Commentary

Royal Melbourne steals the show

Updated: November 18, 2011, 3:26 AM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

MELBOURNE, Australia -- It is a shame that Alister Mackenzie died before he could enjoy all the accolades he would go on to receive.

The man who designed Cypress Point, Augusta National and Royal Melbourne is still being celebrated some 80 years after his passing, and Friday at the Presidents Cup offered another example

Each team won three matches during the second day of play, meaning the competition ended as it started, with the Americans holding a two-point advantage.

But it was a wild ride getting to that point, and Royal Melbourne -- designed in the 1920s by the aforementioned MacKenzie -- was the star.

The wind kicked up, and the already-hard greens became even more so, making for a treacherous and yet impressive day of golf.

"It's carnage on a golf course like this today,'' said Adam Scott, who lost his match but came away with more respect for the famous Aussie course. "Thank goodness it's match play and we weren't actually counting our strokes. It's a great golf course when it can play fairly in conditions like this.

"That's a true testament to how good of a golf course it is. It's just very, very difficult. You have to really control your golf ball on every shot.''

That is why Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson, who were an amazing 7 under playing alternate shot on Thursday, were just 2 under playing best ball on Friday -- and still won their match 3 and 1 over Ernie Els and Ryo Ishikawa.

It is why Watson saw a pretty good putt on the fourth hole trickle off the green -- and 40 yards away.

It was why 13 holes were won with pars, a high number considering two players on the other side have a chance to match that score.

It is why rounds that went to the 18th hole were taking nearly six hours.

"It was not much fun out there probably,'' U.S. captain Fred Couples said. "It was brutal. The golf course did not lend itself to any birdies. These guys played great.''

Watson and Simpson led off for the second straight day -- they will again on Saturday -- and earned the Americans another point to get to 2-0 as a team. Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk also won again. Matt Kuchar got a new partner in Steve Stricker and they defeated Robert Allenby and Y.E. Yang, 4 and 3.

That means the only American without even a half point is … Tiger Woods.

But before you go howling for Keegan Bradley or complaining that Woods should have never been picked for the United States by Couples, consider that the Americans are doing just fine regardless.

Woods hit 11 fairways in the challenging conditions but he and Dustin Johnson could manage just three birdies in the best-ball format. Jason Day and Aaron Baddeley happened to make four. Woods is 0-2 in a team competition for the first time since the 2004 Ryder Cup, when he and Mickelson bombed during the first day of that competition.

Nonetheless, the Americans have a 7-5 advantage here heading into the weekend on a golf course in which they figured to be underdogs.

And it was that golf course that was the talk of the tournament.

"This was awesome. It was awesome,'' Mickelson said. "We'll never see something like this in an every-day golf course. We'll never see that. We rarely see it in a major.

"To have green speeds over 14 [on the Stimpmeter] with wind blowing 15, 25 miles an hour, that was incredible; to have to read the wind of a putt more so than the break? That's pretty cool … provided that your score really doesn't count, which it doesn't here, because it's match play. That's why it's so fun.

"If you have that situation in a U.S. Open or a British Open, we would probably curse. But it was so much fun today because you've got a partner that you can rely on in best-ball format and I thought we had a good time.''

Royal Melbourne is actually a composite course made up of the club's West and East courses. MacKenzie did the West in 1926 and he collaborated with Australian golfer Alex Russell, who oversaw the construction and also designed the East course. The composite course uses 12 holes from the West course.

Amazingly, MacKenzie never saw the completed project. He never saw the Masters at Augusta National, either. He began work on Augusta in the early 1930s, and he passed away in 1934 before the first Masters was played.

The bunkering and the unique greens give the course its character, and it offers proof that length is not always necessary to corral the best players in the world -- especially when conditions are like they were Friday.

"There's nothing like this place, really, when it's like that,'' said Geoff Ogilvy, who grew up in Melbourne and has a house near the course. "It's pretty unique. You play some really tough days we have had some tough days in the Masters in the wind. The year that Zach [Johnson] won was a cold, super windy day. … Similar in difficulty to that. Completely different, though. It's a hot wind.

"The course gets progressively harder as you play because it dries out and it dries out and it dries out. It's just unbelievable how short of clubs you have to hit downwind. You catch yourself thinking, there's just no way from 165 yards I can hit sand iron, but it's the only sensible club to hit, because anything more is going to go in the back. It's really hard to get that into your head.''

Add this to the dizzying thoughts after a long day of golf.

As the players were leaving Royal Melbourne on Friday night to gather themselves before a long Saturday of morning foursomes (five matches) and afternoon four-balls (five matches), rain pelted the course. A thunderstorm came in fast and furious, and who knows what effect it will have on the place.

Then you consider how hard those greens were on Friday, and perhaps the water rolls off as quickly as golf balls did.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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