Phil Mickelson andSteve Stricker are tall and handsome, and each married his college sweetheart,but the similarities pretty much end there. Mickelson is one of golf'sextroverts, a brash know-it-all with a wicked wit he rarely displays for hisadoring public. The size of his personality is exceeded only by the depth ofhis talent. Stricker is soft-spoken and shy, and his quiet success has stampedhim as the game's biggest overachiever, despite a brutal mid-career slump thatearned him not one but two comeback player of the year awards. At last week'sPresidents Cup at Harding Park, Mickelson and Stricker unexpectedly hadsomething new in common: They led the U.S. to a 19½--14½ victory over theInternationals that wasn't as close as the score might indicate.
Mickelson andStricker summoned spectacular golf, but just as important was the effect oftheir differing presences, especially during the opening three days of partnerplay, when the U.S. built a decisive lead that rendered Sunday singles mostlyceremonial. Mickelson, 39, solidified his role as the Americans' elderstatesman by guiding, cajoling and inspiring to victory three partners who werein varying states of fragility. Stricker, meanwhile, had to worry aboutpleasing only one very important teammate, Tiger Woods, who had handpicked themild-mannered Wisconsinite to be his wingman. Over the Cup's first three daysthey rolled to a 4--0 record together. After inexplicably uneven play in hisfirst five Presidents Cups—and, for that matter, his five Ryder Cups—Woods atlong last had found his comfort zone, and he carried the momentum into singles,waxing Y.E. Yang 6 and 5 and clinching the Cup with a birdie on the 13th hole."For me, obviously, it's one of my better Cup experiences," Woods said."We won, and that's the name of the game, whether you go 0--5 or 5--0."Especially when you go 5--0.
The tone for thisCup was set during the first session, last Thursday's foursomes. Mickelson wassent out in the opening match alongside Anthony Kim, the flighty 24-year-oldwho had been one of the stars at last year's Ryder Cup (at which he playedthree matches with Phil). Kim has struggled ever since, but he found a sparkteaming with Mickelson for a 3-and-2 victory over Mike Weir and Tim Clark."Phil helped me get out of this funk I've been in for the last year,"Kim said. "He kept pushing me to play aggressively, and that was a sign hebelieved I could pull off the shots. It was the confidence boost I've beenlooking for."
In theirfirst-ever match together Woods and Stricker didn't lose a hole in a 6-and-4thumping of Geoff Ogilvy and Ryo Ishikawa. "We had Steve putting on everyhole, which, trust me, is a pretty nice feeling to have," said Woods.
Mickelson was sentout first again for Friday's four-ball. This time his partner was JustinLeonard, who the day before had missed a short putt on the 18th hole to costhis team a half point and leave the U.S. with a slim 3½--2½ lead. WithMickelson jawing at him throughout the match, Leonard made a handful of keyputts, and Phil added five birdies en route to a 3-and-2 victory over AdamScott and Retief Goosen. "He's a great coach out there," Leonard said."We started talking strategy last night, so he helped me mentally get intoplaying today."
Woods and Strickerkept rolling with a 5-and-3 takedown of Ogilvy and Angel Cabrera, who accordingto the rankings made up the Internationals' strongest team. Woods's 10-9-1record in previous Prez Cup partner play was a reflection not of his apathy, asis often perceived, but of the unease he instills in his teammates, who eithertry too hard or feel unworthy, or both. But Stricker is unflappable, and hetenaciously played his own game. For his part Tiger doesn't like playing withflashy types—recall his disastrous pairing with Mickelson at the '04 RyderCup—and prefers the company of fellow grinders. Of Stricker, he says, "Ihit the ball a little farther, but our mentality and how we play and how wecompete is exactly the same." From Woods, that's the highest praise.
A late rally bythe Internationals on Friday kept them within a point, but that only set thestage for Woods to give this Presidents Cup its defining moment duringSaturday-morning foursomes. Tiger was a nonfactor for most of the match versusWeir and Clark, and the U.S. was 2 down playing the 13th hole. But at 17 Woodsburied a fist-pump-inducing 22-footer for birdie that squared the match. Then,on the par-5 18th, from 232 yards out, he ripped a high, cut three-iron. Woodschased after the shot, posing with a frozen follow-through. His ball settledwithin nine feet of the hole, and the eagle was ultimately conceded, giving theYanks a tide-turning comeback win.
In his traditionalleadoff spot Mickelson brought home another point paired with rookie SeanO'Hair, who had looked shaky losing his first two matches. For all the pom-pomwaving Mickelson was doing, O'Hair said he was elevated more by his partner'sfine play. "Right now Phil is hitting it very long, very straight, and he'sputting it straight [into the hole]," said O'Hair. "That takes a lot ofpressure off the partner."
With 3½ of fivepoints in the session, the U.S. bumped its overall lead to three points, and itmaintained that advantage by splitting the afternoon four-ball.
A scintillatinggolf marathon was in the books, but for the Americans the highlight of the daywas still to come. Her battle with breast cancer had kept Amy Mickelson at homenear San Diego, but on Saturday afternoon she surreptitiously flew up to SanFrancisco and sneaked into her hubby's hotel room. "She was hiding in thebathroom and scared the crap out of me," Phil says.
Beaming, heescorted her to the team dinner, and much hugging and crying ensued. This isthe Mickelsons' 15th straight Cup—Ryder or Presidents—and though Phil was oftenthe life of the party last week, he was clearly missing his bride. "Thatwas a special thing to have Amy here," said Stricker. "It wasn't thesame without her around. She definitely gave all of us a lift."
