5 Things: Royal Melbourne shows its teeth

Tiger Woods of the U.S. team reacts to missing a putt for birdie on the 18th hole during the Day Two Four-Ball matches of the 2011 Presidents Cup.

MELBOURNE, Australia – Two sessions in the book, three more to go, but as we continue to struggle with whether it’s Saturday or Friday, here are 5 Things from the four-ball session at the 2011 Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne:

1. GLAD THEY DIDN’T HAVE TO GO IT ALONE

Settling in to watch the final action of the day at the 18th hole, Ernie Els was asked what would have been low score had it been an individual stroke-play event. Perhaps 73? Els smiled and said, “maybe higher.”

On this day of four-ball action, Royal Melbourne showed its teeth, its muscle, and every bit of the devilish challenge it has to offer.

Of course, gusting winds out of the north, northwest – by far the most difficult direction for players to handle – had a lot to do with it, though players generally felt officials could have been a little easier with the hole locations.

“Probably the fastest I’ve ever seen the greens,” said Ernie Els, whose history at Royal Melbourne goes back more than 20 years and includes three wins in the former Heineken Classic. He loves the iconic course, but suggested it had been set up at the edge.

“It was great for match play, but if it was stroke-play, it would have been different.”

How difficult was it? In a format that usually lights up the action and puts red numbers all over the leaderboard, birdies were at a premium. One team (Els and Ryo Ishikawa) shot 1 over for 17 holes, while Hunter Mahan and David Toms were level par for 17. The best score belonged to Steve Stricker and Matt Kuchar (5 under for 15) and only two teams (Geoff Ogilvy and K.J. Choi; Aaron Baddeley and Jason Day) played bogey-free.

Thirteen holes were won with par. On two occasions, a hole was halved with bogeys. It happened in the match between Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson vs. Els and Ishikawa when all four bogeyed the eighth, and it happened at the ninth when Kuchar, Stricker, Y.E. Yang, and Robert Allenby all bogeyed.

And if you happened to camp out at the par-4 eighth, par-4 10th, par-3 14th, or par-4 16th all day, chances are you fell asleep.

There wasn’t a birdie made at any of those.

In four-ball.

Which is another way of saying that Royal Melbourne scored a huge victory.

• • •

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Tiger Woods of the U.S. team reacts to his second shot on the 10th hole during the Day Two Four-Ball matches of the 2011 Presidents Cup.

2. TIGER’S ROAR HAS BEEN SILENCED

The four captains’ picks have thus far had their issues, with only Aaron Baddeley (1-0-1) getting a victory. Yes, Tiger Woods is among the picks who has come up empty, losing in four-ball with Dustin Johnson, 1 up, a day after getting trounced alongside Steve Stricker in foursomes.

But U.S. captain Fred Couples is hardly in panic mode. Woods will be right back in the lineup Saturday morning, playing foursomes with Johnson.

“You know what, we are up by two points and that’s really all I care about at the moment,” Couples said. “He played very well today.”

Certainly, Woods’ biggest issue in Thursday’s foursomes match was the way in which Adam Scott and K.J. Choi played so brilliantly. Against Baddeley and Jason Day in four-ball, there were far more positive signs, including a 1 up edge through seven. Woods and Johnson each bogeyed the eight, then Baddley came to life, with birdies at the 13th, 15th, and a clutch par at 18 clinching it for the Internationals.

It’s not the first time Woods has lost his first two matches in these international team events. He did so at the 1999 Ryder Cup, the 2002 Ryder Cup, and the infamous 2004 Ryder Cup when he and Phil Mickelson were beaten twice in the opening day.

• • •

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Steve Stricker and Day One partner Tiger Woods were beaten badly by Adam Scott and K.J. Choi. Our Alex Miceli likes Stricker to climb back into the win column on Friday.

3. AND STRICKER HAS BEEN BENCHED

Two years ago, they were the dynamic duo in San Francisco, going 4-0 in team play to lead a U.S. romp in the Presidents Cup. Now, Woods is matched with Johnson and Steve Stricker has been put on the bench for Saturday morning foursomes session.

It’s not a health issue, said Couples.

“He’s feeling fine. But there’s no way Jay (Haas), I, or John (Cook) would put him through that.”

