U.S. nips International team at the wire Couples' putt secures 16 1/2 -15 1/2 Presidents win

September 16, 1996|By John W. Stewart | John W. Stewart,SUN STAFF

LAKE MANASSAS, Va. -- All week, members of both teams had been talking about how evenly matched these Presidents Cup matches would be, but it seemed unlikely that it would really come down to the last match, and almost the last hole.

Yet, there they were, the last pairing out, Fred Couples 1-up on Vijay Singh playing the 17th hole, and the team score tied at 15 1/2 .

So, Couples, a four-time Ryder Cup veteran who had gone 3-0 here two years ago, stepped up and rolled in a 35-foot putt. Following an impromptu Couples celebration with nearby teammates Mark O'Meara, Scott Hoch and Davis Love III, it was Singh's turn to try and top it from 15 feet.

The ball was on line for most of the way before veering off. Final score: United States 16 1/2 , International team 15 1/2 .

"I wasn't expecting Fred to make his, but I still thought I had a chance," Singh said of the climax.

"There was a big spike mark on my line, though, and there was a 50-50 chance if it was going to go straight over it. And what happened? It hit the spike mark and it was never going to go in.

"I felt really bad for my team that I lost the match, because I thought if it had gone down 18, I would have had a good chance. I just feel badly that it had to come down to that last match," the Fiji native said.

For much of the sunny, mild day at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club, where the sides contested 12 singles matches, it appeared the last match would be meaningless.

After Internationals David Frost (7 and 6) and Craig Parry (5 and 4) had opened with precise victories, the American team went to work. By midafternoon, Steve Stricker, unbeaten rookie David Duval, O'Meara, also unbeaten, and Love had catapulted the home team to a 14 1/2 -11 1/2 lead, and their teammates were leading in four of the remaining six.

Not for long.

Playing the way many had been expecting, the Internationals made their charge. Ernie Els birdied the two par-5s on the back nine (Nos. 12 and 14) and closed out Phil Mickelson. Hoch brought the U.S. within one point of victory when he halved the last two holes to defeat Mark McNulty.

Then things tightened in a hurry. Steve Elkington held off a late bid by another newcomer, Justin Leonard, to win 1-up, after Leonard had stayed alive with birdie wins at 16 and 17.

Frank Nobilo of New Zealand won five holes in a row, four with birdies to turn around a match against Tom Lehman, and Greg Norman won three successive holes in the middle of the back nine to spark a win over Corey Pavin.

Team score tied. Battle joined. Couples 2-up on Singh playing the 16th hole, 179 yards, par-3. Couples hits the green; Singh lTC puts an 8-iron shot 18 inches from the cup. Birdie. Couples 1-up, two to go.

"It was fun to have everyone there [17th green], but it was very intense, nerve-racking," Couples said of the closing scene. "I thought the putt was fairly straight, and when I hit it, I knew it was great speed."

NOTES: O'Meara finished 5-0, and Duval 4-0. Every player on both sides got at least a point except American Mark Brook, 0-3. For the Internationals, Els was 3-1-1. Although every point was meaningful, perhaps none was more so (aside from Couples' putt) than O'Meara's pitch shot out of long grass in the Saturday foursomes that set up a winning par at 18, and a point from a match that seemed headed for a tie. The where/when for the 1998 Presidents Cup matches will be under discussion in the next three months. Given the international makeup, a site in Japan, South Africa or Australia is a distinct possibility. Another scenario might be playing in the United States (here or elsewhere) in 1998, and going overseas in 2000.

United States 16 1/2 , International Team 15 1/2

Singles

David Frost (I) def. Kenny Perry, 7 and 6. Craig Parry (I) def. Mark Brooks, 5 and 4. Steve Stricker (U.S.) def. Robert Allenby, 6 and 5. David Duval (U.S.) def. Peter Senior, 3 and 2. Mark O'Meara (U.S.) def. Nick Price, 1-up. Davis Love III (U.S.) def. Jumbo Ozaki, 5 and 4. Ernie Els (I) def. Phil Mickelson, 3 and 2. Scott Hoch (U.S.) def. Mark McNulty, 1-up. Steve Elkington (I) def. Justin Leonard, 1-up. Frank Nobilo (I) def. Tom Lehman, 3 and 2. Greg Norman (I) def. Corey Pavin, 3 and 1. Fred Couples (US) def. Vijay Singh, 2 and 1.

Pub Date: 9/16/96

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