It was theInternationals who could've used a little extra inspiration as they were in thedesperate position of needing to win eight of 12 points in singles. A faststart to build momentum was crucial, but captain Greg Norman inexplicably ledoff with rookie Camilo Villegas, who was 0--3 to that point, and his captain'spick, Adam Scott, who had lost three straight matches after an opening victory.Predictably, both got thumped (by Hunter Mahan and Stewart Cink, respectively),making the outcome inevitable. All three of Mickelson's pet projects camethrough for the U.S. in early matches, and it was left to Woods to officiallyend the Cup in his grudge match with Yang, the surprise winner over Tiger atthis year's PGA Championship. With the singles victory Woods became only thethird player, joining Mark O'Meara (1996) and Shigeki Maruyama ('98), to go5--0 at the Presidents Cup. (Mickelson, who defeated Goosen, had to settle for4-0-1, while Stricker ran out of gas on Sunday, losing to Ogilvy to finish4--1.)
"You need[Woods] to step up to the plate, and sometimes he hasn't done that," saidNorman. "This time he did. That injected a lot of adrenaline into the restof the team." Indeed it did, but Tiger wouldn't have been the same withoutStricker, just as the other Americans were lifted by Mickelson's estimablecontributions. In his own way, each offered a compelling lesson inteamwork.
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"Phil helped me get out of this funk I've been infor the last year," said Kim.
BONUS SECTION | GOLF.COM
Best of the Rest
So much golf is played during the Presidents Cup thatit can be tough to remember what happened to whom. Here's a primer on the weekthat was
BEST DRIVE Adam Scott (right), Internationals Themuch-scrutinized captain's selection summoned a monster mash down the middle ofthe fairway on the 1st hole, an impressive display of brio that foreshadowedhis strong play during Scott's and Ernie Els's 2-and-1 victory over HunterMahan and Sean O'Hair.
WORST PUTT Justin Leonard, U.S. In the final match ofthe day, J Low had a four-footer on the 18th hole that would have given him andpartner Jim Furyk a hard-fought victory over Retief Goosen and Y.E. Yang.Leonard yipped it, forcing the U.S. to settle for a halve and a 3½--2½ overalllead at day's end.
BEST RECOVERY Leonard Following the halve, he hadFuryk's caddie, Fluff Cowan, line up five shot glasses in the team room.Leonard stormed in and started pounding the shots, quieting the room. Furyk'swife, Tabitha, was so concerned that she beseeched her husband to intervene.After the fifth shot Leonard revealed that the glasses were filled withwater.
BEST RANDOM CELEBRITY SIGHTINGS Barry Bonds, CharlesSchwab
BEST SHOT Mike Weir, Internationals At one stage,behind in five of six four-ball matches, the Internationals rallied furiously,highlighted by Weir's spectacular fairway metal on the 18th hole. His ball hardagainst a fence with a squirrelly lie, Weir ripped it to 20 feet for an eagleopportunity that iced a 2-up victory over Furyk and Anthony Kim.
BEST PUTT Tim Clark, Internationals His do-or-die14-footer for eagle on 18 to steal a win with Vijay Singh over LucasGlover--Stewart Cink was pivotal, helping the Ints climb to within a point.
WORST CASE OF TIGERITIS Ogilvy The Internationals' bestplayer (according to the World Ranking) had the misfortune of going up againstTiger Woods--Steve Stricker two days running and played miserably in a 5-and-3defeat alongside a listless Angel Cabrera. Ogilvy's back-to-back debacles gothim benched for Saturday-morning foursomes.
BEST RANDOM CELEBRITY SIGHTINGS Bill Clinton, JohnMadden, Willie Mays
BEST BILINGUAL SKILLS Yang (near right) The Korean isconversant in Japanese, helping to put Ryo Ishikawa at ease as they turned intoa formidable team, with young Ryo showing a little more swagger during a3-and-2 takedown of Zach Johnson and Kenny Perry.
BEST USE OF SULKING TIME Ogilvy He came out on Saturdayafternoon with guns blazing, sparking the all-Australian pairing of himself andRobert Allenby to a 2-and-1 victory over the woebegone duo of Cink (0-3-1 inpartner play) and Glover (0-3-0).
MUGGSY BOGUES AWARD Clark The 5'7" South Africanwas the shortest hitter on either team, but he made an absurd number of birdiesin two matches on Saturday. Unfortunately he didn't get much help from hismates. Weir blew a four-footer on the 17th hole in morning foursomes, openingthe door for Woods-Stricker. Then, in the afternoon four-ball, Singh waslargely absent, leading to a halve with Phil Mickelson--O'Hair.
BEST RANDOM CELEBRITY SIGHTINGS Condoleezza Rice, KenVenturi
CLASSIEST MOVE Singh On the 18th hole he conceded a10-footer to Glover, halving their match and giving Glover his first (partial)point of the week.
KEENEST TEENYBOPPER Ishikawa The 18-year-old captain'spick beat 49-year-old Kenny Perry, capping a 3--2 week during which he earnedeffusive praise from the holy trinity of Woods, Greg Norman and Johnny Miller,among others.
Photograph by ROBERT BECK
CROWD PLEASER For the first time in 11 Presidents and Ryder Cup starts, Woods was a perfect 5--0—and set the Presidents record with 18 match wins.
Photograph by ROBERT BECK
¬†ROLEPLAYERS Stricker (top) and Woods meshed, while Mickelson (above left, withO'Hair) coached as well as played.
KOHJIRO KINNO (MICKELSON AND O'HAIR)
[See caption above]
KOHJIRO KINNO (SCOTT)
Photograph by ROBERT BECK