MELBOURNE, Australia – It started with the twirl of a club on the first tee. It finished with tears of joy. That was the final day of the most unique week for Tiger Woods, who for the first time in his legendary career was the captain of a U.S. national team. Along the way, he also added playing responsibilities. Doing something -- again -- that few people have ever done. The ending, of course, turned out to be a familiar one for Woods. He was the best player on the winning team, the Americans claiming the Presidents Cup, 16-14. “It’s the same feeling,” Woods said. “We won.” Unlike two years ago on home soil at Liberty National, winning this Cup at Royal Melbourne wasn’t easy. The Americans entered Sunday Singles trailing by two points. Counterpart Ernie Els seemed to pull all the right levers. The Internationals were in their best position to end their 21-year drought in this event. The hometown support was going to make a difference. PRESIDENTS CUP: Final scoring | Day 4 Singles match recaps But there’s a reason why Tiger Woods has the most wins (with Sam Snead) in PGA TOUR history. He refuses to lose. On Sunday, that spirit permeated the American roster. Woods set the tone by batting leadoff and taking down the Internationals’ hottest player, Presidents Cup rookie Abraham Ancer, 3 and 2. Tiger celebrated the win as if it was his first one. He hugged assistant captain Zach Johnson and then made a beeline toward another assistant, Fred Couples. “I have a bad back,” Couples told Tiger as he began to retreat. Didn’t matter. Tiger had won his match, finishing off a week in which he was 3-0-0, the only player on either side to win each of his matches. Couples finally relented. Meanwhile, the group of American fans called “We the People” started chanting for Woods, trying to entice him for a quick visit outside the ropes. Tiger couldn’t resist. He did a little dance as he met the group for some high-fives and selfies. By the way, the Americans were still trailing at this point, 10-9. Already, though, you could sense how this would go. Lots of red was on the board, the U.S. Team getting off to quick starts. Patrick Reed had birdied six of his first seven holes. Dustin Johnson was 5 up through 11. Tony Finau was in the midst of rallying from a 4-down hole against Hideki Matsuyama. The Americans won or tied the first five matches of the day, and eventually lost just two. The signs were there. Woods was not to be denied. Nor was his team. For the first time, Americans were playing for Tiger Woods. They refused to let him down. “It was pretty awesome to play for the greatest player ever,” said Matt Kuchar, who supplied the clinching point in the 11th match of the day, rallying from 3 down to tie Louis Oosthuizen. “To have a chance to make a team captained by the greatest player ever that is also a player on the team, I can’t tell you how unique, how cool of a thing that is – to not only play for him, but alongside him.” Woods was in the first match out because he wanted to resume his captain role as quick as possible on Sunday. Steve Stricker has assumed captain’s duties while Tiger was playing. Eventually, those duties were handed back. “Stricks was on 14 and the last group just went through and he says, ‘I don’t want to be captain anymore,’” Woods recalled with a laugh. “That was one of the great moments, and to hear that in my earpiece was definitely a moment I’ll never forget.” Hard to imagine anybody doubting Woods would be a successful captain. He’s meticulous, always thinking, constantly encouraging – his text messages in the middle of the night became legendary among his U.S. players. But he was not overbearing. He knew his team was talented, perhaps among the most talented the Americans have fielded in some time. Arguably no one had played golf better than Woods, but he didn’t need to tell them how to play their sport. Justin Thomas, who partnered with Woods to win two matches earlier in the week, had a conversation with assistant Zach Johnson. The topic of Woods as a captain came up. “Someone who has done as much as he has and had as much experiences as he had in all these team events, he very easily, I felt, could have tried to take over the team rooms or try to give all this advice and try to do so much,” Thomas said. But, as Thomas added, “we have 12 of the best players in the world. No offense, he just needed to get out of the way – and that’s what he did.” And yet, whenever Woods did speak, it carried significant weight. It was also a new experience for the players, who generally have only seen their captain as a teammate, not a leader. “We had a room full of some of the greatest golfers in the world,” Kuchar said, “and when he speaks, we all listen.” Entering Sunday, Woods simply told his team that the Internationals had more a few more putts during the first four team sessions. Sunday Singles, he added, would be different. “We’re going to be fine,” he told them. And they were. The match wins kept coming – Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele and Webb Simpson, who combined played 50 holes on Sunday and only trailed after two of them. Cantlay and Schauffele, by the way, were partners all week, and on Sunday they played in back-to-back matches. That was deliberate. Schauffele may have snuffed out the emotional support of the Royal Melbourne crowd by going 4 up through seven holes en route to beating Australian veteran Adam Scott. “Xander, to beat Adam Scott on really a course that he plays very well, was really a huge point,” Couples said. Finally, it came down to Kuchar’s match. The Americans were leading 15-13 and simply needed one more half-point. Kuchar clinched it by winning the 17th hole with a birdie. The celebration started. Woods was overcome with emotion. Those tears began to swell. He tried to hide his face with his U.S. Team cap. Woods has won a lot of tournaments as an individual player. He cried after a few but not after every one. This win – as a captain, also a player – was special. “I’ve cried in pretty much every Cup we’ve won,” he said. “I’ve been doing this a long time. Any time you have moments where you’re able to do something that is bigger than us as an individual is so much more meaningful and so much more special.” Said Stricker, a well-known tear-shedder: “I love seeing other people cry – especially Tiger Woods.” Then he added, “Tiger did an unbelievable job. It was a privilege – and we’ll keep this on the forefront of our minds forever.” Tiger the player was unbeatable this week. Tiger the captain may have been even better. “All of us will look back and have these pictures hanging on our walls and say we played for and alongside Tiger Woods, the greatest player ever,” Kuchar said. “It was awesome.”
15 Dec 2019
MELBOURNE, Australia – Abraham Ancer wanted to issue a clarification. His much-referenced “I want to play Tiger” declaration made during an interview at the recent Mayakoba Golf Classic wasn’t exactly an act of conceit. “First of all, that question was in Spanish,” said Ancer, the Mexican golfer who was the top player for the International Team at this week’s Presidents Cup. “So the tone when I said it, it was never like cocky or challenging or anything like that. “At the moment, I thought it would be a great experience, which it was. No matter what with the outcome of the match, I would have gained a lot. I would have become a better player just from being in that situation.” PRESIDENTS CUP: Final scoring | Playing for Tiger, the U.S. refuses to lose | Day 4 Singles match recaps Ancer may indeed grow from his opening Sunday Singles match against U.S. Team playing captain Tiger Woods, but he didn’t get the win. Woods broke open a tied match in the middle of the round with a par to win the ninth hole and a birdie to win the 10th, and then eventually put away Ancer with a birdie at the par-5 15th to give the Americans their first point en route to a 16-14 win over the Internationals to retain the Presidents Cup. Woods never trailed in the opening match while tallying his third win in as many matches this week. He was the only player on either side to win all of his matches. It was apparent that while Ancer made his request to play Woods more out of respect, Woods used it for motivation – somewhat like he famously did after Stephen Ames made comments he considered disrespectful. In 2006, Woods beat Ames, 9 and 8, at the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play, the most lopsided win in that tournament’s history. Asked Sunday if he was aware of Ancer’s comments, Woods simply replied: “Yes.” A few minutes earlier, when discussing the match, Woods had said, “Abe wanted it. He got it.” In actuality, it was Woods that set up the match. During the draw on Saturday night, International Team Captain Ernie Els had the first selection, and he selected Ancer – his hottest player who had won 3.5 out of a possible 4 points in team play. Els did suspect that Woods may use himself to go out first, or he might go with Justin Thomas, also one of the best U.S. players of the week. Woods chose himself, in part because he wanted to assume captain’s duties as quickly as possible. But there was certainly no plan for Ancer to face Woods. It was going to be a tough ask for Ancer to knock off the 82-time PGA TOUR winner, but give him credit for hanging tough on the front side. Woods, though, would not be denied. Not as a captain. Certainly not as a player. Royal Melbourne proved to be a perfect course for his game, allowing him to use his experience and his shot-making ability. As he called the course, it’s an Open Championship with Augusta National greens. “My responsibility as a player is whenever the captain said to go out and play, go earn a point,” Woods said. “This week, as the captain and a player, it was a juggling act.” Woods proved to be adept at that juggling. As for Ancer? He’ll take the lesson learned. It could prove valuable in his future, one that looks extremely bright despite Sunday’s outcome.
