|Japan's Ryo Ishikawa of the International team hits an approach shot during a practice round prior to the start of the Presidents Cup golf tournament at Royal Melbourne Golf Course, in Melbourne, Australia, on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2011. The competition begins with six foursomes matches on Thursday Nov. 17. (AP Photo/Andrew Brownbill)|
Rookies shine for Americans in Australia
MELBOURNE, Australia—Playing in his first Presidents Cup, Bubba Watson took it upon himself to be the voice of experience in the opening round at Royal Melbourne.
Watson played in the Ryder Cup last year in Wales, his first time in a team competition with the Stars & Stripes on his sleeve. Next to him was Webb Simpson, a two-time winner on the PGA Tour this year who finished second on the money list. Even so, he was nervous in his first Presidents Cup, and Watson could sense it.
"I saw he was a little jittery," Watson said. "He hit a shot he normally doesn't hit. It cut a little bit on No. 4 and I went up to him and told him he's the best player here. ... And I calmed him down and made a couple of jokes after that got him laughing and thinking about the other stuff and not the swing."
It seemed to have worked. They birdied the next two holes to square the match and were on their way, combining for seven birdies in the foursomes match -- the most of any team in the difficult alternate-shot format -- and sailed to a 4-and-2 win.
Simpson is among three newcomers to cup competition for the United States, and they all came through.
The other two are Bill Haas and Nick Watney, who played together and battled back from 2 down with four holes to play to earn a halve against Melbourne native Geoff Ogilvy and Masters champion Charl Schwartzel.
U.S. captain Fred Couples could have put the rookies with veterans for the opening session. Instead, he had Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk reunite for the first time in 12 years. They have played on 32 cups between them.
Mickelson played his last two Ryder Cups with rookies Anthony Kim (2008) and Dustin Johnson (2010). He played in the last Presidents Cup with another rookie, Sean O'Hair. Mickelson also had rookie David Toms with him at The Belfry in 2002.
"The last few years, there have been some young guys that we wanted to get out with," Mickelson said. "And this year, we feel like our young guys are ready to play with each other or want to play with each other and are going to play well with each other -- which they are. That gave Jim and I a chance to do what we have been wanting to do for a few years."
If Simpson had the jitters, it didn't show right away.
Watson crushed his opening tee shot, and Simpson followed with a short wedge to a back pin on greens that were fast and firm. To get too aggressive would mean sending the ball over the green. His shot caught part of the lip.
Oddly enough, his relationship with Watson dates to New Orleans, when Watson beat Simpson in a playoff. Simpson approached Watson in early September about playing together in Melbourne, and Watson already was thinking along the same lines.
"I'm glad Bubba was hitting the first tee shot," Simpson said. "He gave me a good pep talk. He could see I was really nervous and he really helped me. I knew him pretty well before this week, but now I know him really well and already he's one of my best friends and can make me laugh like crazy. I told Freddie if he puts me with anyone else, I'm going back home."
Rookies on the International team didn't fare so well -- Schwartzel having to settle for a halve, and K.T. Kim paired with Y.E. Yang when they got steamrolled by Toms and Hunter Mahan.
What really stood out were the two Australians, Jason Day and Aaron Baddeley. They were 3 up with seven holes to play against Johnson and Matt Kuchar when they let it get away. The Americans didn't make a birdie over the last seven holes and still earned a halve.
Baddeley, the last man picked for the International team by captain Greg Norman, hit a poor tee shot and a worse chip on the 12th hole that led to bogey. From the middle of the fairway on the 17th, Baddeley missed the green to the left and missed an 8-foot par putt that would have won the match.
And his worst drive came on the 18th, so far right that Day could only chop back to the fairway.
"I wasn't that nervous on that last tee shot," Baddeley said. "I don't know, it was weird. Just hit a terrible shot."
He and Day spoke of their good experience, saying a half-point was still better than losing and should give them confidence going into Friday's fourballs.
"Sometimes I know I feel probably worse than Aaron feels because you know how he feels," Norman said. "You know he's carrying the weight of everybody else. I said, 'Look, just keep your head high. Just suck it up. It's over and done with. It's water over the dam and just accept it and it's done.'
"Now he feels better," Norman said. "Now he's OK, and he knows he's playing well."
Even though the Presidents Cup is held over four days -- there is little time to think compared with the seamless, three-day competition of the Ryder Cup -- Baddeley and Day had to get right back out there.
Their fourballs match Friday was against Johnson and Tiger Woods.