By John Strege
DUBLIN, Ohio -- A good script requires drama, not a merciful ending, and the fact that the Presidents Cup failed on both counts, again, suggests a rewrite is in order.
It isn't a fair fight and hasn't been for awhile. The Presidents Cup has now been played 10 times, the International team winning only once and not since 1998. The U.S. won this one by three points, but had a substantially larger cushion on which it was comfortable leaning on Sunday. It was anti-climactic. It has now won five straight by an average margin of victory of four.
What we have here is an International crisis.
It played out over four rainy days at Muirfield Village Golf Club here the way any objective analyst might have handicapped it. Six of the 12 players on the U.S. team are in the top 10 in the World Ranking. Only one of 12 on the International team is. Bill Haas is the lowest-ranked U.S. player at 28th, which is still better than two-thirds of the International team. It was too predictable.
Adam Scott is among those concerned about the imbalance in the two sides. "We need to make this thing really relevant, make it a real competition," he said on the eve of the event. Five days later, his concern has not abated.
"I've been pretty open with what I believe about the event and it hasn't changed," he said.
The argument on behalf of the status quo is that the Ryder Cup once was similarly one-sided, and has now found a competitive balance. But it took decades and expanding the Great Britain team to include all of Europe. Does the PGA Tour want to wait, while continuing to stage mismatches televised opposite NFL football?
The idea has been floated that in the interest of closing the competitive gap that the number of points available should drop from 34 to 28, the latter equal to the points available in the Ryder Cup. It would allow captains to bench unproductive players.
"Nick [Price] and I talked about it," U.S. captain Fred Couples said Sunday, but he otherwise ceded the debate to others. Price, meanwhile, said that "there are a lot of changes I'd like to see, but I don't think we should discuss those now."
The matches slipped away from the Internationals in the two scheduled Saturday sessions, one of which carried over to early Sunday morning as a result of rain delays. A one-point lead after the first two rounds, became six after the ensuing two sessions, requiring the Internationals to earn 9 1/2 points in singles to secure the cup.
Optimism surfaced briefly, when the International team made a late rally to close the gap, but not the expectation that the outcome already had been decided.
"It was a tall order this afternoon, 9 1/2 points, against a team of the stature and ability of the American team," Price said.
Too tall an order. When their post-competition obligations concluded and the U.S. players left for their celebrations, it was still raining. And they were still reigning.
By John Strege
DUBLIN, Ohio -- Muirfield Village Golf Club here was not cut through a rainforest, contrary to evidence.
For the third straight day, the Presidents Cup has had to endure a weather suspension, and the forecast for Sunday calls for more of the same.
The weather delays are even outpacing those that routinely occur at the Memorial Tournament in early June. Forty rounds in the 38-year history of the tournament have had weather suspensions.
The weather delay on Friday pushed the completion of the second session of matches into Saturday, thus delaying the third session from starting on time. The Friday session had started on schedule, at 1:10 p.m., but because of the late starting time it meant a morning of decent weather was wasted.
"There was no discussion today about playing earlier," tournament director Steve Carman said on Friday night. "We lost some pretty good weather in the morning. However, the forecast was for scattered showers. There was a chance that it wouldn't materialize, and we obviously wanted the golf to be live on television."
The morning four-ball on Saturday, meanwhile, won't conclude at least until well into the afternoon, delaying the start of the second Saturday session, which is likely to be pushed into Sunday. "Monday is a consideration," Carman said, should the event not be completed by sunset on Sunday.
By John Strege
DUBLIN, Ohio -- The pairing of Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley is a formidable one, for unidentifiable reasons, though the word quirkiness surfaced on Friday. Maybe the answer is found by placing a mutual in front of quirkiness.
The frequency with which they've been exchanging not high fives and knuckle bumps, but backside slaps, at this Presidents Cup is not a conventional way of acknowledging one another's quality play.
