Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Updated: November 17, 1:28 PM ET
Tiger Woods-Steve Stricker take beating
By Bob Harig
MELBOURNE, Australia -- You had to look hard to find the drama in the last match of the day -- the one that ended first.
Perhaps there was some excitement in that eagerly anticipated moment on the first tee at Royal Melbourne when Tiger Woods was to occupy the same space as his controversial former caddie, Steve Williams.
They shook hands, and moved on to the business at hand in the Presidents Cup.
And there were certainly a few murmurings on the first green, when Woods lagged a putt up to the hole, some 2 feet from the cup, only to have the International team of Adam Scott and K.J. Choi go mute.
No gimme for Steve Stricker on a 2-footer?
"I was very surprised,'' Woods said. "Probably the best putter on the planet. I don't think he's missed one of those [since] coming out of the womb.''
And yet, Woods would be the first to admit that if there were any angst from that moment, if there was to be any motivation derived from such a perceived slight, it didn't happen.
From that point forward, the match of the day was a dud -- unless, of course, you're a fan of the International side, or Scott and Choi in particular, or perhaps in seeing Williams exact some revenge on his old boss (if you could even call it that).
Woods and Stricker fell 7 and 6, matching the biggest rout in Presidents Cup history. Their match did not make it past the 12th hole and didn't see the American duo make a birdie in the alternate-shot format. Meanwhile, Scott and Choi combined for four birdies and won three holes with pars while not making a bogey.
In such a format, that's about as bad as it gets.
Still, the American team emerged from Day 1 with a 4-2 lead in the four-day, 34-match competition. It was an impressive display by several U.S. team members, and a surprising lead given the firepower of the International team and the home-course advantage it owns, especially with five Aussies on the team.
Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson overcame an early deficit to win their match against Ernie Els and Ryo Ishikawa 4 and 3. The teams of Bill Haas/Nick Watney and Dustin Johnson/Matt Kuchar each rallied to halve their matches.
And then there were blowout wins by the teams of Phil Mickelson/Jim Furyk and Hunter Mahan/David Toms.
"We were just slightly off,'' Woods said. "On a golf course like this, it doesn't take much. They partnered up well, shot 4 under on us. We just couldn't get any kind of pressure on them.
"You have to drive the ball in the fairway. You've got to get it down there where you have some kind of 9-iron [into the green] on down. It's just not holding. With the wind and the crustiness and some of these pin locations just over the knobs, you have to be somewhat aggressive off the tees to get it down there so you can have some kind of short shot and put some spin on it.''
Woods' detractors have the scoreboard in their favor on this one. A controversial captain's pick by Fred Couples, Woods hardly delivered. Would Keegan Bradley have done better? Probably not with Stricker, who in truth was worse. The two-time winner this year on the PGA Tour, who battled a neck injury at the end of the season, was clearly not sharp. He missed drives and putts, and when the team had a rare chance to make up some ground after Choi dumped a shot into a greenside bunker at the ninth hole, Stricker followed him into trouble, leading to another bogey.
"It started from the beginning, really," Stricker said. "We never got any momentum, any flow, anything. We never put any pressure on them.''
So as it transpired, the last, most-anticipated match of the day ended earlier and with less fanfare than any of them. And it was the most lopsided loss in Woods' match-play history, one that is littered with success that includes his three U.S. Junior, three U.S. Amateur and three WGC-Match Play titles.
Woods had a hard time coming up with a worse defeat. He cited a match with Paul Azinger at the 2002 Ryder Cup, but that was simply a 1-down loss. At last year's Ryder Cup, Woods and Stricker lost to Lee Westwood and Luke Donald 6 and 5.
That turned out to be the beginning of the end of the successful run by the Woods-Stricker tandem. They had gone 4-0 two years ago in the Presidents Cup at Harding Park in San Francisco and were 2-0 in Wales. Now they've been routed in their last two matches together.
"Tiger and Steve did not play well today,'' Couples said. "Adam and K.J. were much better. But in the long run, we have four points, and some of our young guys played extremely well.''
Afterward, Woods did not seem too put off by the developments. He watched his team stage a nice rally and stood at the 18th green as Johnson made a par putt to salvage a half-point in the match against Aaron Baddeley and Jason Day.
Woods will get Johnson as his partner Friday in the fourball format (best ball), one that is much more suited to his makeup. Woods will play his own ball and see how his game holds up on one of the world's most revered courses. And he'll face a pro-Aussie crowd that is cheering for countrymen Baddeley and Day.
"I thought I hit the ball really good today,'' Woods said. "Unfortunately, I got in a position where we had to fire at flags. I didn't want to do that. ... You have to take a run at some of these flags, and it doesn't take much, you miss by a yard or two here or there, and you start falling off some of these edges.''
Sometimes a blowout defeat is easier to take than an excruciatingly close loss. Woods seemed to carry that attitude. It wasn't his day. It was a day for Choi, Scott and Woods' former caddie, Williams, who, if he was reveling in the outcome, didn't let on.
When it was over, there wasn't much else for Woods to do but to pick his ball marker off the green and shake his opponents' hands -- including Williams' again.
"I put my hand out there to shake,'' Woods said. "As I said, life goes forward. There are some great things that Stevie and I did. That's how I look at it. I know he looks at it probably differently than I do. But hey, life goes forward. I'm very happy with the things we did in our career together. But life goes forward.''
For Friday, at least, there is no Adam Scott, no Steve Williams in sight. Tiger has plenty else to worry about at Royal Melbourne, along with Johnson, while going up against Baddeley and Day.
Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.