Lateral Hazard: A streaker, a squirrel and an anticlimactic U.S. win at Presidents Cup finish off PGA season

Brian Murphy
Yahoo Sports
The USA Team poses with the Presidents Cup trophy after winning. (USA Today)

The USA Team poses with the Presidents Cup trophy after winning. (USA Today)

Don't want to say the 2013 President's Cup was anticlimactic, but getting a text alert on your smart phone Sunday afternoon that informs you Team USA won the Cup when Tiger Woods defeated Richard Sterne, 1-up – while on your TV, Tiger Woods lined up a putt on the 12th hole – was, shall we say, excitement-deficient.

Surprised the smart phone text alert didn't come with its own weather delay.

OK, OK. So the President's Cup is once again an easy target for couch potato wiseacres. It once again featured an International team struggling for cohesion among disparate players from five different continents – Australia, Africa, Asia, South America and North America, if you're counting. It once again featured a drama-free U.S. win – the 5th consecutive won by Uncle Sam, with the closest being a comfortable three-point victory this year and in 2005. And it once again featured a low-wattage threat to an NFL Week 5 packed with Drew Brees and Peyton Manning, a college football Saturday in which the Ohio State Buckeyes stayed unbeaten (after the band played the Prez Cup Opening Ceremonies) and an MLB playoff slate featuring the Halley's Comet sight of October baseball in Pittsburgh.

But since this is the final Lateral Hazard column of 2013, I refuse to go out on an overly cynical note. Would you settle for partially cynical?

After all, there were things to like and remember from the 2013 President's Cup:

Lindsey Vonn places a baby squirrel on Tiger Woods' shoulder. (Getty)

Lindsey Vonn places a baby squirrel on Tiger Woods' shoulder. (Getty)

• Sammy the Squirrel: Golf continued its tradition of highlighting furry rodents, an honored act since the days Carl Spackler tracked the elusive gopher in "Caddyshack". In Thursday's Day 1 matches, U.S. assistant captain Davis Love III befriended a squirrel and carried him around all day – sometimes in his pocket, which this here city slicker found kind of odd. But, Love is from North Carolina, and word is down South the squirrel can be not only loved as a pet, but eaten as dinner, too. I even found a recipe for Buttermilk Squirrel Pie on the North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension website. True story. Sammy the Prez Cup mascot never got more famous than when Lindsey Vonn, the Olympic gold medal skier who is now even more famous as Tiger's squeeze, took Sammy the Squirrel from Love's pocket and placed Sammy, surreptitiously, on Tiger's neck in a sort of lovey-dovey, flirty, I-love-you-honey-and-I'm-placing-a-squirrel-on-you moment. However, Tiger's salty reaction showed he was either a) totally focused on supporting his teammates; or b) a party pooper.

• The Fresh Prince Handshake: But wait – Tiger can't be too much of a party pooper. After all, he celebrated winning a hole with partner Matt Kuchar by re-creating the slap-five/pull-back popularized by Will Smith as the 'Fresh Prince' and Jazzy Jeff in 'The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air'. For the no-nonsense, no-squirrel-on-my-neck Tiger, this counts as downright histrionics. But he was having success with 'Kooch', who not only inspired gallery adoration with his chant-able nickname, but also went 3-1 with Tiger. The question of who Tiger plays with is always an interesting one, since his decade-plus of total domination in the golf world always brought with it a loner, gunslinger, no-partners-allowed mentality. For years, the idea that Tiger abhorred team events seemed to have credence as he took dead aim at Jack Nicklaus' career majors record. Why befriend those whom you are trying to crush? But since his fall from grace in 2009, and from the sheer act of growing older, Tiger seems less detached than, say, when he was in peak Cold War form paired with Phil Mickelson at the 2004 Ryder Cup. Kuchar was Tiger's 19th different international team partner, and the results have ranged from the successful (going 4-0 with Steve Stricker in 2009; to the struggling, going 0-for-his-last-five with Stricker; to the stalwart, going 6-3 with Jim Furyk in the mid-2000s to the trivial, pairing up with his old junior golf pal Chris Riley for a time in 2004). Tiger led Team USA with 4 points, and even finished doing his Willis Reed-grimace after his back flared up on Sunday. It almost seemed like Tiger needed to insert a little drama to keep himself awake.

