Commentary

Tiger, Lefty end Day 1 on positive note

Originally Published: October 8, 2009
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

SAN FRANCISCO -- They cannot win this thing by themselves, nor can any perceived advantages they possess give the American team any more points.

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson can only win the matches they play, and their victories count no more or less than those of their teammates at the Presidents Cup.

It's a pretty simple concept, but so is the notion that having them on your side gives you a huge advantage. That goes without saying when you have the top two players in the world -- or thereabouts -- on your side year after year after year.

[+] EnlargeTiger Woods
Cary Edmondson/US PresswireTiger Woods will once again pair with Steve Stricker on Friday when they take on former U.S. Open winners Geoff Ogilvy and Angel Cabrera in a four-ball match at the Presidents Cup.

But it hasn't really worked out that way in these team competitions, perhaps one reason the United States has endured so much frustration, at least as far as the Ryder Cup is concerned.

That is why Thursday's results on the opening day of the Presidents Cup at Harding Park Golf Course are so interesting.

We're not talking about the fairly easy victories to which both players contributed. Mickelson and partner Anthony Kim defeated Mike Weir and Tim Clark 3 and 2 in the opening match, and Woods and partner Steve Stricker waxed Geoff Ogilvy and Ryo Ishikawa 6 and 4 in the fifth match.

They helped the Americans jump out to a 3½ to 2½ lead.

But it was the first time since the 2000 Presidents Cup that Woods and Mickelson both won in the opening session.

Think about that.

Two of the best players in the history of the game, competing on the same international teams for more than a decade, and they had managed to both win their opening-session matches just once before Thursday.

And it has never happened in the Ryder Cup, in which Woods first started competing in 1997.

Incredible, really.

And it has led to the conspiracy theorists who wondered whether the two guys really wanted to be here. Remember when Woods famously asked at the 2004 Ryder Cup whether everybody knew Jack Nicklaus' Ryder Cup record? Then he asked how many majors the Golden Bear had won?

The inference, of course, was that the Ryder Cup was not nearly as important as the major championships.

It was at the same Ryder Cup that Mickelson put a new set of clubs in his bag just days after having signed a lucrative endorsement contract with Callaway. Then, on the day before the competition, he practiced away from the course.

None of that stuff helped, and there are the records to back it up.

Woods is 14-11-1 in his sixth Presidents Cup and 10-13-2 in five Ryder Cups for an overall mark of 24-24-3.

Mickelson is 12-13-9 in his eighth Presidents Cup and 10-14-6 in seven Ryder Cups for an overall mark of 22-27-15.

Not exactly sterling stuff from two of the game's best.

Mickelson, 39, has never missed the Presidents Cup since its inception in 1994. For 15 years, he has played in a Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup every year the events have been played, something that was once seen as a negative for the top American players. Mickelson views it differently.

"I think that these weeks are some of the most fun weeks that we have on tour," he said. "It's fun to hang out with the guys at a whole different environment than an individual stroke-play event, a major championship, where we are competing against each other. ... These are special weeks."

Woods, 33, might not be as enthusiastic about it as Mickelson, but he has slowly embraced the team events, as well.

"It's always been important, but now it's different," Woods said. "I was never the team leader because I was always the youngest. Now that I've been around the team, and Jim [Furyk] and Phil and I have been around the longest, guys are starting to ask me what to expect."

And maybe guys are starting to get more used to the idea of playing with him. For years, it has been a struggle to find the right partner for Woods. There is a pressure playing with him, even as a teammate. And Stricker acknowledged it Thursday.

"I was comfortable having him as my partner, but I wanted to make sure he was comfortable having me as his partner, just because I didn't want to feel like he had to hold up my end as well as his end.

"But I think what was good is we got off to a good start. I made a good putt at 1. Hit a good shot in on 2, and he made the putt and we got off to a good start. I think that just calmed me down, and I felt very comfortable with him out there today. It was a lot of fun. We had a good time. We did a lot of good things."

You have to do a lot of good things when your day's work is complete in just 14 holes. And because of the alternate shot format, Woods swung only 26 times -- including conceded putts.

Mickelson and Kim needed longer than that, as they didn't make their first birdie of the day until the 13th hole -- the first of four straight holes they won to close out the match.

That meant Woods and Mickelson had both won in the opening session for the first time since 2000.

They are competing as "teammates" for the 11th time in either the Presidents Cup or Ryder Cup. And although the Americans have lost just one Presidents Cup and tied another in that span, the U.S. Ryder Cup team has just one victory in that stretch with both players on the team. (The Americans won the Ryder Cup last year, but Woods did not participate after knee surgery.)

Perhaps it will mean nothing in the end.

But if the Americans are always supposed to be the superior team because they have two of the most superior players, then days like Thursday ought to be more prevalent.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com