A prickly week in Melbourne ended with business as usual as Ernie Els' International side came unstuck when it mattered most. But win No. 2 doesn't feel far away
All the talk before this year’s Presidents Cup was a bit like how some were previewing the 2018 Ryder Cup; highlighting at great lengths the strength in depth of the Americans while doing likewise with the obvious weaknesses of the opposition.
Yes, Europe might have trounced Jim Furyk’s side by a whole seven points but, going into Paris, much of what we heard about was how this might be the strongest American side ever and how Thomas Bjorn’s picks were like something out of Dad’s Army.
This time around there were seven rookies in Ernie Els’ International team, something that is repeatedly overblown in the wrong way, ahead of the most one-sided contest in the game.
But all the generalisations and world rankings had gone out the window after the first day and a 4-1 scoreline in the hosts’ favour. Now the talk was of jet lag, a team missing Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth’s stock had risen through his absence and we had an injured Dustin Johnson and a collection of lightly-raced others.
On the contrary, the International effort was buoyed by the inclusion of Ben An, who would play in every session, for Jason Day, Els had a masterplan which he was sticking to and we had a course that is out of this world and so far removed from the standard bomb-and-gouge PGA Tour layout.
“This is the ultimate in golf. It is like an Open Championship with Augusta greens,” explained the US captain Tiger Woods.
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A day later Patrick Reed, who plenty thought shouldn’t have even been there, was up to his old pantomime villain tricks.
Come the close of another day his caddie had been booted out of the competition, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler saw a five-hole advantage wiped out in the last eight holes, the visiting player (and captain) most suited to the Royal Melbourne test had sat out the whole day after winning his first two matches and Els’ side had achieved their day-three goal of 10 points.
“Before the week started we had a plan to get to 10 points by Saturday evening. So that’s why we were so excited, losing 3-1, because we knew we got to 10 points,” said Els ahead of the singles.
The last time the Americans had won the singles was in 2009 but, again, the game isn’t played on paper and, cometh the hour, the superstar Americans only lost two of the 12 singles.
Despite two of those rookies Sungjae Im and Abraham Ancer, both sensational for large chunks, adding 3.5 points apiece the old guard of Hideki Matsuyama, Adam Scott, Louis Oosthuizen and Marc Leishman could only contribute three halves.
“I think the US team, and I think you guys, and I think the people around the world will look at these guys in a different way. You have seen what can happen. If you compare our team on paper with other teams in other sport, you would have laughed us out of the building. But we gave it a hell of a go and we came mightily close to winning and upsetting one of the greatest golf teams of all time,” said Captain Els.
For most of the week it felt like his plan, which is still to be revealed, was going to work. It had that feel to it. All the good stuff and the hot putters seemed to be with the hosts, all the negative bits were with the visitors.
But now the 2021 Presidents Cup will head to Quail Hollow, a staple of the PGA Tour, and the International team will start all over again – P12 W1 H1 L11.
Let’s hope though, for the sake of everything to do with the contest, that the positives from a brilliant week in Australia are carried forward and we’re fast approaching a second International victory.