INCHEON, South Korea – On Wednesday, International captain Nick Price was asked what he wanted the leaderboard to look like after Day 1’s matches at the Presidents Cup.
“5-0,” Price laughed. “To be honest, what am I supposed to say? How am I supposed to answer that one?”
The final outcome turned out to be pretty close to Price’s prognostications, but it wasn’t the team he’d hoped would dominate the opening foursomes session.
The Americans rolled over the International side on Thursday at Jack Nicklaus Golf Club Korea by winning four of five matches and setting a foreboding tone at what Price had optimistically dubbed a crucial year for the rest of the world.
The only good news for the International captain was that if it wasn’t for a format change that reduced the total number of points available this week from 34 to 30 his side could have been even further in the hole after a day that has become far too familiar.
For the eighth time in 11 Presidents Cups the Americans won the opening-day session and extended the International losing streak in team sessions that now stretches back to Day 2 at the 2007 matches.
“Today was a tough day for us,” the International front-man allowed. “But, having said that we are only five points into 30 and there’s a long way to go.”
For all the things the Presidents Cup is missing – a general lack of animosity that makes the Ryder Cup such a contentious competition, being an often-mentioned candidate – it is an utter lack of competitiveness that has defined the biennial meeting for more than a decade and a half.
That didn’t change on a postcard-perfect fall day in South Korea. Of the 79 holes played on Thursday the United States led 59 of them, compared with just nine for the Internationals, and all of those came courtesy of Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace who defeated Matt Kuchar and Patrick Reed, 3 and 2, for Price’s only point.
Price again shouldered the burden for his team’s poor performance just as he did two years ago at Muirfield Village and remained hopeful that his dozen still had time to turn the rising tide, but it won’t be easy against a U.S. side that has looked to be running downhill since they arrived in Asia.
“The first-day blues or shock are over,” Price predicted.
Thursday felt more like shock and awe for the reeling Internationals and it shouldn’t have been a surprise.
For three days there was a confidence that bordered on brash within American circles, so much so that Dustin Johnson only half-joked that as long as he gave his partner Jordan Spieth his normal looks, somewhere in the 15-foot range, they would be good in the day’s anchor match.
The big American wasn’t too far off with Spieth doing what he’s done for the majority of this season, and it started early with the world No. 1 rolling in a 20-footer at the second hole for a 2-up lead that the U.S. never gave up on their way to a 4-and-3 victory.
Add to that tandem U.S. captain Jay Haas’ version of the Bash Brothers in the form of Bubba Watson and J.B. Holmes – who rolled over Adam Scott and Hideki Matsuyama, 3 and 2, in the day’s opening match – and it’s hard to imagine where the International team will find the firepower to keep this from becoming another blowout.
Price needed production from the top (Scott and Matsuyama) and bottom (Jason Day and Steven Bowditch, which is arguably his best team) of his lineup and didn’t get it.
Conversely, Haas’ version of laissez faire captaining was pulled straight out of Fred Couples’ playbook and produced Freddie-esque results.
The U.S. captain largely let his players dictate his pairings, telling the media on Wednesday when asked about the Spieth and Dustin Johnson duo, “What Jordan wants, Jordan gets right now.”
Yet for all the armchair quarterbacking that is sure to follow another black Thursday for the Internationals, the outcome had nothing to do with what Price may or may not have done. All the format tinkering in the world isn’t going to help the rest of the world convert putts, and that’s what this boiled down to, again.
Rickie Fowler, who is now undefeated with Jimmy Walker in five team matches dating to last year’s Ryder Cup, rolled in birdie putts from 10 feet (No. 3), 9 feet (No. 4), 20 feet (No. 10) and 14 feet (No. 13) and Spieth was, well Spieth.
“Bottom line is it comes down to making putts, in any format. But in alternate-shot, it seems like putts are that much more heavy,” Zach Johnson said. “There's more gravity and weight to it. My guess is we probably made a few more putts today.”
After another dominant opening-day performance the magic number for the U.S. team after Thursday’s rout is now down to 11 ½ points; that’s how many more the defending champions need to collect to claim the cup for the ninth time.
It’s an all too familiar position for Price, who paused when asked how he thought his team might be able to dig themselves out of another early deficit before channeling his inner Ben Crenshaw.
“It’s a gut feeling. It’s not a stat, it’s what you feel in your gut and after talking with my team, what did Ben [at the 1999 Ryder Cup] say, ‘I have a feeling,’” he said.
Price & Co. still have three days to turn this into a match, but without a dramatic Friday rally the Internationals will need something as epic as a Brookline-like miracle to salvage this match.