ORLANDO, Fla. – The guy who grew up within blocks of the course hadn’t often seen the Presidents Cup’s venerable host venue with more teeth bared.
The greens were turning a crispy brown, the winds whipped players and shots all over the property, tree limbs rattled overhead and the conditions were as tough as anybody had seen in the history of the competition.
“Royal Melbourne doesn’t get any harder than this,” said Geoff Ogilvy, an International team veteran and a former caddie at the famed Melbourne track.
That said, who better, then, to lead the American charge than the two most experienced players on the squad, a pair who has just about seen everything the game has to offer?
The pairing of international veterans Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk, who both played in the Presidents Cup matches at Royal Melbourne in 1998 and have some familiarity with the venue, held on to win 2-and-1 in their best-ball match Friday and remained unbeaten after two days of the play.
It’s been the most pleasant surprise of the week for the Yanks.
Born within a month of each other -- they attended rival schools in Arizona -- the two 41-year-olds were paired at the request of Mickelson, who thought they might mesh effectively. They have turned into the best twosome on the American side, which split six matches Friday and holds a 7-5 lead with two days of play remaining.
Few would have envisioned Lefty and Furyk leading the way after the decidedly mediocre seasons each experienced. Furyk, the PGA Tour Player of the Year in 2010, didn’t win a tournament this year and Mickelson rarely contended after winning in April in Houston. Both have had huge issues this season on the greens.
But in whistling winds at Royal Melbourne, they were at their experienced best. All Mickelson could do was laugh afterward at the difficulty of the course, where the greens were harder than linoleum.
“This is crazy,” Mickelson said. “When you get winds like this on greens that are 14-plus on the Stimpmeter, it’s hard to imagine because you never see it at a local club.
“This was a case where we were trying to read the wind on putts. Apparently, we did a good job because Jim made a bunch of good, solid four- and five-footers.”
Mickelson, who was unbeaten in the last Presidents Cup matches in San Francisco two years ago, is 6-0-1 in his last seven matches in the event. He has played in all eight Presidents Cup matches and Furyk has made the team six times.
Amazingly, they had never been paired.
Despite playing with a broad range of partners, Mickelson is now undefeated in his last 10 matches at the event and has absorbed one defeat in his last 17, dating to 2005.
At the other end of the spectrum was teammate Tiger Woods, the third member of the current team who played at Royal Melbourne in 1998. Woods and partner Dustin Johnson lost 1 up, leaving Woods as the lone American player who hasn’t scored at least a half-point after two days.
Woods, a controversial captain’s pick by Fred Couples, was on the losing end of a 7-and-6 decision on Thursday, which matched the most lopsided loss in event history.
Over two days, Woods has been credited with two birdies in two days, though his play improved on Friday.
Still, it marked only the second time Woods has lost two consecutive matches at the Presidents Cup -- the other instance was at Royal Melbourne in 1998, when he lost three matches in a row.
Woods fell to 5-8-0 in best-ball play at the Presidents Cup, giving him more losses in the format than any other player in event history. The former No. 1 and his two partners have only won one hole over two matches this week, over a span of 30 holes played.