International team fans cheer on the first tee during the Presidents Cup. (USA Today)

International team fans cheer on the first tee during the Presidents Cup. (USA Today)

• International Fan Fun: As usual, American fans were outdone by their more spirited and jovial counterparts. In Ryder Cups, European fans bring more song, more bonhomie and more volume than the Americans, who have yet to come up with anything more creative than the staccato and repetitive 'U...S...A!', which sounded great at the 1980 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid, but is in need of some companionship via new songs, chants, cheers. It's sort of embarrassing to be outcheered by the International Team, given the total lack of geographic cohesion a five-continent team brings. Even International team captain Nick Price called his team a "hodgepodge" against the "might of America." But thanks to some fun-loving Australians called the 'Fanatics', the Internationals were serenaded with "We've Got the Whole World . . . On Our Team!" and "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" for South African Ernie Els and "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina" for Angel Cabrera. By the end of Sunday's singles, Aussies Adam Scott and Marc Leishman were wearing the yellow 'Fanatics' jerseys while watching the final matches, clinching the Spirit competition. But credit Phil Mickelson, who can break out the needle with the best. When Lefty went over to pose for photos with the Fanatics, he smiled and said: "Thanks for coming. Every time you come, we win." Hey, now! Rimshot.

• A Female Streaker: For too long, streakers have been almost exclusively male. Not only does it frequently bum out a heavily male sports audience, let's be honest: if the male streaker is seeking to impress those who judge male streakers, the average male streaker could do with some time in the tanning booth and weight room. And then along came the Lady Godiva of the President's Cup! Rain delays be damned, this young American lass was hell-bent on bringing back gender equality to the streaking profession. Here she came, tearing onto the 18th hole with a flag and not much else. One report said she had a sticker that read 'Support Our Troops', so she's a patriot, too. Getty Images captured her streak past U.S. captain Fred Couples, and the playboy Freddie seemed to be giving a knowing smile, with the unseen thought bubble: "Wait ... don't I know you from somewhere?"

• Cap'n Boom Boom: Once again, Fred Couples led a U.S. team to victory. And once again, he did so looking like he was having NFL and college football scores fed into his earpiece. Nobody does laid-back like Freddie, and you could say he is now 3-0 as captain because he's the perfect blend of commanding respect, yet commanding likability – perhaps moreso than any American captain. Or, you could say he's 3-0 because on paper, the President's Cup is always a fierce mismatch. Either way, it all works for Freddie. Because, as Johnny Miller noted: "Everybody wants to be like Freddie." True that, as the kids say. Couples said he is calling it quits after his three-peat, and that just seemed totally cool, too.

SCORECARD OF THE WEEK

Graham DeLaet, International Team, defeated Jordan Spieth, Team USA, 1-up, Sunday singles, 2013 President's Cup, Muirfield Village Golf Course, Dublin, Ohio.

If you had to choose a breakout star from the Cup, it'd be the former hockey player from Saskatchewan who led the Internationals with 3 ½ points, and who led the event in fist-pump moments.

Playing in his first Presidents Cup, the 31-year-old journeyman from Boise State who wound up 8th in the 2013 FedExCup playoffs showed the kind of hair commonly associated with his tough-guy brethren on the ice. There wasn't much in the way of fear for DeLaet, who paired up with Jason Day to go 2-1-1 in team events, then held off rising American star Spieth in the singles.

