’s wife, Amy, who made a surprise appearance at the team dinner Saturday night.

As motivation goes, Couples said it was highly effective. The Jordan jerseys were like gold. Everyone wanted one.

The Internationals might have found the prizes fitting. They complained that the American crowds were about as well behaved as an NBA crowd.

“If you walked around and heard some of the stuff, you would be amazed,” Norman said.

Robert Allenby of the Internationals was more specific about the nature of the crowds.

“I would say 50 guys got thrown out this week for bad attitudes,” he said. “It was like playing a U.S. Open at Bethpage Black.

“There were a lot of people saying things like, `You guys [stink]’ That was nothing. There was swearing.

“The police were really good, though. They went straight to them and handcuffed them.”

How often did Allenby see that?

“More than once,” he said.

And then there was the American team.

Woods, Phil Mickelson and Stricker lived up to their billing as the top three players in the world rankings. They combined to lose just one match all week, Stricker’s fall to Geoff Ogilvy in singles.

The effort leads you to believe we may be on the verge of another golden era in American golf.

Apologies to Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and players of their generations, but we’re talking American team golf.

With Sunday’s victory, the Americans ran their streak of international team victories to three straight.

OK, it barely qualifies as a streak, but since the Presidents Cup joined the Ryder Cup in the team mix in 1994, that’s never happened before. The Americans had never won more than two in a row before this run. For a bunch of players who not so long ago were skewered for being uninterested in this team thing, they’re looking an awful lot like a dynasty in the making.

Head’s up, Europe. You’re next with the Ryder Cup scheduled in Wales next year.

Corey Pavin, the 2010 U.S. Ryder Cup captain, had to like what he saw on his scouting trip here this week.

The Americans didn’t just win. They ran up the score.

The victory came in a flurry of knockouts.

The Americans needed just five of the 12 points available in singles Sunday to secure the victory, and they got the first four of them in convincing fashion before the Internationals gained their first point. This thing was over with half the matches still in progress.

Bam, boom, bam, boom, bam.

It was nearly that quick.

In fitting fashion, Woods claimed the winning point with the most personally satisfying victory of the day to run his record to 5-0 for the week.

Woods thrashed Y.E. Yang 6 and 5 nine weeks after Yang beat him in a head-to-head Sunday duel to win the PGA Championship.

It wasn’t that long ago when the Americans were criticized for not embracing these team competitions, for dreading the annual events and all the responsibilities that came with them. They were considered too self-centered to care about melding as a unit. The low point was their loss at Oakland Hills in 2004, when American captain Hal Sutton controversially paired Woods and Mickelson, the Nos. 1-2 players in the world. The lack of chemistry was palpable and seemed to prove the point that America’s best tour pros were incompatible as teammates.

The Americans proved something whipping the Europeans without Woods at Valhalla in the Ryder Cup last year. Captain Paul Azinger made team chemistry a strength with his popular pod system where he paired players in four-man community pods. The Americans proved something again this week with Woods looking like he could fit into any pod while playing better than he’s ever played in a team event.

The Woods-Stricker pairing overwhelmed the Internationals. They went 4-0 together.

“It was a fun thing to have Tiger and Steve beat up on everybody,” Couples said. “Every tournament Tiger plays, everyone wants to know what he’s shooting and where he’s at. The Presidents Cup is no different. So for him and Steve to win every match, we basically shut their team down from saying, `Hey, we have them where we want them.’ They won every time, and I think that was a boost for us.”

It made it feel like the Internationals never had a chance.