Strong finish keeps Americans on top

September 18, 1994|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Staff Writer

LAKE MANASSAS, Va. -- There was a little more nationalism and a lot more competition, a little more gamesmanship and a lot more drama yesterday at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club.

Though the Presidents Cup didn't quite come of age at the midpoint of this inaugural three-day event, it at least came to life. An early charge by the International team was answered later in the day by the Americans.

After the International team climbed out of a gaping first-day hole to close a five-point deficit to two, the U.S. team won the last three alternate-shot matches in the afternoon to move ahead 12-8 going into today's head-to-head competition.

"We don't want to lose," said Davis Love III, who has emerged as the star of the U.S. team with three victories and a tie. "We had to do this one time to see how it went. The further we get into it, the more you want to win. Nobody wants to lose the first Presidents Cup."

It appeared for a while that the International team might finish the day tied with the U.S. team at 10 matches apiece, but the Americans stayed ahead by winning a couple of close matches under Ryder Cup-like tension and in torrential rain.

With four birdies in their last six holes, Corey Pavin and Loren Roberts came from three down to beat Craig Parry of Australia and Fulton Allem of South Africa, 1-up. Phil Mickelson and Tom Lehman won, 3 and 2, making four birdies in their last five holes to break open a tight match with Mark McNulty of Zimbabwe and Bradley Hughes of Australian.

"I've played in unbelievable matches, but I don't think I've ever played in one like that," said Pavin, who fueled the impressive finish by holing out from a bunker behind the par-4 15th hole and later watched as Parry missed a six-footer for par at 18 to give the U.S. team a narrow, but crucial, victory. "I was looking at the scoreboard most of the afternoon and I didn't like what I saw."

Said International team captain David Graham: "You truly saw the emergence of the American experience. They pulled out some matches with some incredible shots."

That the International team is still in contention is a bit remarkable, considering that Nick Price, the world's No. 1 player, failed again to win a match yesterday morning and then spent the afternoon in his hotel room trying to recover from heat exhaustion. Price was replaced by Hughes, who joined the team last week when Greg Norman pulled out because of the flu.

"He's just exhausted," Graham said of Price, who has contributed just one point in three matches and is the only player here who hasn't won a match. "He can't eat lunch. He's pale. I think it would be fair to say that he's felt the pressure of playing in this tournament as the No. 1 player in the world. I think that physically he's just worn to the ground."

It was apparent on the final hole of his morning match. Playing with Australian Steve Elkington, and 1-up over Mickelson and Pavin, the 37-year-old from Zimbabwe hit a booming drive, but put his approach 50 feet from the cup after Mickelson stuck his less than two feet away.

Mickelson's birdie halved the match and helped the Americans slow the fast-charging International team. So did the featured pair of Love and Fred Couples. The two former No. 1s won for the second time in as many tries, as birdies by Love on the last two holes helped them hold onto a 2-up victory over New Zealand veteran Frank Nobilo and Robert Allen by, an impressive 23-year-old Australian.

"I think they made a great run today," Couples said before again sitting out the afternoon alternate-shot competition because of a balky back. "It's a big afternoon. We need to play very well. If we do, we'll be in great shape. If we don't, everything will come down to the last few holes tomorrow. If we go in three or four points ahead, they're going to have to play unbelievable to win."

The afternoon seemed to be a continuation of the morning, even without Price. While Jim Gallagher joined with Love for the second straight day to win their afternoon match, a 7 and 5 rout of Nobilo and Allenby, the other teams were struggling.

Playing co-captain Hale Irwin and Jay Haas, the two oldest American players in the event, were soundly beaten by South Africa's David Frost and Australia's Peter Senior, 6 and 5. Jeff Maggert and John Huston turned their hats around for rally caps, but failed to beat Elkington and Vijay Singh of Fiji, losing, 3 and 2.

"Jay and I decided to go out and lose to make the other guys play better," joked Irwin. "There were some pivotal shots hit with some deep-down guts."

It will be interesting to see how the 12 head-to-head matches are played out. Certainly the most intriguing matchup will be the ailing Price against the ailing Couples. But the Americans only need to win five matches to clinch victory.

It also will be interesting to see whose name the respective captains put in the envelope this morning in case there is a tie and the one significant difference from the Ryder Cup -- a sudden-death playoff -- is needed.

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