SAN FRANCISCO – It’s getting late early for the Internationals at Harding Park, to pinch a bromide from baseball’s lexicon.
For the seventh time in eight playings of this lopsided grudge match the world has spotted the United States a lead heading into Sunday’s singles fray and as the Shark will learn his fish aren’t adept at swimming up that stream.
The one-time municipal clover field will offer some faux drama on Sunday, with the world trailing the home side 12 1/2-9 1/2 and a dozen chances to narrow the gap in a format they won two years ago in Montreal.
In many ways the eighth Presidents Cup began and ended in a span of 10 minutes before lunch had even been served.
From 22 feet at the 17th hole during Saturday’s foursome session Woods walked a birdie putt into the hole to tie his match and with his ball’s final tumble the first chill of this Presidents Cup filled the frigid air. His next swing was even better.
From 229 yards Woods roped a “full cut 3-iron” onto the closing green and into the hearts of the Internationals. It was the first time the dynamic duo of Woods and Steve Stricker had seen the 18th green and they still haven’t had to hit a putt there.
What transpired the rest of the afternoon was window dressing. The teams played to a fourball draw, leaving the United States five points shy of a sixth cup victory that will be remembered for the dominance of the U.S.S. Woods-Stricker and a charming NorCal muni.
The American uber-pairing answered the call, sweeping all comers and staking the home flag to a three-point advantage (Note to U.S. Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin: pair Woods and Stricker early and often next year in Wales.).
“Our mentality and how we play and how we compete is exactly the same,” Woods said of his better-ball better half who jokingly said the world No. 1 ducked him in Montreal two years ago.
Stricker and Woods have never been paired together and have played on only one other cup team together (2007 Presidents Cup). In then-captain Jack Nicklaus’ defense mild mannered and man child may have seemed like a square peg and round hole. But now the hunch is history.
Saturday morning’s dramatics gave way to a Stricker putting clinic in the p.m. fourball session. The soft-spoken Midwesterner ran in birdie putts of 6 feet (third), 12 feet (fifth) and 9 feet (eighth) to put Y.E. Yang and Ryo Ishikawa out of reach early.
“It was a pleasure to watch Strick play,” Woods said. “I was cheerleading most of the day.”
Yang had said after he outdueled Woods at the PGA Championship there would be no rematch. He changed his mind at Harding Park [they will meet in singles Sunday] and may be rethinking his decision following that 4-and-2 thumping. As for Ishikawa, the Japanese Tiger Woods, he went from Bashful Prince to bashed up prince in a hurry.
Perhaps the Stricker-Woods machine should not have been a surprise. After Phil Mickelson, the Wisconsinite is the closest current thing Woods has to a competitive equal. But it is no less inspiring.
For 2 ½ sessions it appeared as if the Internationals would make a game of it, focused by an embattled captain and stirred by last-minute heroics on Thursday and Friday. But that window closed when Woods and Stricker proved once and for all that American Tour pros are neither insular nor only concerned with individual glory.
Mickelson, labeled a reluctant cup participant in the past, continued his fall revival – coming within a missed 7-footer in the Saturday gloom of sweeping his team frame for the first time with an ailing back and slightly off-form partners.
Nos. 1, 2 and 3 in our hearts and the World Golf Ranking have accounted for 7 ½ of America’s 12 ½ points and largely rendered Sunday’s 12 single bouts something of a formality.
It’s not over, at least not officially, but the Internationals have a tough climb to get over the wall here at Alcatraz National and everyone in the shivering gallery knew it. After all, they live in a state that’s made an art out of digging financial holes and know an insurmountable deficit when they see one.