Woods, Couples flop

U.S. Cup team lags

Golf

September 23, 2005|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun reporter

GAINESVILLE, VA. — Finding the perfect partner for Tiger Woods is often a predicament for those making the pairings in international team competitions. Jack Nicklaus is only the latest U.S captain to be left second-guessing himself. Or, perhaps, being second-guessed.

Paired with Fred Couples, who has compiled one of the best records in the short history of the Presidents Cup, Woods' struggles as a team player continued during yesterday's opening foursome matches at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club.

A resounding, 4-and-3 defeat for Woods and Couples by two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen of South Africa and Adam Scott of Australia in the opening match led to an overall, 3 1/2 -2 1/2 deficit after the first day of the four-day event.

"I think it's always nice to be ahead," Nicklaus said last night. "Gary's guys played well, and they beat a couple of teams of ours that we were very high on. You're going to win some, you're going to lose some, and I think that Tiger and Freddie were obviously disappointed in the way they played."

The dilemma for Nicklaus won't disappear, since Woods will be playing a format today - four-ball, or best-ball - in which he did not win a match in his three previous Presidents Cup appearances. Woods is 0-6 at four-ball.

Nicklaus will pair Woods with Jim Furyk, saying that the two players had requested it. But there was also speculation that the pairing was made because Furyk's rib injury acted up during his match yesterday and, if he can't play today, Woods would essentially play singles against either of two Australians, Stuart Appleby or Mark Hensby.

Woods is 3-0 in singles matches in the Presidents Cup.

Under the rules of the competition, if a player withdraws before the match begins, the captain of the opposing team can choose between the two scheduled for that particular match. If the player pulls out during the match, it would be Woods against the best score on each remaining hole for either Appleby or Hensby.

Furyk, who received treatment from a chiropractor throughout his match yesterday, managed to help former Maryland golf coach Fred Funk halve their match against Hensby and Vijay Singh. Furyk said he will likely be able to play today.

"I just have to be in close contact with our captain, Jack Nicklaus, and let him know how I'm feeling at all times," said Furyk, who seemed to injure himself on his first shot of the day.

Furyk is not the only question mark for the Americans going into today's matches.

Will Phil Mickelson and Chris DiMarco, 1-up winners over Nick O'Hern of Australia and Tim Clark of South Africa, be better frontrunners than Woods and Couples? The win for Mickelson yesterday helped erase some of the memory of his 0-for-5 performance in South Africa two years ago.

Is Nicklaus conceding at least one of the six matches today by putting the struggling Couples together with David Toms, who yesterday was part of the biggest foursome trouncing, a 6-and-5 defeat with Stewart Cink by former Masters champion Mike Weir of Canada and South Africa's Trevor Immelman?

Couples, who started the match by hitting his tee shot under a clump of trees, blamed himself for the U.S. team falling behind quickly.

"I was outclassed by the way they played versus the way I played," said Couples, a captain's pick by Nicklaus because of an 8-3-1 record in three previous Presidents Cup appearances.

Woods didn't think Couples should have to take the fall.

"We just didn't get the holes we needed early," said Woods, who nearly prolonged his match on the 16th hole when his chip for par rimmed the cup and spun out. "On 5, I had a putt to get the momentum back and I didn't make it. That sort of hurt our chances right there."

History is against the U.S. team coming back, since the opening-match winner and the opening-day leader has never lost in the four previous Presidents Cup competitions.

While the Americans are far from writing a concession speech, the International team is not close to proclaiming victory.

"Being up one point is irrelevant," said International team captain Gary Player. "It's like a mile race and you're out 50 yards ahead. There's such a long way to go."

don.markus@baltsun.com

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