Presidents Cup: Johnson, Kuchar beat wind and topple Scott, Vegas

Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports

Presidents Cup: Johnson, Kuchar beat wind and topple Scott, Vegas

PGA Tour

Presidents Cup: Johnson, Kuchar beat wind and topple Scott, Vegas

JERSEY CITY, N.J. — If Dustin Johnson were a student of his own history — and he isn’t — he might have considered his Thursday foursomes match a little unfinished business. The World No. 1 has never lost a foursomes duel, with three victories and one halve. That lone failure to claim an outright win came in his very first Presidents Cup tie in 2011. His partner? Matt Kuchar.

On paper they seem an ideal pair for this alternate-shot format. A man who pummels a ball farther down the fairway than anyone alongside one who seldom strays from the center of that fairway.

“DJ and Kuch have a good ham-and-egg chemistry,” said Claude Harmon III, Johnson’s longtime coach. “They match up very well with distance and accuracy.”

Their opponents could call on no such positive memories. Jhonattan Vegas is making his Presidents Cup debut this week, while his partner Adam Scott not only has a losing record in his seven previous team appearances but a losing record too in foursomes play.

The fact that both Internationals have struggled at the business end of the hole this season — Vegas ranked 171st in strokes gained: putting this year, while Scott is 89th, still an improvement on recent form — didn’t concern one teammate.

“This is going to be more of a ballstriking day than a putting day,” assistant captain Geoff Ogilvy said.

And so it proved to be. Strong gusts raked Liberty National, putting a premium on quality ballstriking and unsettling players on the greens.

“You had to play the wind on putts,” Johnson said. “The conditions made it really tough to make putts.”

On the front nine, both teams made their share of birdies. Vegas showed no rookie nerves on the daunting first hole, finding the fairway with a 293-yard tee shot and sinking a 7-footer for birdie off Scott’s approach. He tapped in another of his partner’s approaches on the second and made a 16-footer on No. 5 for his team’s third birdie.

That was all still only good enough for a 1-up lead in a match that ebbed more the waters of New York harbor. Only two of the first 10 holes were halved, but when the match turned for home both teams steadied the ship, with five consecutive halved holes.

A birdie at the 219-yard, par-3, 16th hole gave Team USA the lead for the first time in the match, and another 7-iron from Johnson into the short closing hole all but ensured the full point, improving Johnson’s foursomes record to 4-0-1. A point that looked to be going the way of the Internationals early fell away, giving the USA its third win of the session. The Americans have not lost a session in the Presidents Cup since 2005, five years before either Kuchar or Johnson made a team.

Harmon’s prediction of a happy marriage of strengths proved prescient. The pair did not make a single bogey, despite blustery conditions that wreaked scorecard havoc.

“Those were really hard conditions but we were bogey free. That’s amazing in those conditions,” Kuchar said. “We had a heck of a battle and I had a heck of a partner to ride.”

Turning point

After five consecutive holes were halved — a turnaround from the up-and-down nature of the first 10 holes — Johnson hit a beautiful shot at No. 16. When Scott missed a 5-footer Team USA edged into the lead that was never surrendered.

Who’s hot?

Not even the world’s best get “hot” when buffeted by strong winds, but Johnson’s unflappable demeanor suggested he might as well have been shooting 65 on a calm day. He murdered his driver and hit two clutch irons on the closing par 3s. The first gave he and Kuchar the lead, the second one all but assured the full point.

Top shot

No. 7 is a 250-yard par 3 — yes, 250 yards, even if it is downhill. Both teams found the left greenside bunker. Johnson holed his bunker shot from 43 feet, causing the normally laconic and laid-back star to high-five his partner. Needing to do the same to halve the hole, Scott left his effort in the sand.

Etc.

Johnson and Kuchar were the only pairing among 10 on the course to survive without a bogey. … The downwind par-3 10th confounded players all day, particularly Scott. His tee shot flew the green into the kind of high weeds hazard where Jimmy Hoffa might have been deposited. Vegas gamely tried to gouge it out but failed to make the green. The Internationals never won another hole. … Scott’s last foursomes win came on the second day of the 2013 matches. Since then he’s lost three and halved one. One of those losses came to U.S. captain Steve Stricker. … Johnson’s unbeaten streak in foursomes continues. Three teams, five matches, 4.5 points won.

Latest

More Golfweek
Home