Tiger & Freddie: I Love You, Man!
By Stephanie Wei under Presidents Cup

Tiger: Thanks for believing in me, Freddie (This is seriously adorable).

USA, USA! Well, the Internationals certainly made an admirable effort, rallying early in the singles to create a much more intriguing final day. But they needed nothing short of a miracle to come back and win nine of the 12 matches to clinch the Presidents Cup for only the second time in history — the only time the Americans have lost was when the event was last held at Royal Melbourne in ’98.

I was wrong about Sunday singles being a snooze fest, so thanks to the International players for forcing the Americans to dig deep to retain the Cup. I was indeed on the edge of my seat the entire flight from Orlando to Newark. It’s late, but a few quick notes/observations (which may or may not make sense at this hour):

*Greg Norman is going to have a hard time living this one down (and possibly this one if Tiger continues to progress with his “process” like he has the last two weeks), but it’s not like he’s never put his foot in his mouth before.

*Oh yeah, it was fitting that Tiger won the point to clinch the Cup after the controversy that erupted after Couples used one of his captain’s picks on the slumping and injury-plagued Tiger, but he is the “best player forever.” Well, I think Tiger’s play spoke for itself. Take that, Greg Norman and all the other haters!

Captains' scoreboard: Freddie 2, Greg 0.

*Fred Couples may not be the most eloquent or sharpest captain in America’s golfing history, but perhaps that’s why he’s so effective — he doesn’t over-think. However, he is well-liked, respected and keeps things fun and relaxed for his players, which is arguably more beneficial than a captain who acts like he’s a drill sergeant leading them into war (no names…*coughCoreyPavincough*). The guys are already inherently competitive and put enough pressure on themselves that they don’t need someone uptight to make things more tense (but obviously, it’s important to have a captain who can rally his team when morale is low).

*Another sign of a good leader? One that surrounds himself with people (assistant captains) who complement his/her weaknesses. Freddie and Jay Haas have proved to be an effective partnership.

*Smart strategy by the captains to load the bottom half of the American lineup with veterans — Jim Furyk, Tiger Woods, David Toms and Steve Stricker represented the U.S. in the final four matches. If it came close, you want someone with experience to stand over that pressure-packed deciding putt.

*Jim Furyk was the obvious MVP, becoming only the fourth player in Presidents Cup history to finish with a 5-0 record. Furyk, who pleaded temporary insanity for switching to the belly putter, used a conventional flatstick and rediscovered his stroke. The guy was money. “I felt better about my game than what I’ve been playing this year, and I kind of want to thank my partners,” said Furyk, who won three matches with Phil Mickelson and another with Nick Watney. Furyk also credited Phil for giving him a putting tip that obviously worked pretty well.

*The Internationals started strong in the top of their lineup. I will confess that I was rooting for them because the closer things got, the more interesting they are — and then in a fantasy world, Tiger would roll in a long putt to win and then Baddeley would make his on top of Tiger’s to force a playoff, but the Americans would end up thwarting the epic comeback and retain the Cup. Well, I guess the next-best thing was Tiger beating Aaron Baddeley to clinch the U.S. victory.

*I was super impressed with K.T. Kim, especially his short game. He drained quite a few clutch putts under pressure throughout the week. He started off a little slow — in the first session he was partnered with Y.E. Yang and they got drilled by Mahan and David Toms 6&5. I’m betting  K.T. was initially rather nervous, playing in his first Presidents Cup alongside or against his childhood heroes and feeling a little intimidated. The language barrier probably didn’t help, either, even with fellow South Koreans Yang and K.J. Choi on the team. But Kim clearly settled in and made the winning putt in the final two sessions, one of which was against Tiger (and Dustin Johnson). Apparently the young Ryo Ishikawa encouraged Norman to put Kim out first (they’ve played a lot together and against each other in Asia). K.T. got the job done on the 18th, rolling in the comeback after drilling his lag putt eight-feet past the hole — it started right on line and disappeared dead center in the cup to beat Webb Simpson and keep some semblance of hope alive for the Internationals.

*Ryo Ishikawa is a stud. He seems so much more grown up and comfortable than he did two years ago, though he’s still only 20. I think the ’09 Presidents Cup was great for his confidence and helped him feel like he belonged — despite all his success and fame in Japan, it’s a different story in a foreign country, where there’s a language barrier. I think Americans don’t realize or overlook those factors. Ryo’s role and contributions in this year’s matches will only boost his self-assurance and comfort level when he plays on the PGA Tour next season.

