Presidents Cup: No. 12 is lucky for Americans

Nick Watney of the U.S. tees off on the 18th hole during the Day One Foursome matches at the 2011 Presidents Cup.

Nick Watney of the U.S. tees off on the 18th hole during the Day One Foursome matches at the 2011 Presidents Cup.

MELBOURNE, Australia – It is one thing to have a difficult shot. It is quite another when the challenge is simply to get into position to play the shot.

But there was Nick Watney, twisting and contorting, bending and crouching, all in an effort to figure a way to stand so that he could play his third shot during the opening foursomes. Representing the American Presidents Cup team, it looked more like he was on a nature hunt. Either that or getting prepared for a serious game of Twister.

And for those who scream that the golf ball goes too far, take note that once Watney anchored himself into position in that tree to the left of the 12th fairway, he hit his shot all of about 9 feet.

Truth be told, it would have gone about 12 or 13 feet, only the gallery rope that had been lowered stayed about 3 inches off the ground and Watney’s ball crawled and rolled and ended up hitting the rope.

And after he had played the shot, which was the third for Team USA, what was Watney thinking?

Watney merely rolled his eyes, which was his way of saying that things were pretty much hopeless. Already down a hole to International duo Geoff Ogilvy and Charl Schwartzel, Watney and Bill Haas were in big trouble at the par-4 12th, which is in an 18-way tie for best hole at this cathedral of a golf course. It is a sharp dogleg right that starts with an elevated tee, navigates massive bunkers at the bend on the right side, then requires an uphill second shot.

OK, so the second shot is meant to be played from the fairway, but in Match 2 here on the opening day of the 2011 Presidents Cup, things went a little astray for the chaps. First, Watney pulled his drive slightly and went through the fairway into deep rough. Ogilvy did likewise.

But the Internationals, already in front, secured an even more advantageous position when Haas hacked his shot dead left into the tree and Schwartzel deftly played a shot onto the right side of the green.

So when Watney could barely advance his third shot, the Americans were 55 yards away in three, the Internationals 40 feet away in two.

Ah, but if you have spent any time at all observing the beauty of match play, which is a far different animal than stroke play, you must have a sense of what came next. First, a splendid wedge from Haas that came to rest about 6 feet from the hole, then the unthinkable, Ogilvy leaving his birdie try perhaps 8-10 feet short. Golf being golf, which is to say it makes no sense, Schwartzel missed and Watney converted.

“The hole is halved with fives,” bellowed the walking scorekeeper, but if you think this was a tie that left everyone happy, think again.

“It felt like a win,” Watney said.

He figured his team was cooked when all he could do was punch out his third shot and even when Haas delivered a superb wedge, Watney wasn’t seeing the glass as half full. After all, Ogilvy was standing over the birdie putt “and he’s a U.S. Open champion,” Watney said.

When Ogilvy left his birdie try woefully short, was Watney surprised?

“Definitely,” he said.

But he got over the shock in time to slip home his putt for bogey, which put a bounce in his step as Watney walked to the 13th tee.

He wasn’t the only American to take that joyful route, either, because on this day of six foursomes matches, the 12th hole could have been painted red, white, and blue. Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson in Match 1 halved the hole with pars, but Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar in Match 3 won with a par, Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk won with a birdie to go 4 up, and Hunter Mahan and David Toms took it with bogey to get to 5 up.

Yet it could be argued that of all the American success at the 12th hole, the most crucial belonged to Haas and Watney. They had all but written 2 down on the scorecard, only to walk to the 13th tee a hole behind. When all the shots had been played and the half point had fallen in each column, it was agreed that the 12th was key.

“No, the 12th wasn’t very clever,” Ogilvy said, shaking his head, knowing another day of substandard foursomes play had put the Internationals in a hole.

Which isn’t quite as bad as being in a tree.

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