Captains flubbed it at Presidents Cup

DUBLIN, Ohio -- The final tally was closer than expected, and for a time Sunday afternoon, a singles collapse of epic proportions -- remember the Ryder Cup? -- seemed at least a possibility.

But in reality, it was another rout for the Americans at the Presidents Cup, an 18½-to-15½ victory over the Internationals at Muirfield Village that wasn't nearly that close, leaving you feeling a bit hollow.

It is difficult to build up much enthusiasm for an event that now stands 8-1-1 for the U.S., with five straight relatively comfortable victories. But at least there was the Sunday singles to look forward to, the possibility of some intriguing duels to at least stoke our intrigue over head-to-head golf, the rare match-play encounter at the professional level.

Uh, well, no.

In a move that can only be explained as strange, International captain Nick Price and U.S. counterpart Fred Couples made no attempt to set up Sunday singles with a few marquee matchups for which the Presidents Cup is applauded.

The event has never pretended to be the Ryder Cup, and in that spirit, a few tweaks have made the Presidents Cup different from the older and certainly more heated competition between the United States and Europe.

There are more matches, the tournament is played over an extra day, and the captains don't put their pairings in an envelope, instead doing a back-and-forth to mix and match, allowing them to let guys try "to get a piece" of somebody -- as several have put it.

And so we got Tiger Woods versus Richard Sterne on Sunday at Muirfield Village.

Nothing against Sterne, a South African who is ranked 41st in the world who won the European Tour's Joburg Open and finished second in Dubai. He admittedly gave Woods a very strong challenge, taking their match to the 18th hole, where Tiger won 1-up.

But he was 0-4 in the Presidents Cup, and Woods would have had trouble picking him out of a lineup from the six South Africans on the team. For Woods, it was a no-win situation.

Is that what people wanted to see?

How about Woods-Adam Scott, the No. 1 player in the world versus the Masters champion?

How about Ernie Els-Phil Mickelson, the past two Open Championship winners?

How about Jordan Spieth-Hideki Matsuyama, the two youngest players in the field, both of whom just turned pro in the past year?

None of those matches occurred.

Woods ended up getting the Cup-clinching point for the U.S. with his victory over Sterne, but would that not have been more compelling had it been against Scott, a potential big International comeback at stake?

From the looks of it, Couples and Price mailed in that part of the process, capping what has been a disappointing week in many ways, the weather an uncontrollable factor. Price, especially, seemed to want the least interesting pairings he could make; all of the above-mentioned matchups could have occurred.

Jack Nicklaus talked earlier this week about how he loved the Presidents Cup pairings format. "It actually lets the captain do something strategic," said the two-time U.S. Ryder Cup captain and four-time Presidents Cup captain. He then explained how he made sure a Woods-Greg Norman singles match occurred at the 1998 Presidents Cup.

Six years ago, Nicklaus made sure Woods got to play Canadian Mike Weir at Royal Montreal. In San Francisco, it was Woods against Y.E. Yang, who a few weeks earlier had surprised him at the PGA Championship. In each instance, the International team had a better chance of overtaking the Americans heading into singles.

But we wouldn't want No. 1 Woods versus No. 2 Scott?

Two weeks ago, when Mickelson was asked about the lack of International success and whether that needed to change for the sake of the event, he quickly squashed the notion.

"Actually, the tournament is about promoting the game of golf on an international level," Mickelson said. "Who loses and by how much isn't as important as having the guys get together in a competitive, friendly environment, put on a good show or display of golf and have some fun doing it."

If you go by Mickelson's theory, isn't it even more imperative that you use the given format to produce some compelling singles drama?

Even from a competitive standpoint, it makes no sense. The International team trailed 14-8 heading into singles after a horrendous conclusion to the foursomes competition on Sunday morning. To even forge a tie, they needed to win nine of the 12 singles matches. How is sending Sterne out against a Woods a good idea?

"I made my picks to win the Cup, not to get No. 1 and No. 2 together," Price said. Fair enough, but Price later admitted that he struggled with the pairings throughout the competition.

Mickelson, despite his earlier comments, said it's not the captains' duty to worry about the entertainment aspects of the competition. True, but then why have that part of the process?

As remote a possibility as a comeback was, you could argue that Sterne had a better chance against someone other than Woods. Forget that he took Woods to 18; he didn't win. He got Tiger on a poor day, but he still didn't beat him. Somebody else might have, and maybe Sterne would've had a better go at a struggling American player.

Neither captain had a real strong explanation, sort of in keeping with the awkward nature of how they handled the pairings throughout the competition.

Really, this competition got off track on Friday when everyone in Columbus knew rain was imminent, yet the PGA Tour elected to not move up the tee times in the interest of live television. With only six foursomes matches -- the shortest format of the week -- and a full slot of 10 matches on Saturday, it was imperative to get that session complete.

The tour gambled and lost, a long weather delay necessitating a Saturday morning foursomes finish and all but guaranteeing a jumbled, chaotic mess -- not to mention a bunch of grumpy players.

That is not to say there wasn't some excellent golf along the way. The International team should be commended for making it somewhat interesting Sunday afternoon, winning 7½ of 12 points.

Spieth and Matsuyama proved themselves worthy for the big stage, and how they fare in 2014 will be viewed with great interest.

Canada's Graham DeLaet was the International team MVP and ought to win soon on the PGA Tour. How Brendon de Jonge is winless seems a mystery.

Couples goes out a three-time winner as captain and has found the right formula among his players, with everyone on the U.S. team winning at least two points.

For U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson, he can already pencil two teams for next year at Gleneagles: Woods-Matt Kuchar and Mickelson-Keegan Bradley. They combined to go 5-2-1 here, and there's no point in messing with success. (Tiger went 4-1 and Mickelson was 2-2-1 overall.)

Of course, there is nothing that Watson can do about the fact that the Europeans seem to make every putt they look at in the Ryder Cup, while the Americans seem to make them at the Presidents Cup and not against Europe.

With another easy U.S. victory -- the Americans' fifth straight in the competition, all by 3 points or more -- there surely will be cries for change before the event heads to South Korea in 2015.

There will be suggestions -- as there have been in the past -- to go with the Ryder Cup format of 28 matches, which means some players will have to sit and the captains can bench their weaker players.

Regardless of how it works out, the captains' pairings process ought to remain the same. It is a fun, unique part of the competition.

Too bad it wasn't used to the Presidents Cup's benefit this time.