SAN FRANCISCO – The International team will have to come from behind to win the Presidents Cup. Still, the margin could have been a lot worse if it didn’t pick up its play this time around in the alternate shot format.
The United States still won seven of 11 points in the format and led 12 1/2 -9 1/2 at the end of the team competition, but Robert Allenby said just staying close to the American team during the alternate shot was a boost to the chances of the International squad.
“I think this year we did pretty well with the foursomes,” Allenby said Saturday. “It’s never an easy format, that’s for sure.”
It’s tougher for the International squad because players seldom get a chance to play it. While the U.S. team plays in a Ryder Cup one year and a Presidents Cup the next, this competition is the only one where International players compete under pressure in the alternate shot foursomes.
In the last Presidents Cup, the International squad was nearly shut out in 11 foursome matches, halving one and losing the other 10.
“In the past, I know our downfall has always been foursomes,” Allenby said. “And I think, you know, considering, this year has been a really good result for us in foursomes.”
The foursome matches are considered more difficult than the better ball matches because there are more variables involved. Players may have to play a different ball than they are used to because their partner plays that ball, long hitters may be paired with short hitters, and there is more emphasis on the chemistry between players.
Allenby seems to have figured it out as well as any of the International players. He teamed with Vijay Singh on Thursday to win a point, then was paired up with Singh again on Saturday in a match they split with Stewart Cink and Hunter Mahan.
VIDEO MAGIC: The big roar on the 18th green during morning foursomes wasn’t meant for Stewart Cink and Hunter Mahan, even as they rallied for a birdie that got them a half of point against Vijay Singh and Robert Allenby.
It was for Tiger Woods, who had just made a long putt on the 17th hole to keep alive a match he and Steve Stricker would come back to win against Mike Weir and Tim Clark.
The crowd gathered around the 18th green was watching on a big video screen as Cink and Mahan were walking off the green after making a birdie to halve their match. It is one of several big video screens scattered around the Harding Park municipal course to keep fans up on the action.
The fans on 18 particularly need it because not all the matches get that far. In the morning, just two matches went to the 18th hole, while two more finished there in the afternoon.
HELPING OUT: Both Greg Norman and Fred Couples have been laid-back captains, but Norman was out on the course helping out when things got tight Saturday in the final match of the day.
Tim Clark and Vijay Singh were even with Phil Mickelson and Sean O’Hair on the 16th hole of a match the International team badly needed to make things interesting on Sunday. After Mickelson knocked it close and was conceded a birdie, Clark had an 8-footer to keep the match even going into the final two holes.
Clark studied the putt and Singh looked at it, too. Then Norman came on the green and read it from a few different angles himself.
After the three were finally finished, Clark stepped up and knocked the putt into the hole, prompting Norman to offer up a fist pump in celebration.
Norman’s work was not done, though. With the final group still tied on the 18th green he came out to help Clark read a 25-footer for birdie. The read was good and the putt nearly perfect, but it hit the lip and spun out.
“It was nice to have Greg there in the end,” Clark said. “I battled all week reading the greens, and I feel like if I had made some putts through those matches they would have been over before the 18th hole. Particularly there on 16, Greg gave me a good read there. It wasn’t a long putt, but I would have read it straight and he said, `No, this thing is going to go right,’ and that helped.”
TIGER’S FRIEND: Steve Stricker and Tiger Woods were unbeatable as a team, and the four matches they won were the best Woods has done in his 11 previous team competitions with different partners, including the Ryder Cup and the Presidents Cup.
Part of the reason for that is Stricker is one of the best putters around, something he showed in the afternoon round when he rolled in six birdie putts in a space of eight holes. The other part is that Stricker knows his place on a team with a superstar, even if Woods is his friend.
That was evident after Stricker and Woods closed out Ryo Ishikawa and Y.E. Yang to win their fourth match. Stricker was asked afterward how it felt to carry Woods in a match.
“I didn’t carry him,” Stricker said. “It’s easy to play with the guy because we all know what a great player he is, and he putts it great, he gets it up-and-down-great, and it takes a lot of pressure off me playing.”
Woods and Stricker have been so dominant they have played the 17th and 18th holes only once.
“I think that our attitudes are very similar,” Woods said. “Only difference is I hit the ball a bit further than these guys, but our attitudes are the same. And on top of that, how we read greens is very complementary. We see it the same way, and that helps as a pairing.”