MELBOURNE, Australia – The most anticipated handshake since the Hatfields and McCoys decided to call it a feud begat one of the more stunning routs in recent cup history.
The title bout everyone anticipated, sealed with a handshake between Tiger Woods and his estranged former caddie Stevie Williams on the first tee, was a resounding TKO for Adam Scott and K.J. Choi over what had been America’s untouchable twosome during the last Presidents Cup-by-the-Sea.
On Thursday at Royal Melbourne it wasn’t that Woods and Stricker lost, it was that they lost big.
The end came with Choi’s 6-footer for birdie . . . at the 12th hole. Rope-a-doped and reeling, the two were sent to the bench well short of a “quality start,” 7-and-6 road-kill on a day that otherwise went to the U.S. side, 4-2.
Woods hasn’t had his hat in hand that early since The Players Championship and that, of course, was due to injury. The only thing injured on Day 1 in Oz was Woods' and Stricker’s psyches.
The Harding Park honchos lost for the first time in their last five Presidents Cup matches together, and for just the second time in their last eight team pairings counting last year’s Ryder Cup.
The small print is jarring. It’s the worst team loss in Presidents Cup history and the walkover equaled the shortest match in Presidents Cup history.
Williams, the undercard in Thursday’s bout because of his checkered history with Woods and his racial comments three weeks ago directed at his old boss, didn’t stop to talk with the media following play. Had the Kiwi taken the time to chat he may well have adjusted his comment made earlier this summer following Scott’s victory at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. This may have been the best win of his life.
On Wednesday both captains figured it would be best to get the Woods-Scott pairing out of the way early. A little over 24 hours later it got late early for the Americans, as Yogi Berra once famously opined, with the International duo making quick work of the U.S. flagship with birdies at Nos. 2, 6, 11 and Choi’s walk-off at the 12th.
If that doesn’t exactly seem like the groundwork for a historic victory it’s because the Internationals had plenty of help. Stricker pulled his drive left at No. 2, Woods fanned his drive right at the seventh and the U.S. two-ball made three bogeys.
“K.J. and I didn't get it out of position today, which is a good thing on this golf course. They got out of position a couple of times, and you know, they didn't play their best,” Scott said. “They were a tough team last time, took a lot of points off us, so it was pleasing to get one up there.”
Maybe the bigger concern, at least for U.S. captain Fred Couples, is that Woods’ putting woes appear to have rubbed off on Striker, the unofficial boss of the American moss in recent years. Who knew that type of thing is a communicable?
“The last couple of times we went out, we have not been good. Just one of those things; we were a little off and they played great and that combination led to a lopsided defeat,” Stricker said.
Woods, however, was much more concise when asked his thoughts on his partnership with Stricker, the only two-ball on Thursday not to win a hole or even make a birdie. “It's one of those things where we got down a little bit early, tried to make up some shots and these guys were playing well,” Woods said.
Some scoffed at the hyperbole created by the Woods-Scott pairing, wisely pointing out Williams’ job is only to carry the bag, not play any of the implements contained within. The way Woods and Stricker played, the looper could have stepped in for Choi and the result may not have changed.
“Tiger and Steve did not play well today. Adam and K.J. were much better. But in the long run, you know, we have four points, and some of our young guys played extremely well,” Couples said.
The match went to Scott-Choi, and by default Williams, but style points should go to Norman. Many expected Scott to play with fellow Aussie Jason Day, including Day, but in Choi the Shark delivered an unflappable fairways-and-greens sidekick with plenty of experience playing with Woods.
“This is perfect for K.J.,” the South Korean’s swing coach, Steve Bann, said. “He could just go out and keep it in play which is what you need to do on this golf course.”
Fortunately for Couples the rest of his squad was undefeated on Thursday, with the U.S. side winning three matches and halving two for a 4-2 advantage. Captain America is not the most studied man when it comes to golf history, but no one needs to remind him that the Day 1 winner has gone on to win six of the eight Presidents Cups.
As for his uber-tandem, Boom Boom now has other plans. Woods will set out with Dustin Johnson in Friday’s second fourball match, his first Presidents Cup partner not named Stricker since 2007 at Royal Montreal, and Stricker will play with Matt Kuchar.
“We were going to do that Tuesday and Wednesday, we were going to put Tiger with Dustin in best-ball, and that's what we did and we stuck to that,” Couples said.
Perhaps, but it seems likely Woods and Stricker’s Melbourne meltdown expedited the move. The world saw the “handshake” and Couples had seen enough.
Watch wall-to-wall coverage of the Presidents Cup live on Golf Channel. Tournament air times: Golf Channel Thursday 5:30PM-midnight, Friday 3PM-midnight and Saturday 6:30PM-12:30AM. NBC coverage Saturday at 8AM and Sunday at noon. (Note: all times are ET)