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Royal Melbourne greens fuel fear, angst at Presidents Cup

By Michael Davis

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - The greens at Royal Melbourne Golf Club were "right on the edge" of being unplayable as a stiff northerly wind played havoc on Friday, according to International team assistant captain Frank Nobilo.

The former New Zealand international should know.

He was playing Royal Melbourne the day Greg Norman and Sandy Lyle led a player revolt during the final round of the Australian Open in 1987. The round was canceled and the event shortened to 54 holes.

Norman and Lyle led the player walk-off declaring the course unplayable in the hot northerly because of some pin positions on the rock hard greens.

"This time they've put moisture on the greens and the pins are in relative flat places at least, but it's right on the edge," said Nobilo.

Norman could only grimace from the sidelines on Friday as players from both teams fought hard to keep their composure with the greens running between 13 and 14 on the stimpmeter -- a device used to measure the pace of putting surfaces.

Royal Melbourne is not overly long by modern standards but it turns into a veritable monster if allowed to bare its teeth in a hot northerly wind.

American Lee Trevino had such a bad experience in the 1974 Chrysler Classic, he changed his shoes in the car park and told the media throng: "These greens are the greatest joke since Watergate. Take a photo of me driving out because I won't be back." So far, he has not been.

Nobilo said the International team was hoping for wind in the four-ball matches on Friday because they were two points behind.

"This course has the best collection of par fours in the world," he said. "Our advice to the players was to play the golf course first and foremost. Then we tried to pair a player with local knowledge in each group."

U.S. assistant captain, Jay Haas, whose son Bill is on the team, said the Americans would not have experienced anything like Friday's conditions "other than maybe St Andrews" as they shared the four-ball points 3-3 to take a 7-5 lead into the weekend.

"Putting becomes very tough in gusting winds and the wind started early today," he said.

Course superintendent Richard Forsyth double cut the greens and watered them for 15 minutes overnight. He had double rolled the greens before Thursday's play but left the roller in the shed for Friday.

"It was tough out there, that's for sure," said Webb Simpson after his 3&1 win with Bubba Watson over Ernie Els and Ryo Ishikawa.

Phil Mickelson, however, was less diplomatic even though he and Jim Furyk beat Adam Scott and Kim Kuyng-tae 2&1.

"This is crazy when you've got wind like this and greens running at 14-plus on the stimpmeter. It takes me back to Augusta in the 1990s.

"I hit a few good putts early but missed them and lost my confidence."

Putting was so difficult, very few putts were conceded by either team and pars were a cause for celebration.

"Royal Melbourne does not get any harder than this," said Geoff Ogilvy, who grew up near the course and now has a house opposite the layout.

"You have to play smart and keep the ball under the hole. Forty yards below the hole is better than four yards past it."

(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)

(This story was corrected to change the margin of victory for Bubba Watson/Webb Simpson after organisers amended result)