October 8, 2009

Stay Tuned

With the International team hanging tough on Friday, the Presidents Cup got just what it needed: a close race

Anthony Kim and teammate Jim Furyk couldn't help the U.S. extend its lead.

Anthony Kim and teammate Jim Furyk couldn't help the U.S. extend its lead.

SAN FRANCISCO – For some reason (maybe because the U.S. players usually play the Presidents Cup as if they made the mold and cast the trophy), there have been more than a few suggestions on how to make the event a lot more, well, compelling.

Outside of hiring John Daly's pants-maker to jazz up the uniforms, or allowing the players' wives to race carts inside the ropes or making the losing team run laps, some have said that each and every option ought to be left right there on the table. It should be an open-ended discussion, with the objective to try and even out what's been a real inequity in the results.

After the first two days at Harding Park, here's what we about the perception that the Presidents Cup competition is sort of one-sided: It isn't.

On the last shot of the day Thursday, the International team sneaked a half-point out from under Justin Leonard's nose when he missed a three-foot putt. On the last shot of the day Friday, the International team pulled out a full point, as Tim Clark's 14-foot eagle putt, obviously guided by GPS, discovered the left edge of the hole and swiveled down the drain.

"That was the shot in the arm," said Greg Norman. "The team captain is very happy right now ... it could have been a disastrous situation."

And all at once, what had looked like an advantage of three or four points for the U.S. only an hour or so earlier wound up only one point instead, 6 1/2 to 5 1/2. If that doesn't seem like much of a lead, you are entirely correct. But it's also just what the President Cup needs.

We're now heading into the weekend with something unusual at stake -- the chance to transform the eighth version of this event into something special. It hasn't really tracked that way in the past, not with the U.S. winning five of the first seven and tying another.

But consider the fact that five matches in two days have gone to Harding's 18th hole and the U.S. has won only one of them.

And then think about the way the International team closed out Friday's play, events that seemed to indicate a sudden and not-so-subtle shift in the expectations department.

There were Ernie Els and Mike Weir winning the last three holes to eclipse Anthony Kim and Jim Furyk, turning a 1-up deficit into a 2-up victory. And then there was Clark, along with partner Vijay Singh, coming from behind, winning the last two holes for a 1-up victory over Lucas Glover and Stewart Cink.

If you're looking for turning points, search no further than Clark's gentle right-to-left breaker at the 18th that brought him to his knees in relief just as the ball disappeared. You almost got the idea that Clark would have made that putt if he had used a bunker rake.

Couples was philosophical when asked about the International team's success on the closing holes:

"Those things are going to happen ... Greg's guys were great; to battle back was a great finish."

Momentum is an odd factor. You can't see it or smell it or touch it, but you can darned sure feel it, only not with your hands. It's a sensation that you soak up. Or if it's going the other way, it fades away, like ebb tide.

Whatever, at least there's some movement around here. There's absolutely nothing wrong with the Presidents Cup looking more like a 12-round heavyweight bout than an early knockout. When the U.S. was routinely drubbing Britain and Ireland in the Ryder Cup, few outside of the players and core golf fans showed up or even followed it. When the competition was expanded to include all of Europe, It became more competitive and more important at the same time.

The U.S. players aren't sure they want to discuss doing their part to even things up by losing, but there is some talk about it. Kenny Perry spoke of the "flair and mystique" of the Presidents Cup and how it could change.

"I think the International team needs to start winning some more and make it where the fans will see it and view it and make it be a great event," he said.

Perry just doesn't want to happen this week. He said that since most of the players competing are already PGA Tour players, the Presidents Cup is like playing with buddies.

That feeling is probably not going to change no matter what happens Saturday and Sunday, simply because they all go up against each other regularly anyways.

What needs to change is the feeling that the Presidents Cup is a one-way street, a one-joke monologue, a book for which you already know the ending.

That process may already have started.