DUBLIN, Ohio -- Other players were ranked higher, but Brendon de Jonge’s name kept coming up as Nick Price went from player to player to get their input on who his Captain’s Picks should be.
Through two days of The Presidents Cup, de Jonge has paid him back in spades.
The modest Zimbabwean refuses to take any credit, but facts have told a different story at Muirfield Village, where de Jonge has been ‘da man.
“This guy, he played beautiful,” Ernie Els said. “Playing with this guy, he’s for real.”
Els should know. He has played more matches than anyone on the International team and on Friday he teamed with de Jonge for the second consecutive day. The two smoked Hunter Mahan and Bill Haas 4 and 3 in a match they never trailed and led all the way following the second hole.
Even in defeat, though, de Jonge has done nothing but shine. A day earlier in Four-ball, he made nine birdies to Els’ one, which didn’t even come until the 17th hole. The 33-year-old rookie nearly beat the American super team of Steve Stricker and Jordan Spieth all by himself.
“I didn't feel any added pressure,” de Jonge said when asked if he felt like he needed to prove himself here this week. “My point counts the same as everyone else's.”
Maybe that’s because de Jonge had made his point over the last few months that he would be worth a pick.
In his last four starts of the season, he didn’t finish outside the top 20. That included at the Deutsche Bank Championship, where Els got a front-row seat as the two played together in the final round.
Els, trying to advance in the FedExCup Playoffs, shot 69 to finish 20th. De Jonge, trying to solidify a spot in the field for season-ending TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola, shot 66 to tie for ninth and more or less punch his ticket to East Lake.
“It was different stress levels on that particular day, but he hit it as good there as he's hit it here the last two days,” Els said. “I kind of quietly said to Pricey, (we) could be good together.”
Or just plain good.
In the match against Mahan and Haas, neither of which had lost a day earlier when playing with different partners, de Jonge made a 10-footer for birdie to win the third hole and he and Els never looked back.
It wasn’t all de Jonge all the time Friday -- Els holed a key bunker shot on No. 9 to halve the hole, for example -- but the man from Harare more than held up his end of the deal.
De Jonge’s second shot from 216 yards on the par-5 fifth helped set up a 12-foot eagle putt for Els.
On the 10th, de Jonge rolled in another 10-footer for birdie before sinking a 6-footer for birdie on the following hole.
When the two got to the par-5 15th, Els would again call upon de Jonge’s length -- another reason, along with his right-to-left ball flight, that Price had picked him -- and he delivered, reaching the green from 239 yards to set up the clinching birdie.
“Nick was in a very difficult situation,” Els said of Price's decision to leave fellow South African and close friend Tim Clark off the team, instead opting for de Jonge and Marc Leishman. “When you have Captain's Picks, always somebody is going to be disappointed. I obviously supported Brendon because of his play, the way he hits the golf ball and the way it suits this golf course.
“He hits a power cut and Jack Nicklaus was quite renowned for this, so he's got a perfect game for this golf course, so that's where I was going.”
Pretty nice company to be in.
Through their first two days together, de Jonge and Els bashed the house that Jack built, combining for 16 birdies and an eagle. In 33 holes, they are a combined 18 under.
“We kept the pressure on them from the start which was obviously the key in this format,” de Jonge said of Friday’s victory. “Nice to get that win under our belt.”
Added Els: “Brendon played awesome. He played great (Thursday). Actually he even played better (Friday), so really nice day.”
All this following a really good decision by Price.