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Graham DeLaet reacts after making a putt on Sunday. (AP)

But it was how DeLaet did it that captured the imagination. Needing to chip in on 18 to halve a match against Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson early Sunday morning, DeLaet … chipped in on 18. He responded with emotion so fierce, he looked like he was trying to find someone to forecheck.

Not content with that, later on Sunday he engaged in a duel with Spieth that came to 18 with DeLaet 1-up. But Spieth found the green in regulation, while DeLaet found a greenside bunker. Advantage, Spieth.

That is, until DeLaet dug his heels into the bunker, concentrated intently and – whump! – holed his bunker shot to win the match, 1-up.

It's called growing up in front of the golf world's eyes, and DeLaet seems poised for a 2014 to remember. He said Jack Nicklaus himself told DeLaet that his excellent Cup would give him confidence in the future – and that was before his hole-out to beat Spieth.

DeLaet's 2013 statistics are legitimate – he led the entire PGA Tour in total driving, and was third in greens in regulation. And yet, like a true hockey player, asked on NBC about his stellar Cup, he said it was all about the team, and how he wanted to get out there and cheer on his mates. The avowed Calgary Flames fan stopped just short of dropping a "Let's go, boys!" that you hear so often from Canadian stars in the NHL, but he didn't have to. He'd already done enough for his squad.

BROADCAST MOMENT OF THE WEEK

"That is just embarrassing ... that's the widest fairway on the course ... how far to the right of the fairway is that?" – Johnny Miller, NBC, making sure to pile on to an errant Phil Mickelson drive on Sunday.

"About 20 yards." – Peter Jacobsen, NBC, trying to report from the scene.

"It's more than that." – A disgusted Miller, not buying Jake's answer.

Meanwhile, on the course, Mickelson was yukking it up with the gallery. He clearly couldn't be bothered by Miller's tsk-tsking of his wild drive.

In fact, Lefty admitted as much to Steve Sands after the match, all but saying he was on cruise control mentally in his match against good guy Angel Cabrera. Slotted 12th out of 12 by captain Fred Couples in the 'In Case of Emergency, Break Glass' position for a U.S. team well in control, Mickelson told Sands he used Sunday as just a day to enjoy the crowd and the golf. He stopped just short of using the words 'I mailed it in, Sandsy'.

Mickelson admitted he was surprised on his back nine when he was told his match might actually matter, when the Internationals surged with a bit of a death rattle before expiring. But by the time Lefty conceded the match to Cabrera on 18, all smiles, you could tell he wasn't too 'embarrassed' by that wild drive on 14. After all, he shot 66 in the final round at Muirfield and is still chugging zinfandel from the Claret Jug back in San Diego.

MULLIGAN OF THE WEEK

Let's stay on Lefty for a moment.

Phil Mickelson talks with International fans on Sunday. (EFE)

Phil Mickelson talks with International fans on Sunday. (EFE)

In a President's Cup devoid of signature moments, Mickelson turned in the most entertaining shot of the day. His second shot on 14 – after that "embarrassing" drive – was off a sidehill, downhill slope. Mickelson took a mighty swipe and saw his Callaway shoot off a tree branch, take a sharp turn towards the creek bisecting the hole, then – get this! – skip off the water and land ... safely on dry land.

It was insane, and about a one in a million to not get wet.

As Jacobsen said in the NBC booth: "Off the tree ... skip off the water ... nothing but net."

In classic Lefty form, he stuck his third shot close to the hole – then missed the short putt for par. May the golf gods forever bless Phil Mickelson's entertainment value.

So, just for fun, and just because we want to see what Phil will do next, let's go back out to 14, give Phil that sidehill, downhill lie, ask him to do something outrageous and ridiculous yet again and ... give that Lefty a mulligan!

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

Off into the winter, friends – as Jim Nantz might say if he were signing off from Lateral Hazard for 2013. It's been fun, and your work in the 'Comments' section has been both exemplary, scolding, demeaning and illuminating. Thanks for reading, and until 2014 … Fore left!

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