Bradley, meanwhile, is renowned for his start-and-stop pre-shot routine, his stink-eye approach to putting, the hyper-intensity he brings to a game better played at an even keel. Mickelson, for his part, is analytical (over-analytical?), using two drivers at times, none at other times, putting a Frankenwood in his bag.
They are, at any rate, compatible, which plays out in a strong record together in team competitions, including their 4 & 3 victory over Jason Day and Graham DeLaet in foursomes on day two at Muirfield Village Golf Club.
It evened their record in this Presidents Cup -- they lost in a four-ball on Thursday -- that at the end of another wet day allowed the U.S. to cling to its one-point lead, 4 1/2 to 3 1/2, with only two matches having concluded by nightfall.
The victory by Mickelson and Bradley included a front nine of 30, an eye-opener number in this alternate-shot format. They went eagle, birdie, birdie, birdie in one four-hole stretch to turn a one-hole deficit into a 3-up lead.
The eagle came on the par-5 fifth hole, where Keegan Bradley hit a near-perfect hybrid to the green, leaving Mickelson a 15-foot putt that he holed.
"I would be really worried about carrying the water with a hybrid, but it was not even a consideration for him," Mickelson said. "He hit the most beautiful hybrid dead straight, eight feet right of the pin and it went to the back fringe and couldn't have been an easier 15-foot putt downhill."
Their record pairing together now 4-1; they were 3-0 together at the Ryder Cup last year, including a 7 & 6 victory over Luke Donald and Lee Westwood.
"We play well together and I don't know if I could put my finger on it," Mickelson said. "I love the excitement and intensity he brings, I love the quirkiness."
They are 3-0 in alternate shot dating to the Ryder Cup. "I just think that when Phil and I get rolling in this alternate shot, we complement each other so well," Bradley said. "And I was saying that I think that we both really enjoy kind of showing off in front of each other. It's fun to hit a 270-yard hybrid to eight feet. It's fun whenever Phil is off the green and I half expect him to chip it in every time.
"We are having so much fun and are really energized to play good golf. And after losing yesterday's match, our first match we've lost together, we were both pretty devastated. It felt horrible."
By John Strege
DUBLIN, Ohio -- The suspension of play must now qualify as a tried and true momentum killer in sports, which in the interest of sustaining, well, interest in the Presidents Cup was not altogether a disappointing turn on Thursday.
The mismatch on paper began unfolding on the golf course, too, the U.S. leading five matches and square in the sixth in four-ball when the horn sounded, suspending play with a thunderstorm closing in on Muirfield Village Golf Club here.
When play resumed one hour, 22 minutes later, the International team rallied and by the end of the day the Americans held only a one-point lead (3 1/2 to 2 1/2), runaway averted.
It followed the script written for the Super Bowl, with the Baltimore Ravens leading the San Francisco 49ers, 28-6, when the lights went out. When they came back on, the 49ers rallied and had a chance to win on the last play of the game.
The best outcome on day for this Presidents Cup is that it mirrored the Super Bowl. The worst outcome for the event overall would be that it mirrors the last 13 years. The International team has not won the Presidents Cup since 1998 and the best it has done in the biennial event since was a tie in 2003. The smallest margin of victory in the Americans' four straight victories since was three points.
It is a disturbing trend for an international team event that requires at least a measure of competitive balance to inject it with the drama required to keep it entertaining enough to attract an audience.
Yet the manner in which it began suggested the outcome had been preordained. At one point, the U.S. led in all six matches. Of the first 46 holes played in them, the Internationals held the lead only on one hole -- the first hole of the first match when Graham DeLaet made a birdie.
It set an ugly tone that was washed away by the downpour that came during the delay.
"We weren't going to gain momentum," Adam Scott said, "but it might have stopped theirs a little bit. It was a timely break. What we showed today is that there is plenty of heart on this team. I don't think spirits were low in the team room, but we have plenty of heart."