14 Dec 2019
MELBOURNE, Australia – Matt Kuchar was worn out when he woke up Sunday morning for the final day of the Presidents Cup. He and partner Tony Finau had played 36 holes the day before, tying both their Four-Balls and Foursomes matches. “I had a hard time getting going,” Kuchar said. “… Trying to get things going this morning was a bit of a challenge.” Kuchar did have a late tee time – he was going out in the 11th match of the day against International Team veteran Louis Oosthuizen. Didn’t matter. He was still sluggish to start. Oosthuizen won the first three holes with two birdies and a par. Kuchar did win the fifth hole with a birdie but lost the next one. He was 3 down at the turn – and given the closeness of the competition, the entire outcome may have been turning on his match. PRESIDENTS CUP: Final scoring | Playing for Tiger, the U.S. refuses to lose | Day 4 Singles match recaps “I dug myself a hole early, 3-down,” Kuchar said. “I’ve played enough match play, played enough golf, that if you keep plugging along, I knew some good things was happening.” The good things finally arrived on the back nine. Kuchar hit his approach shot at the 10th to 8 feet and made birdie to win that hole. He hit his approach at the 11th to 9 feet, and made that birdie putt too. Now he was just 1 down. Oosthuizen won the next hole but Kuchar won the par-3 14th when his tee shot finished inside 9 feet for another birdie. At the par-5 15th, Kuchar birdied from 7 feet while Oosthuizen parred. The match was now tied. Kuchar had a chance to take the lead at the 16th but missed his 7-foot birdie putt. So he arrived at the 17th knowing that if he won the hole, he would be guaranteed a half-point. With the Americans leading 15-13 at the time, it would be the clinching half-point to retain the Presidents Cup. Kuchar stuck his approach to 5-1/2 feet, then watched Oosthuizen miss his 16-1/2 footer for birdie. Kuchar followed by rolling in his putt … and setting off an American celebration. Oosthuizen won the 18th for the half-point but it didn’t matter. Kuchar had done what he needed to do, a rally to win the Presidents Cup. Oosthuizen, meanwhile, was feeling just the opposite. “I'm gutted,” he said. “I made one mistake, one mistake on 16 with a tee shot, and that was it. The rest was pretty clutch golf, but there was lots of birdies between the two of us. It was a good match.” The half-point justified the faith Woods had put in Kuchar and Rickie Fowler (in the 12th match) to deliver the goods if the competition came down to the last two matches. “To make that putt and to have everybody there on 17 – I don’t know how to explain the emotions,” Kuchar said. “I was just leaping out of my skin with joy. To do that was such a thrill and something I’m hugely proud of.”