*It was also really heartwarming to see his great partnership with Ernie Els, who appears to have taken on the role as Ryo’s mentor. I loved the way Ernie reacted to Ryo draining important, pressure-packed putts in the last few holes of Saturday morning’s foursomes to beat Matt Kuchar and Bill Haas — Ernie looked like a proud father. It was also the only point won in that session.

*I’ve said it a few times on Twitter and in the past, but Ryo is an awesome putter. Not sure who’s better — Ryo or K.T.? I haven’t seen K.T. play enough yet or in person, but he certainly was the more aggressive putter.

*Tiger made EVERY putt he needed to make on Sunday against Baddeley. Unlike the previous days, Tiger found the hole. Finally. He rolled in birdies from 20 feet, 17 feet, 8 feet, etc. — everything he looked at went in. He carded six birdies and one bogey. Baddeley held his own, but there wasn’t much he could do.

*Tiger’s ballstriking improved with every “rep,” starting last week at the Australian Open. His putting was still failing him until Sunday, where he made everything for the first time since I don’t even know when, but I’ll assume it was in the pre-hydrant era. No, he’s not “back” yet, but it’s definitely progress in his “process.” I think he actually is getting “closer.”

*Will the real Jason Day please stand up? The poor guy tried too hard. He pressed and pressed and played worse and worse. It happens. You’ll get ’em next time, Jas.

*The weaknesses in Dustin Johnson’s game — putting, wedge game, not a great grinder/scrambler — were fully exposed at Royal Melbourne. Cripes. By Sunday I had been conditioned to cringe every time I saw him standing over a putt. I mean, could he have looked more uncomfortable? Quick, someone get him Dave Stockton’s number!

*Unsung hero or maybe-not-so unsung: Hunter Mahan, who went 4-1, drained big putts and won big matches by decisive margins. Mahan, who lost the deciding match at last year’s Ryder Cup (and flubbed a chip), won the first point of the day in singles. Maybe it’s not quite redemption, but it’s something — and he’ll leave Australia with a much better memory and mood. “These fans are awesome,” Mahan said. “They were having a great time out there. Almost not just playing Jason, playing the crowd, too, it felt like.” No tears shed at Royal Melbourne, only massive fist-pumps and emotion-packed reactions.

*I know a lot of people have issues with Johnny Miller, but I became a fan after this happened last year. (Hey, at least he doesn’t blow smoke up everyone’s butts like many of his contemporaries!) I’m pretty sure it’s not just me that noticed Johnny has a new crush: Tiger Woods. When was the last time Johnny was so complimentary about Tiger? Or anyone, for that matter? — they definitely don’t roll off the tip of his tongue too easily! The often-acerbic — or plain honest —  Miller waxed lyrical about Tiger’s new swing and ballstriking, saying on Saturday that the only criticism someone could make was maybe he wasn’t hitting it that close to the pin, but he was hitting a lot of greens. Then on Sunday, Miller was downright effusive with his analysis on Tiger.

Alright, it’s way too late. More to come tomorrow. Congrats again to the Freddie and the American team, and well played by the Internationals.

DAY FOUR SINGLES MATCHES – RESULTS Sunday Singles Matches – Internationals 6, United States 6

K.T. Kim (International) defeated Webb Simpson (U.S.), 1-up

Charl Schwartzel (International) defeated Dustin Johnson (U.S.), 2&1

Ryo Ishikawa (International) defeated Bubba Watson (U.S.), 3&2

Geoff Ogilvy (International) defeated Bill Haas (U.S.), 2-up

Hunter Mahan (U.S.) defeated Jason Day (International), 5&3

Nick Watney (U.S.) defeated K.J. Choi (International), 3&2

Adam Scott (International) defeated Phil Mickelson (U.S.), 2&1

Retief Goosen (International) defeated Matt Kuchar (U.S.), 1-up

Jim Furyk (U.S.) defeated Ernie Els (International), 4&3

David Toms (U.S.) defeated Robert Allenby (International), 7&5

Tiger Woods (U.S.) defeated Aaron Baddeley (International), 4&3

Steve Stricker (U.S.) defeated Y.E. Yang (International), 2&1

FINAL RESULTS – United States 19, Internationals 15