Woods-Kuchar prove a positive pair

DUBLIN, Ohio -- Myriad reasons have been espoused over the years when it comes to Tiger Woods and his difficulties in team competitions, mostly having to do with his partners and the problems in finding the proper one.

No. 19 looked pretty good.

It was just one day, and only one match at the Presidents Cup, but Woods' 5-and-4 victory with Matt Kuchar over Angel Cabrera and Marc Leishman at Muirfield Village appeared about as easy as it has ever been for the world's No. 1-ranked player in such settings.

They took the lead on the first hole, were never tied, lost just one hole, stretched their advantage to 2-up at the turn and closed the match out on No. 14, helping the U.S. to a 3-to-2 advantage through Day 1. And they will play together again Friday in foursomes against Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel.

"We both play well at the same time, and we did that today," said Woods, who made four birdies in 14 holes -- just as Kuchar did. "When he made a mistake, I was there; and when I made a few mistakes, he was there, and we were just never really out of a hole."

That is the key in team match play, apparently easier said than done at times for Woods over the years.

He never said it, but Woods had to be wondering: "Where was this at the Ryder Cup?"

A year ago at Medinah, Woods didn't play as poorly as his record suggested, but he still left the competition stung after going 0-3-1, failing to win a full point as the Americans were overcome by a final-day European rally, losing 14 to 13.

Woods got little help from his partner Steve Stricker in the team matches -- they went 0-3 -- but the notion of the game's best player failing to win a full point anyway still ranks as shocking.

And yet, that is how it has gone, mostly, for Woods throughout a career that dates to his first Ryder Cup in 1997. In that competition, his overall record is just 13-17-3.

The Presidents Cup is a different story. Woods won his 21st match on Thursday, the most in the 10th edition of this event. He is now 21-14-1 and has been a relatively strong force in the competition. Four years ago in San Francisco, Woods went 5-0, including 4-0 with Stricker. In Australia two years ago, he was 2-3, but won his Sunday singles match to earn what turned out to be the clinching point in a relatively easy U.S. victory.

But even at Royal Melbourne, Woods was just 1-3 in the team portion of the event. Last year at Medinah he was 0-3. At the 2010 Ryder Cup he was 2-1. It has never been easy.

Kuchar was Woods' 19th partner in all of the team competitions, and perhaps the one the most at ease. Kuchar's father, Peter, remarked that his son was "so excited to be playing with Tiger."

And there is something to that. Over the years, Woods' partners have seemingly tried too hard to please or perhaps been a bit overwhelmed with the situation. And there were times when some of them just didn't play very well.

Kuchar, who won the Memorial Tournament earlier this year at Muirfield Village, seems comfortable around Woods. They've known each other for years, going all the way back to the 1998 Masters, where Woods was the defending champion and Kuchar was paired with him for the first two rounds as the reigning U.S. Amateur champion. Peter Kuchar caddied for his son in that tournament.

Over the years, they've played practice rounds together and it seemed natural that they might be partners at either the Ryder Cup or the Presidents Cup. It finally happened here.

"For me to get a chance to partner up with Tiger is a thrill, an honor to be selected as his partner," said Kuchar, who acknowledged he wasn't sure if the Woods-Stricker team would be split up. "I think I may relax him a little bit out there. I think my game, Steve and I laughed last night about it. We said, 'We're interchangeable,' he and I. We are both consistent and I think you can count on us to hit a lot of fairways and greens, and pretty handy with the putter, as well. We saw the two of us as interchangeable pieces.

"But I really enjoyed playing the last couple days with Tiger, and then we continued having some good success today."

Kuchar also brought an interesting dynamic to the duo, a different take on the celebratory high-five that involved a move he took from the 1990s sitcom "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air."

"That was all me," Kuchar said. "I'm not a huge fan of bumping knuckles. I thought there was a little extra, something fun to do. & So we went old school with 'The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,' a little snap-back after you slap hands.

"I figured this guy was the perfect Carlton."

Kuchar got his characters mixed up, and Woods could only chuckle at the reference.

Whatever works.