14 Dec 2019
MELBOURNE, Australia – Hindsight is always 20/20. As Ernie Els and his International team pick apart how they were once again unable to thwart a U.S. juggernaut that improved to 11-1-1 in the Presidents Cup they will of course mull over a multitude of moments. Sometimes it is a useless exercise. You can second guess every decision you made and go down a very deep rabbit hole. But sometimes it can be cathartic and you can ensure growth in the future. The dissection of the change of culture amongst the team will later, but there is enough to suggest they are on the right track. While every loss is critical in the final wash up, right now let’s look at the moments on the golf course that really hurt the International cause as they seemingly could have been flipped the other way. Related: Final scoring | Playing for Tiger, the U.S. refuses to lose | Day 4 Singles match recaps FRIDAY FOURSOMES Having won the opening Thursday Four-Ball session 4-1, Els and his team were in great shape heading to the second day. But they were also somewhat cautious knowing they hadn’t won a Foursomes session since 2005. On Friday, that seemed set to change… and in a big way. The Internationals were up in all five matches on the back nine and the projected score read 9-1. But projections are just that. When the U.S. side was ripe to be stomped on the neck, the Internationals failed to do so. First Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele provided 18th hole heroics to beat Joaquin Niemann and Adam Hadwin 1 up before Tiger Woods and Justin Thomas did exactly the same over Hideki Matsuyama and Byeong Hun An. On the 18th tee of both matches, Els would have been hoping for a full point but probably would have settled for a halve. Instead, his team walked away with nothing. In the final match of the session, Sungjae Im and Cameron Smith were 2 up with three holes to play, but lost the 16th and 17th holes and had to settle for a half. In the end, the session ended 2.5-2.5 to push the score to 6.5-3.5, not the worst result but certainly not 9-1. “I wouldn't say we totally lost momentum, but it was, to me, I felt it was a bit of a blow,” Els said post-mortem. “The team didn't react in that way which I was really proud of, but me as captain, and I didn't reveal it to them, but I felt we had them right in the headlock, and we didn't quite finish it off on that particular time. “There's not many times when you get a team like that under the pump like that. It was great, but it could have been unbelievable. It could have been a knockout blow. “That was probably the difference. We had so much momentum. We had so much going for us… that’s 2.5 points, and where we are, we are 1.5 points shy. So absolutely, that was something.” SATURDAY FOUR-BALL Once again the Internationals won the Four-Ball session, but a critical missed chance at a full point in the anchor match between Byeong Hun An/Adam Scott and Tony Finau/Matt Kuchar was another twist of a knife in an open wound. Sporting a 1 up lead coming down the final hole, Scott hit his approach to nine-feet. Finau was slightly better at seven-feet. If Scott made the putt it would have secured the win. But he watched it slide by the edge and then Finau took the gift and ran with it. Instead of 3-1 it was 2.5-1.5 and instead of 9.5-4.5 it was 9-5. SATURDAY FOURSOMES The Internationals came out of a 3-1 session loss actually feeling positive after some incredible fighting qualities were shown. Marc Leishman and Abraham Ancer were unbelievable in earning a half after sitting 5 down though 10 holes to Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler. Joaquin Niemann and Byeong Hun An also overcame a late two-hole deficit to secure a half point and also ensure a lead heading to singles. But the reality is both matches that were lost had leads at one point and An was given a chance to win a full point from just outside six-feet on the final hole. The putt came up short and low leaving the final tally at 10-8 heading to singles instead of 10.5-7.5. SUNDAY SINGLES Hideki Matsuyama was for a long time the only bright star during a tough start to the singles session. While Abraham Ancer was fighting hard but never leading against Tiger Woods ahead of him and C.T. Pan and Haotong Li were getting dominated behind him against Patrick Reed and Dustin Johnson respectively, Matsuyama had bounced out to a 4 up lead through 10 holes over Tony Finau. It was a point the Internationals had basically banked as they scrambled to find other places on the course to try to flip the red tidal wave off the boards. But Finau was having none of it. The American won four straight holes from 11-14 to square things. Despite the collapse, Matsuyama bounced back with a win on the 16th to once again go 1 up but then inexplicably three-putted from 25-feet to lose the 17th and his grasp on a full point. The tied match was like a win to the U.S. Adam Hadwin produced a gutsy performance against Bryson DeChambeau, clawing back from a two-hole deficit early and finding a way to win the 17th hole when it was clear he had to if the Internationals were to have any chance to still win the Cup. Heading down the 18th all square, Hadwin had to win the final hole to keep the slim winning hopes of his team alive. A brilliant approach to just inside 14-feet set the stage for him to be a hero. But as the putt stayed high and missed the hole, so too did the realistic dreams of winning the Cup for the first time since 1998. At least a shared Cup was still in play. Louis Oosthuizen looked impressive for most of Sunday and made the turn with a 3 up lead over Matt Kuchar. As the session played out in became apparent, the Internationals had lost their chance to win the Cup but if the final three matches stayed black they could grab themselves a share of it. Cameron Smith was playing his part against Justin Thomas, surging back from three down to be 2 up with four to play. But Oosthuizen was going the wrong way. By the 15th hole he had lost his lead and looked dead when he drove the ball into the trees on the 16th and was forced to punch out. Only a three-putt from Kuchar saved him. But it was only a short reprieve. Despite Smith closing out a 2&1 win over Thomas ahead Oosthuizen’s approach to 17, a hole he could not afford to lose, bounced past the pin and settled some 16-feet above the hole. Kuchar stiffed his approach to five-feet. When the South African left his putt too far out to the left Kuchar sent his to the bottom of the Cup ensuring a 1 up lead with a hole to play and the vital last half point, the U.S. needed to clinch. The next chance to avenge yet another loss will come in 2021 at Quail Hollow. Given how close they came it can’t come soon enough for the Internationals.
