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Last week the Americans won 10� points in alternate shot (a.k.a. foursomes), out of a possible 11. Ouch! Jack's method of figuring out the pairings was to ask the players to list, anonymously, whom they did and did not want to play with. Tom Lehman did the same thing as Ryder Cup captain last year, with one significant difference. When Nicklaus posed the question, it seemed casual. At the Ryder Cup, nothing seems casual. "In Ryder Cup, I've always been told who I'm playing with," said Scott Verplank, who went 4-0-0 last week.
Woods made things easy for Jack. He told his captain, "Play me with anybody." Woods won one match with Charles Howell and one with David Toms and lost one and won one with Jim Furyk. He also lost his Sunday singles match to Mike Weir. Jack engineered that Sunday matchup pitting the pride of Canadian golf against the best player today. Woods won't allow any best-of-show inflation beyond that.
" Jack Nicklaus is the greatest golfer of all time," Woods said more than once last week. There are people who would dispute that— Tiger has won more (61 tournaments) at age 31 than Jack (37) had, and some of his winning margins have been crazy big. (Big Jack never won a U.S. Open by 15.) But for Woods, it's useful to keep Jack way out in front. Jack has 18 professional major titles to Tiger's 13. The gap keeps him hungry.
But Tiger is catching up to Jack in other ways, too. Jack's life path has become Tiger's path as well. Marriage. Death. Fatherhood. Becoming a course architect and running a tournament and winning and improving on both sides of the 30 divide. "For two guys who don't spend a lot of time together, there's a closeness there," Woods said years ago. Nowadays, they share a locker room at Augusta National. Tiger plays in the Memorial every year. And Woods has now played for Nicklaus four times in the Presidents Cup. In Montreal, Woods was often near his captain—at team meals, in a press conference, on the team bus, in the fairways— sometimes with his long forearm resting on Jack's shoulder. Tiger finally found a team competition he could thoroughly enjoy, courtesy of Jack. Now, said Woods, who in the last 18 months has experienced the death of his father, Earl, and the birth of his daughter, Sam Alexis, "I have a better perspective on what he went through in his career. I can understand why he became motivated, why he played better after his father passed and also why your life becomes more balanced when you have children."
Jack left the door open for returning for the 2009 Presidents Cup, which will be played at Harding Park in San Francisco. He left the door open for serving again as a Ryder Cup captain, too. Last week was the first time a U.S. team, in either the Ryder Cup or the Presidents Cup, had won a road game since the Americans took a Ryder Cup at the Belfry in 1993. Toms predicted that Paul Azinger, the U.S. Ryder Cup captain for next year, would be checking in with Nicklaus and Sluman, looking for tips.
But you almost can't compare the two events. The Ryder Cup began as Great Britain and Ireland, the countries that gave birth to the game, taking on the U.S., the country that advanced it. There was a natural rivalry there. When the U.S. plays the rest of the world, what's there to get worked up about?
That's the worst thing about the Presidents Cup, and the best thing, too. On the NBC telecast, the announcers spoke of the intensity of the Canadian fans. They weren't intense. They were polite and knowledgeable, and the $7 glasses of vin rouge they drank only seemed to make them more mellow . What they did was cheer for Weir, who went 3-1-1. And even when he was playing Tiger, you never had to fight anybody to get a glimpse of the action.
The course was easy to walk and easy to play. (It was Birdie City out there.) The apple trees were showing fruit, and the air was autumnal and ever changing. On one still afternoon, a sudden wind came up and hundreds of yellow maple leaves came floating off a single tree. Amy Mickelson, Phil's wife, walked through the falling leaves and said, "That was random." She uses random for unexpected. It was nice.
The whole thing was random. When it was over, Tiger was loose and Sluman was wearing Woody's new snorkeling mask and Jack was talking about doing it one more time and Ernie was annoyed. You couldn't have predicted any of that, right? It's a relief, really. Random is the death of the prediction game.
There was no raucous victory party on Sunday night. Why should there have been? People were tired. There was only sleep.