Presumably, Couples was talking of playing all five matches, something that Stricker said he was prepared for, despite concerns about a shoulder issue that has dogged him this year.

“I feel I can go and do it all. I worked out a lot. I feel like I’m in pretty good shape and my arm isn’t really giving me any problems. It’s not like midseason. I feel fine.”

Stricker teamed with Matt Kuchar for a 4 and 3 trouncing of Y.E. Yang and Robert Allenby in four-ball. Stricker did make a birdie, but clearly Kuchar (five birdie) did the bulk of the work. Still, Stricker remains positive about his health.

“I’m getting treatments here. I feel good. Nothing like Chicago or the end of the year at all. It’s definitely better.”

He was referring to the herniated disk and bone spur in his shoulder that has plagued him for close to a year and became downright painful in August and September. He withdrew from the BMW Championship in Chicago, came back for the Tour Championship, but then rested for six weeks before deciding to take part in this competition.

He deemed himself ready to play, but given the way he and Woods were ripped, 7 and 6 in Thursday’s foursomes, Stricker’s decision was questioned by some.

“Tiger and I, we didn’t get anything going (Thursday),” Stricker said. “it happened on both our ends. I put him in some bad spots, he put me in some bad spots. We didn’t do anything good yesterday and they (Adam Scott and K.J. Choi) played great.”

Sitting on the bench is not something Stricker is used to. He did sit out both foursomes sessions at the 2008 Ryder Cup, but played in all four sessions at last year’s Ryder Cup. He also played in every session of the 2007 and 2009 Presidents Cups.

• • •

4. HATE TO SAY I TOLD YOU SO, BUT . . .

Webb Simpson conferred with playing partner Bubba Watson about a putt at the par 4 fourth hole. It was 48 feet and had a lot of break. That much they agreed on. What they disagreed on was this: Which way would it break?

“I told him where I thought he should hit it and he just looked at me and told me I was wrong,” Simpson said.

Going with his own read, Watson rolled his ball well right of the hole and by the time it turned left, it was headed toward the other side of the green and finally off of it.

From a 48-foot putt, Watson had a 35-yard pitch.

That’s right, the ball travelled about roughly 150 feet and as Watson made the long trek to the front of the green, Simpson couldn’t resist.

“I asked him, ‘Who was right?’ “

The Simpson-Watson pairing has been fairly dynamic. At 2-0 they’ve led off both sessions and will do so again in Saturday morning’s foursomes. In 33 holes, they’ve led for 23 of them and trailed for just five.

• • •

5. SHORT SHOTS

Nick Watney and Billy Haas teamed for two matches, both of which went the full 18 holes. They won just five holes and never once did they have a lead, though they managed a half-point in foursomes . . . . . David Toms and Hunter Mahan had the lead for all 13 holes of their opening foursomes win, but trailed for 16 of the 17 holes they played in a four-ball loss to Retief Goosen and Charl Schwartzel . . . . . Woods is the only American who hasn’t earned a point; five Internationals have not earned a point – Els, Ishikawa, Allenby, Yang, and K.T. Kim . . . . . Bill Haas made the day’s only eagle. After driving the green at the 334-yard, par 4 11th, Haas’ 7-footer was conceded once the Internationals failed to make birdie . . . . . Give credit to tournament organizers. They moved the tee times up, because heavy thunderstorms were predicted for late afternoon. Sure enough, less than a half-hour after play was completed, it came down in buckets . . . . . The last match that came to the 18th green took forever, but for good reason. Choi drove it wild left and his only play was to advance his ball down the first fairway. From well over 200 yards, Choi hit a third shot that cleared a group of trees and went to the back of the green. He didn’t make the par putt, but his partner, Ogilvy, made his to secure the team win . . . . . Only four of the 12 matches have reached the 18th green. In each case the hole has been halved, but two of those have resulted in International wins . . . . . Dustin Johnson has played 36 holes – 18 with Kuchar; 18 with Woods – but led for just four of them. He is now 0-4-1 in combined Presidents Cup / Ryder Cup competition . . . . . How long was the 564-yard, par 5 15th playing? Those who came closest to reaching in two (Watson and Scott) both hit driver off the tee and driver off the fairway. Watson came up short left, but got it up-and-down for birdie; Scott reached the front bunker and nearly holed it before tapping in for birdie.

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