14 Dec 2019
The United States has recaptured the Presidents Cup. It trailed after each of the first four sessions, but the U.S. routed the International Team, 8-4, on Sunday at Royal Melbourne. That tied the record for most points scored in Singles in tournament history. The U.S. set that record 25 years ago in the first Presidents Cup. Tiger Woods won his match and finished 3-0-0, making him the first playing captain since Sam Snead in the 1959 Ryder Cup to go undefeated in his team’s victory. Here’s a closer look at how it happened. PRESIDENTS CUP: Scoring | Quiz: Which team should you support? DAY 4 SINGLES MATCH 19: U.S. WINS 3&2 Tiger Woods (U.S.) def. Abraham Ancer (International) Holes won: U.S. 7, International 4 Holes led: U.S. 11, International 0 Recap: Ancer hung tough, keeping the match all square through eight holes. Woods was too much, though. made back-to-back birdies at 9 and 10 to take a 2-up lead. Ancer cut into the lead by holing a 10-foot birdie putt to win the 13th. He gave it back with a bogey at the next hole, though. Woods birdied the next two holes to close out the match. He executed an incredible lag putt from well short of the green on the par-5 15th, then closed it out with a 20-footer for birdie. “I knew the match was over with 6 feet remaining,” Woods said. This was his seventh Singles win, the most in Presidents Cup history. Woods finished 3-0-0 this week. This is just the second time he's gone undefeated in nine Presidents Cup appearances. MATCH 20: TIED Hideki Matsyuama (International) tied Tony Finau (U.S.) Holes won: International 6, U.S. 6 Holes led: International 13, U.S. 0 Recap: This one stung for the International Team. Matsuyama was 4 up after 10 holes. Finau won Nos. 11-14, three of them with birdies, to tie the match. Matsuyama regained his lead with a birdie on 16, but he three-putted to lose the 17th. They both parred the final hole. MATCH 21: U.S. WINS 4&2 Patrick Reed (U.S.) def. C.T. Pan (International) Holes won: U.S. 8, International 4 Holes led: U.S. 16, International 0 Recap: Reed came out on fire. He won six of the first seven holes, five of them with birdies. Pan won the next three holes, but Reed staved off the comeback by holing a 10-footer to halve the 11th hole. Pan birdied the 13th to pull within 2 down, but it didn’t get any closer. Reed closed it out with wins on 15 and 16. “You make birdies, you don’t hear much (from the fans),” Reed said about his hot start. MATCH 22: U.S. WINS 4&3 Dustin Johnson (U.S.) def. Haotong Li (International) Holes won: U.S. 7, International 3 Holes led: U.S. 13, International 0 Recap: Johnson took the early lead by winning Nos. 3-5, two of them with pars. He never led by fewer than three holes after that. Another par earned him a win on the seventh hole. Johnson was 5 up after 11 holes, and while Li won Nos. 12 and 14, it was never close. The match ended with Johnson’s birdie on the 15th hole. “I played really well today. I hit the ball great,” Johnson said. “obviously he struggled just a little bit. I definitely put lot of pressure on him because I hit some great shots today.” MATCH 23: TIED Bryson DeChambeau (U.S.) tied Adam Hadwin (International) Holes won: U.S. 3, International 3 Holes led: U.S. 7, International 0 Recap: DeChambeau had the early lead but Hadwin tied the match with a par at the ninth hole. They halved Nos. 10-15 before DeChambeau won the 16th by holing a 23-footer for birdie. DeChambeau bogeyed the next hole, though. He missed a 25-foot birdie putt on the final hole, while Hadwin missed from 