It doesn’t get much better than this. For the world’s best golfers. For a muni called Harding Park. For a sellout crowd which knows this sort of an event may never come along again in San Francisco.
Day 1 of The Presidents Cup on Thursday offered more sunshine than expected, as many close matches as anticipated, not quite as much success from the International team as hoped and, naturally, a brilliant showing from one Eldrick “Tiger” Woods.
Tiger and Steve Stricker were anything but the odd couple in the foursomes, the alternate shot competition, crushing Geoff Ogilvy, the Australian, and Japan’s teenage “Shy Prince,” Ryo Ishikawa, 6 and 4.
They used to say the best tennis doubles team in the world was John McEnroe and anyone else. In foursomes, where one man hits a shot, and the other the next shot and so on until the ball in is in the hole, that would apply to Woods. He now is 8-2-1 in Presidents Cup foursomes.
“It’s just one of those things,” said Tiger, “where you’ve got to make birdies at the right time and make a lot of them.”
What the International team, the Aussies, Japanese, South Americans, South Africans, Koreans, Canadians and Fijians, didn’t do was win enough matches.
The Americans, despite a yanked putt by Justin Leonard on the final hole of the final match which dropped him and Jim Furyk into a tie, still took the lead 3½ points to 2½.
The Internationals have won only once in the previous eight competitions, and as Ogilvy of Australia had contended, to make this tournament a rivalry instead of an exhibition, the Internationals need to do something other than just show up. After Thursday, that probably isn’t going to happen.
“The game can be cruel,” said Greg Norman, the International captain — a man who having blown Masters tournaments and had a British Open and PGA snatched from him knows how cruel.
“We are not too despondent about today,” said Ernie Els, who combined with Adam Scott for one of the two International wins. “That’s one of the better starts we’d had, believe it or not, the last three Cups.”
At one of the better venues, according to Phil Mickelson of the U.S., who teamed with Anthony Kim for a 3 and 2 win over Mike Weir and Tim Clark.
“It’s a really wonderful course,” said Mickelson, “and it’s perfect for this event.”
There was an imperfection from someone in the gallery who, when Ogilvy was about to putt at three yelled, “Noonan,” a term from “Caddyshack,” which translates as “Miss it.”
“Tiger,” said Stricker, “did the classy thing and apologized.”
Why are we not surprised?
The people watching Thursday’s first round of The Presidents Cup were no less recognizable than the people playing. In the gallery or in a golf cart were, of course, Michael Jordan, who U.S. captain Fred Couples invited for moral support, fellow basketball superstar Jerry West and ex-Giant Barry Bonds.
Jordan has talked about going on the pro golf tour, and on Wednesday was teeing it up at Olympic Club, across the road from Harding Park where he returned Thursday. West was a scratch golfer at Bel-Air Country Club in Los Angeles. Barry can play well enough.
“I think it’s good for the game of golf,” said Tiger Woods of the celebs, most of whom were watching Tiger and partner Steve Stricker. “The great sports figures have all come out here and supported golf. It couldn’t be any more positive than that.”
Phil Mickelson, a big-time fan, particularly of his hometown San Diego Chargers, said, “It’s cool to have those figures out supporting the game of golf, and it’s cool we could have somebody like Michael Jordan bring a lot to the table for our team.
“I think that shows the extent or the reach golf is starting to have.”
Bonds, who just finished his second year out of baseball, resides now in Beverly Hills but is a Bay Area native. “I’ll be here for the whole event,” was Barry’s Presidents Cup promise.
Justin Leonard, remembered for the huge putt which gave the U.S. the lead in the 1999 Ryder Cup, missed a 3-foot birdie putt on the 18th green in Thursday’s final match. That cost the Americans the hole and dropped Leonard and partner Jim Fuyrk into a tie, all square, with Retief Goosen and Y.E. Yang, with each side getting half a point. Leading 2 up after 16, Leonard and Furyk lost both 17 and 18 to birdies.
The No. 1-ranked golfer and Steve Stricker never trailed in scoring a 6 and 4 win over the Internationals’ Geoff Ogilvy and Ryo Ishikawa. “We didn’t give these guys a chance to get into the match,” Woods said after walking off the 14th green at Harding. “We put the hammer down pretty good.” They took the lead with a birdie at two, followed with a birdie at three and were at least two up the rest of the way.
Lefty and Anthony Kim won the par-4 sixth hole with a bogey. Kim, driving, hooked the ball only 180 yards off the tee. Then Mike Weir, teamed with Tim Clark, bounced one off a cart path about 160 yards. “They hit a few more trees,” said Mickelson, “and when it was all said and done we both had 5-footers for bogeys. We made ours. They missed theirs.”
It’s fourball today, or better ball, with the low score from either player counting on each hole. The final grouping at 11:55 a.m., is Geoff Ogilvy and Angel Cabrera of the Internationals against Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker of the U.S. Stricker-Woods whipped Ogilvy-Ryo Ishikawa, 6 and 4, Thursday in foursomes, but Tiger has the most four-ball losses, seven, (he’s 3-7 overall) of anyone in Presidents Cup play.
3 Matches that went to the 18th hole Thursday
0 Holes Geoff Ogilvy and Ryo Ishikawa won against Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker
6 Birdies Woods and Stricker produced during their 6 and 4 victory
To see The Examiner's complete coverage of the Presidents Cup go to http://www.sfexaminer.com/sports/presidentscup/