U.S. takes command in Presidents opener

September 17, 1994|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Staff Writer

LAKE MANASSAS, Va. -- Maybe it was a case of delayed jet lag or match-play jitters for the team of International players. Or .. maybe it was the Americans getting mad about this year's dominance by foreign-born players. Whatever, the United States team took it out on the visitors on the opening day of the first Presidents Cup.

Even a healthy Greg Norman would not have made much of a difference yesterday at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club. After a morning sweep that saw only one match go the distance, the United States won the first two matches of the afternoon and took a seemingly insurmountable 7 1/2 -2 1/2 lead into the second day of this three-day competition.

"After this morning, we were trying to stop the landslide," said David Graham, the former PGA Tour player who is the non-playing captain of the International team. "The guys dug deep down just to stay on the course this afternoon. There may be some relevance to the fact that the U.S. team has a wealth of match-play experience. [Davis] Love and [Fred] Couples played as good as the game can be played."

But as good as Love and Couples were for most of their 1-up victory over top-ranked Nick Price and obscure Australian Bradley Hughes -- Norman's last-minute replacement -- in the morning four-ball competition, the United States was led by the unlikely team of Jay Haas and Scott Hoch.

The former Wake Forest teammates, who combined for 12 birdies in 28 holes, beat South Africans David Frost and Fulton Allem, 6 and 5, in the morning, then came back to beat Craig Parry of Australia and Tsukasa Watanabe of Japan, 4 and 3, in the afternoon.

"Both Jay and Scott have been playing the best of anyone in the practice rounds," said Paul Azinger, the U.S. team's non-playing co-captain. "Neither guy is too long, they're both steady and they went to the same college. They seemed to be a natural team."

Nearly every move Azinger and his fellow co-captain, Hale Irwin, made worked. Irwin sat himself down in the morning, then teamed with Loren Roberts in the afternoon to beat Frost and Allem, 3 and 1. They let Couples rest his aching back in the afternoon, then saw Jim Gallagher team with Love to halve a tough match against Price and fellow Zimbabwean Mark McNulty.

"Obviously, we're pleasantly surprised," Azinger said during the break. "We were playing well going in and we've proven it. Not by the score, but by the number of birdies we've made."

But the shutout was impressive. Consider: in the history of the Ryder Cup, which dates to 1927 and covers 30 competitions, there had only been one shutout in an opening round, and six shutouts total. Then came yesterday morning, when the Americans won more than twice as many holes (29-14) as the Internationals with a resounding 50 birdies.

Even a couple of sparkling comebacks by the International team proved ill-fated. Having trimmed a five-hole deficit to Couples and Love through eight back to even after 16, Price and Hughes lost when Couples birdied the par-4 17th and Price failed to birdie the par-4 18th. The match featured 14 birdies and an eagle. Birdies by Corey Pavin and Phil Mickelson, who holed out a wedge from 95 yards, helped quash similar comebacks.

"The U.S. team certainly came out of the blocks faster than we did," said Price, who had the shot of an otherwise miserable day for the Internationals by holing out for eagle from 192 yards with a 5-iron on the 454-yard par-4 13th -- remarkably, the first time he has done that this year. "The last 27 holes were a lot more competitive, but those first nine holes might have cost us the Cup."

The International team seemed to mirror the weather: heavy fog in the morning, which delayed the start nearly two hours, followed by steam in the afternoon. But after falling behind in three of the afternoon matches, the Americans stormed back to win two of them.

Perhaps the most important result came when Love and Gallagher evened their match with Price and McNulty. As darkness closed in, Price barely missed a 12-footer for birdie at 17 that would have given the International team three straight wins to finish out the alternate-shot competition. Love then birdied 18 after Gallagher put their approach three feet from the cup.

"Psychologically, it was huge for us," said Azinger. "After the morning, all we wanted in the afternoon was a split. I think it was more important for us than it was for them."

Said Price: "I don't know if it would have made that much of a difference. But tomorrow is another day."

By then, the International players will have gotten over their match-play jitters. Or their case of delayed jet lag.

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