14 feet. MATCH 24: INTERNATIONAL WINS 4&3 Sungjae Im (International) def. Gary Woodland (U.S.) Holes won: International 6, U.S. 2 Holes led: International 8, U.S. 3 Recap: Woodland was 1 up after eight holes, but Im birdied the ninth hole and then won four holes in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 11-15. He finished the match with a birdie at 15. Im, the 2019 PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year, finished his first Presidents Cup with a 3-1-1 record. MATCH 25: U.S. WINS 3&2 Patrick Cantlay (U.S.) def. Joaquin Niemann (International) Holes won: U.S. 7, International 4 Holes led: U.S. 9, 2 Recap: Cantlay took the lead early in the match, but Niemann won Nos. 7, 9 and 10 to take the lead. Cantlay responded by making birdie on the next three holes to go 2 up. He added a birdie at the 15th hole, then won the next hole with par. MATCH 26: U.S. WINS 2&1 Xander Schauffele (U.S.) def. Adam Scott (International) Holes won: U.S. 5, International 3 Holes led: U.S. 16, International 0 Recap: Schauffele was 4 up through seven. Scott holed a 40-footer to win the 10th hole, though. Scott was still 4 down with four holes remaining, but made a 25-footer for birdie on 15 and won the 16th with a par. Schauffele’s par on 17 was enough to close it out. “It wasn’t the picturesque finish I wanted. It was kind of a stressful finish for a rookie,” Schauffele said. He went 3-2-0 in his first Presidents Cup. MATCH 27: U.S. WINS 2&1 Webb Simpson (U.S.) def. Byeong Hun An (International) Holes won: U.S. 5, International 3 Holes led: U.S. 14, International 0 Recap: Simpson took a 2-up lead with a par at 5 and birdie at the sixth hole, where he holed a 33-footer for birdie. He won the 13th with a par, but An responded by winning the 14th and 16th holes. It ended with a par at 17. Simpson’s win gave the United States a 15-12 lead, guaranteeing at least a tie. It was Simpson’s first win of the week after he went 0-3 with partner Patrick Reed. MATCH 28: INTERNATIONALS WIN 2&1 Cameron Smith (International) def. Justin Thomas (U.S.) Holes won: International 6, U.S. 4 Holes led: U.S. 9, International 6 Recap: Thomas led the entire front nine, but Smith squared the match with a win on 10. He also won the 12th and 13th holes, then closed things about by knocking his approach to 7 feet on 17 and making the putt. Smith’s win made it 15-13 with two tied matches on the course. The International Team needed to win both matches to tie the Cup. MATCH 29: TIED Matt Kuchar (U.S.) tied Louis Oosthuizen (International) Holes won: U.S. 6, International 6 Holes led: International 14, U.S. 1 Recap: Oosthuizen won the first two holes with birdie. He took a 3-up lead with an eagle at the drivable par-4 sixth, and was still 3 up at the turn. Kuchar birdied the first two holes on the back nine, though. After winning just one hole on the front nine, Kuchar won five on the back. He clinched the Cup with a birdie on the 17th hole, where he knocked his approach to 6 feet. Oosthuizen won the last to tie the match, but the Cup had been claimed. MATCH 30: TIED Marc Leishman (International) tied Rickie Fowler (U.S.) Holes won: International 6, U.S. 6 Holes led: International 8, U.S. 2 Recap: Fowler was 1 up at the turn, but Leishman won 10 and 11. They were all square after 16, but Fowler won the 17th with a 10-foot birdie putt to guarantee a record-tying singles session. Fowler three-putted the last hole, but the U.S. still scored 8 points Sunday, the most in the final session since the first Presidents Cup.
14 Dec 2019