Whatever Couples did, he did it right
The Americans’ 19½-14½ slamming of the Internationals at the Presidents Cup – and that’s six wins and a tie in eight Cups for them – took shape very early in the day, even though Couples had pretty much back-loaded his lineup.
He had three superstars here in, naturally, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Steve Stricker, whose combined records ended at 13-1-1. Of those three, only Stricker went out in the front half of the draw – and Stricker turned out to be the only American to lose in the front half of the draw.
Woods, out ninth, ended up getting the clinching point in his 6-and-5 rout of Y.E. Yang, who will need to remember his PGA Championship and be content with batting .500 against Woods head to head.
Mickelson, who probably played the best all-round golf of anyone here, pound for pound, straggled in more than an hour after the fact, having excused Retief Goosen, 2 and 1.
So, yeah, Couples either knew that leadoff hitters Hunter Mahan (2 and 1 over a terrible Camilo Villegas) and Stewart Cink (4 and 3 over Adam Scott) would begin like gangbusters, or he took a shot and saw his numbers come in.
Right behind those two, Anthony Kim crushed Robert Allenby 5 and 3, and Sean O’Hair blitzed Ernie Els, 6 and 4 and surely Couples got lucky here, because on a day and a golf course that Tim Clark and Zach Johnson all by themselves combined for 13 birdies in 15 holes, Els and Allenby would combine for exactly two, one each, in 29 holes. Who could have known those two would play so badly?
Couples also somehow arranged it so that the novelty match we all wanted to see – 18-year-old Ryo Ishikawa against 49-year-old Kenny Perry – ended as it figured to, with youth prevailing narrowly, but not mattering in the outcome of the day.
Note that Couples didn’t do anything like what Paul Azinger did for the Ryder Cup singles a year ago. Carrying a 9-7 in Kentucky, Azinger loaded up on his hot players early. Back then, they were, by coincidence, Kim, Mahan, Perry and Mickelson, all of whom were out within the first five matches. They closed out the Europeans early, too.
This time, Couples saved his power – and ended up not really needing it. Maybe the whole team, top to bottom, was simply so much better than the Internationals that he could have picked the names out of a hat.
Whatever else might have worked, though, you know what did work: Exactly what Couples and his team did.
And what of Mike Weir, who had more trouble at the 18th hole, turning a one-up lead on Justin Leonard into a half-point. Weir found the bunker and hit a mediocre shot out of there, leaving a 15-footer for birdie that he needed to win, but just missed.
Weir ended 2-2-1 and now has a career mark of 13-9-2 in five Cups, four of them losses. He and Leonard were standing on the 18th green about to head for a playoff hole, when Woods rolled in the clinching putt. With the Cup decided, halving singles matches was now allowed, so they shook hands.
“We didn’t want to play any more,’’ Leonard said. “This thing, 18 holes, you halve the match. So nice of Tiger to make that putt so we didn’t have to trek over to eight and keep going.’’