October 7, 2009

Talent Show

The first day of the Presidents Cup had a little bit of everything

Tiger Woods playing against Ryo Ishikawa was great theater, even if it wasn't a competitive match.

Tiger Woods playing against Ryo Ishikawa was great theater, even if it wasn't a competitive match.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Sometimes, the stars line up in just the right way, even though it's daytime and you couldn't have seen them anyway through the canopy of fog. On the first day of the Presidents Cup, there was Tiger Woods, the heavyweight champion of golf, playing a match that also featured Ryo Ishikawa, the 18-year-old superstar on training wheels from Japan.

There were five other matches Thursday at Harding Park, but judging by the size of the crowds, this was the one that mattered most. Woods and his partner, Steve Stricker, wound up winning easily, 6 and 4, over Ishikawa and Geoff Ogilvy, in a match that was over before anyone lost the crease in their slacks.

"We didn't give those guys a chance to get in the match," Woods said.

Woods and Stricker had five birdies, no bogeys and never lost a hole.

Woods and Ishikawa have played before, at Turnberry in the British Open, but this one was so different. And whether or not throwing a teenager out there, even one as talented as Ishikawa, to make his international match play debut against Woods is such a good idea, at least it was terrific theater.

And so was the last match of the day, when Justin Leonard's missed three-footer on the 18th hole allowed the International team to halve the match. Leonard and Jim Furyk were 2 up with two to go and were still 1 up at the 18th when Retief Goosen either lost track of the score or purposefully interrupted Leonard's putting routine.

Leonard spun the short putt out of the hole and ended the day with a 3 ½ to 2 ½ lead for the U.S. That's not anything close to the 5 ½ - ½ lead the U.S. held after the first day in the last Presidents Cup.

We're far from done here, but no one can complain about the start. For one day, there was more than enough to go around. The scene at the first tee just before the marquee matchup featured so many players, it needed a playbill.

There was former President George H. W. Bush, sitting one row ahead of Barry Bonds in the grandstand. Fred Couples chatted with Jerry West. Lucas Glover walked over, rubbed Couples' earlobe for good luck, and then took off with Stewart Cink.

What happened next was a huge collision of people-watching, celebrity-gazing and match play golf. There was no script to follow and the whole scenario seemed to move easily to its own rhythm, played out on the spongy grass of Harding Park, beneath the rows of towering cypress trees.

It was time for the Woods/Stricker-Ishikawa/Ogilvy match and the gallery was thirty-deep along the right side of the fairway. Inside the ropes was almost as crowded, with media members from both sides of the Pacific following along, most of them with cameras slung over their shoulders.

On the third hole, when Woods already had a tee in the ground and a club in his hand, Williams had to remind several of the photographers to stop moving, and then had to remind them again.

Williams once snatched a camera and tossed it into a lake when he was irritated by a bystander, but handled this small skirmish without incident.

It wasn't a camera, but a cellular phone that was obviously the wrong number for Ogilvy on the next hole. Needing to make an eight-foot putt to save the hole, Ogilvy had to back off when a phone rang. He stood over the ball again, just as the phone rang again. Ogilvy marked his ball, started his routine again, and the phone rang once more.

As it turns out, the phone belonged to a marshal, who had been too chagrined to acknowledge he was the one messing up.

"That was a little awkward," Stricker said.

But if that wasn't embarrassing enough, someone in the gallery yelled something at Ogilvy just before he missed the putt.

"He said 'Noonan,'" said Stricker, referring to the famed line in the movie, "Caddyshack".

Woods wound up apologizing to Ogilvy for the remark.

"The guy yelling out, absolutely uncalled for," Woods said. "And this is not what golf is all about. This is not what this team event is all about. We all felt bad for Geoff because that's not the situation you want to be put in . . . He handled it great and was a class act through the whole process."

It was that kind of day. Stars, bad behavior, good behavior, movie references, sports heroes, telephones, even an occasional flyover from the Blue Angels getting ready for the weekend show.

The golf more than held its own. The former quarterback Jim Plunkett watched from behind a huge pair of sunglasses. There was a lot to see. Walking with the Woods' group was his wife, Elin, who wore a khaki cap with logos of both the Giants and the Presidents Cup. She said she liked the city, especially the lack of humidity and running the hilly streets downtown.

At one point, around the seventh green, there might have been one of the greatest confluences of modern sports figures in history: Woods inside the ropes, Bonds and West in the gallery, and Michael Jordan riding past in a cart.

And it was only Thursday.