The Loop

Huggan: U.S., Royal Melbourne & Presidents Cup all winners

November 20, 2011

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Give them credit. A lot of it, too. The cosmopolitan International side certainly made the last day of the ninth Presidents Cup interesting at a bright and breezy Royal Melbourne. But only for a little while. The harsh truth is that this edition of the biennial contest was won and lost well before the closing series of 12 singles produced an eventual score of 19-15 in favor of the United States.

Down and under as early as day one, when they fell what proved to be irretrievably behind after halving two foursome matches they should have won, the four-nation Internationals battled to the end before giving up the fight. For the seventh time in its 17-year history, the trophy will be heading back to PGA Tour headquarters in Ponte Vedra.

As it turned out, the seemingly comfortable 13-9 edge with which the Americans started the final series was just too much to overcome. Needing an all-points rally, the same problem that had haunted the Internationals over all four days of the 34-game contest reared its head all over again: too many passengers; too few drivers.


Photo by Mark Dadswell/Getty Images

So it was that, even as the likes of K.T. (kinda terrific?) Kim, Charl Schwartzel, Ryo Ishikawa and Adam Scott quickly constructed what would be winning positions, the Internationals were left trying to hide too many "passengers."

Following up his consistently rotten play over the two previous days, Jason Day was out in an extraordinary 44 shots and five down to Hunter Mahan en route to an eventual 5&3 rout. Ernie Els was only a little better; three down after six holes to the unbeaten Jim Furyk and perhaps the hottest putter of the day, the big South African succumbed by a score of 4&3. And Robert Allenby maintained the almost complete lack of form he had shown throughout a difficult and disappointing few days. Five down after nine to David Toms, the hapless Melburnian -- an ultimately pointless captain's pick -- went down by 7&5 in what will surely be his final Presidents Cup appearance.

Throw all of the above together, mix well and it was all too much for the Internationals to cope with. Even if the likes of Adam Scott did set about beating a Phil Mickelson who was at first comically out of touch -- the three-time Masters champion conceded the first three holes and another at the eighth -- by 2&1 and the top-four matches of the day went the way of the home squad. Needing only four and a half points to yet again retain the trophy, the Americans crossed the finish line when a resurgent Tiger Woods -- the 14-time major champion made six birdies and just one bogey -- easily saw off Aaron Baddeley on the 15th green.

Still, for all the heroics and otherwise on both sides, the star of the show over four days of remarkably variable weather was the course itself. Living up to the pre-match hype, Royal Melbourne's third composite --18 holes made up of 12 from the West course, six from the East -- was the perfect host for a match-play contest that encouraged the 24 competitors to display a full range of shots. Indeed, over the five series of matches we had a little bit of everything, from brilliance to ineptness -- and that was only Mickelson.

"It was special," said Mahan, neatly summing up the prevailing mood, one expanded on by local man Geoff Ogilvy, who edged out Bill Haas by one hole.

"This has been a big week for Australia and for Royal Melbourne," said the 2006 U.S. Open champion. "We are very proud of this place down here. And the course certainly showed every aspect of why it is so much fun to play."

As for the future, the Presidents Cup remains an angst-ridden teenager when compared with the wise old Ryder Cup. But this was a big improvement on the garden-party-like atmosphere that made the contest so anemic at Harding Park two years ago. With Muirfield Village -- where Europe first won a Ryder Cup on American soil back in 1987 -- next up in 2013 and South Korea to follow two years later, the profile of golf's newest biennial contest will surely continue to rise. This one was certainly fun.

-- John Huggan

Follow on Twitter: [@johnhuggan