MELBOURNE, Australia – The Presidents Cup was on life support.
Through the first 12 editions of the biennial tussle, the Americans were the Harlem Globetrotters and the Internationals the Washington Generals. The beatings were so numerous and thorough that those in golf circles were left to hope the Internationals would put up a fight now and then.
The lopsided nature was so disheartening that there have been numerous calls for drastic changes, with some suggesting LPGA stars be included to pump in some much needed medication.
Seeing as the Internationals had yet to win the Cup this century and that the U.S. team was loaded, the general feeling heading into the 13th edition was another rout was in the offing at Royal Melbourne Golf Club.
On paper, the USA’s superiority – its dozen players ranked in the top 25 in the official world rankings and the mighty headliner Tiger Woods was leading the way as both player and captain – screamed an early KO was coming once the bell rang. Especially with seven rookies standing in the other corner from the Americans.
But no R.I.P. is needed for the Presidents Cup, there’s no funeral to be held.
Captivating drama descended on the immaculate Royal Melbourne stage over four days and the ending wasn’t determined until the last half hour of play. The Internationals, buoyed by boisterous galleries and inspired by the leadership of captain Ernie Els, controlled the narrative the first two days and pushed the Americans into an unfamiliar role where they had to call on some heroics to pull out victory.
Trailing 6-1 at one point, the Americans won 15 of the last 23 points available to capture the Cup for the 11th time in 13 attempts. But the Americans were on edge throughout, and their 16-14 triumph Sunday wasn’t secure until the second-to-last match when Matt Kuchar tied Louis Oosthuizen.
It was a thriller, a page turner, a life saver for the Cup.
“Great strides were made, especially in our team play,” Els said. “I really felt that our team play was really the core of our team, and that never was (before). We never felt like we could play foursomes or fourball together as a team. We did that well.
“The people around the world will look at these guys in a different way. I think you guys have seen what can happen. If you compare our team on paper with other teams in other sports, you would have laughed us out of the building. But we gave it a hell of a go and we came mightily close to winning and upsetting one of the greatest golf teams of all time.”
In doing so, despite losing eight of 12 possible points on Sunday, the Internationals gave the Presidents Cup a pulse, for there was victory in defeat. Calls for radical changes need not be answered. There is life in this event and it will carry on until 2021, when the two meet again at Quail Hollow in Charlotte.
“I’m very optimistic about things going forward here,” said Australian Adam Scott, who has not won the Cup in 10 tries. “I’m disappointed. That’s all I can say. But I like what’s happening in the future. I can’t wait for another crack at it.”
Woods’ first crack at captaincy left him wanting for more, whether as a captain or a player or both. He relishes pressurized confrontation on the golf course and he got all he and his team could handle in the land Down Under.
“The whole team played extremely well today on a very difficult golf course against a very formidable International team,” he said. “They were up big and the guys went in and got it done. It came down to the very end. We knew that was going to happen. We were excited about our chances going into singles and we did it as a team.”
Woods, who was 3-0-0 and became the all-time leader in matches won in the event with 27, was moved to tears after his charges wrapped up victory. While some have said otherwise over the years, these team events mean something to him.
“I’ve cried in pretty much every Cup we’ve won,” he said. “I’ve been doing this a long time. Any time you have moments where you’re able to do something that is bigger than us as an individual, is so much more meaningful and so much more special.”