MELBOURNE, Australia – Fourball is supposed to be fun, but this felt more like a forced march.
Officials at the Presidents Cup raced players out onto Royal Melbourne about two hours earlier than originally planned on Friday because of an approaching storm and straight into grinding gridlock.
Winds that whipped to 35 mph and greens dialed up to 14 on the Stimpmeter added up to rounds that stretched to nearly six hours. But the only number that mattered to U.S. captain Fred Couples was 7-5, America’s advantage through two days of play at Royal Melbourne after a 3-3 draw on Friday.
That the away team held serve in the sand-belt wind tunnel was a best-case scenario for Captain America. That they did it without a point from Tiger Woods is all at once concerning and comforting for Couples.
“It was not much fun out there, I'm sure, for any of them,” he said.
Not that Woods played poorly, particularly on a day that International captain Greg Norman called “on a scale of 1 to 10 this was an 11.” Paired with Dustin Johnson the man who went undefeated in the 2009 Presidents Cup dropped a 1-up match to Aaron Baddeley and Jason Day that, at least to Woods, may have felt like a split decision.
For the day Woods was even par with two birdies including a twisting 25-footer at the fourth hole, his first of the week for his first lead of these matches. That advantage, however, lasted only three more holes in a seesaw match that was ultimately decided by Baddeley’s clutch putting.
“We are extremely proud of the way Aaron Baddeley bounced back from yesterday,” said Norman in reference to Baddeley’s Day 1 foursome halve after leading 2 up with two holes to play.
“I know he was kind of gut-wrenched a little bit by what happened on the 18th, but to see what he did, holing that 3 ½-footer for a win on the last hole did him a world of good, did the team a world of good.”
Baddeley, who missed a short putt on the 17th on Thursday, rolled in birdie putts of 9 feet at the 11th hole, 4 feet at the 15th hole and 3 ½ feet at the last to secure a crucial point and give the Australian galleries something to cheer.
For the better part of two days the Melbourne masses have been largely quiet, so much so one tournament official wishfully suggested, “We need the Internationals to do well.”
Some have said these matches, a lopsided affair with the Americans winning six of the first eight editions, need an International victory or risk slipping into irrelevancy. All they really need is parity, a Sunday shootout that goes to the grittiest regardless of final outcome. For two days Norman’s multicultural crew have at least left open the possibility.
Baddeley and Day were welcomed to the 18th green by chants of “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Ow, Ow, Ow,” and Geoff Ogilvy’s chip-in from a sand-belt sinkhole at the fifth rattled the eucalyptus.
There is no accounting for competitive capriciousness – a truth that was painfully evident for all regardless of flag or ball flight on Day 2 – but with 22 matches still to play the hole Norman’s crew dug themselves into on Thursday suddenly doesn’t seem as daunting.
Not that anyone struck quickly on Friday. Day 2 at Royal Melbourne was slow. Slow like this Presidents Cup felt more like Pebble Beach, complete with “Crosby Weather.” Glaciers melt faster than this, the combination of conditions and a crusty golf course.
It took the Woods-Johnson fourball two hours and 58 minutes to play nine holes and things only got harder from there.
“It’s just tough out there. Both teams didn’t make a lot of birdies,” Woods said. “You’re just trying to hit greens today. That was quite an accomplishment and even then you had to play wind on putts, even uphill putts.”
It was a harsh truth that at least partially explains the languid pace of play. On the seventh hole Woods and Johnson loitered on the far side of the green silent as Baddeley, one of the game’s best putters, studied an 18-inch par putt. Under normal circumstances that could be interpreted as gamesmanship. On Friday it was just the game.
The two least-spoken words at Royal Melbourne on Day 2 were “that’s good.” Well that, and “Tiger wins.” The captain’s pick is the only member of Couples’ crew who hasn’t won at least a half-point, yet that didn’t stop the captain from sending him out in Saturday morning’s five foursome matches. Instead, Nick Watney and Steve Stricker, who has been slowed by a neck injury since the Tour Championship and was expected to miss at least one session, will sit for the U.S.
“There are not many times where (Woods) doesn't win a point through a couple of rounds,” Couples said. “He played very well today. Jason Day and Aaron Baddeley threw it all at them, and they won 1 up. . . . I think Steve Stricker can't go five rounds; I wouldn't do that to him. So we went back with Tiger and Dustin tomorrow, and we are hoping that they come out and play well and get a point.”
It’s a testament to American golf that the U.S. is a 2-point conversion clear without any production from Woods. That the Americans did it in conditions that weren’t fit for a wombat was enough to bring a smile to Couples’ face on a day when there wasn’t much for anyone to smile about.
Watch wall-to-wall coverage of the Presidents Cup live on Golf Channel. Tournament air times: Golf Channel Friday 3PM-midnight and Saturday 6:30PM-12:30AM. NBC coverage Saturday at 8AM and Sunday at noon. (Note: all times are ET)