Woods finally wins to keep U.S. in hunt

He gets first victory in best-ball format after 6 straight losses at Presidents Cup

Americans still trail by 1

September 24, 2005|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun reporter

GAINESVILLE, VA. — Progress was made yesterday by the U.S. team in the Presidents Cup, not so much on the scoreboards at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club as much as in the mind of its players, one in particular.

The Americans still trail the International team by the same single-point deficit that they had taken into the four-ball matches, and yet the United States seems to have left the course with much of the momentum they lost Thursday.

Trailing 6 1/2 -5 1/2 after splitting the six matches , the Americans will try to pull ahead or at least keep pace in today's doubleheader of morning foursomes and afternoon four-ball before going to its strength - singles - tomorrow.

Tiger Woods showed why he is the best player in the world, carrying injured partner Jim Furyk while fighting off his own back pain in an impressive 3-and-2 win over Australians Stuart Appleby and Mark Hensby.

"He took a lot of ribbing from the guys when he got in," U.S. captain Jack Nicklaus said of Woods, who made seven birdies in the first 12 holes on his own ball. "I just asked him, `Hey would you like to play with Furyk so he could carry you again tomorrow?'"

Turning serious for a moment, Nicklaus added: "Tiger's record may not be the best in the Presidents Cup, but I tell you one thing, he gets pumped up to play. He enjoys it, he plays hard, he's a good team member. I promise you, he's a lot better team member than when I played in the Ryder Cup."

It was the first victory for Woods in the best-ball format after six straight defeats at the Presidents Cup.

"Today we played well out there and jelled very well as a team," Woods said. "We made some nice birdies there and put a lot of pressure [on them]."

Nicklaus plans to stick with Furyk and Woods in today's foursome matches, despite the fact that both have been bothered by rib problems. Along with the entourage of wives and fans is their own chiropractor, Tom LaFountain, who attended to both yesterday.

"I have a couple rib heads that are out and causing some spasm," said Woods, who appeared to reinjure himself yesterday hitting out of the heavy rough on the par-5 sixth hole. "It's a matter of keeping it pain-free and loose when I swing."

If Woods was the most impressive American player yesterday, the team of Justin Leonard and Scott Verplank continued to be the most surprising by winning for the second straight day. The veteran Texans yesterday beat Trevor Immelman of South Africa and former Masters champion Mike Weir of Canada, 2 and 1.

Nicklaus has such confidence in his captain's pick (Leonard) and the last player to qualify (Verplank) that he will put them out first today against the Internationals' top unbeaten pair, two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen of South Africa and Adam Scott of Australia.

Asked last night what he liked in the 2-0 start by Leonard and Verplank, Nicklaus repeated the question before answering, "2-0."

The most compelling match this morning will pit Woods and Furyk against Vijay Singh and Appleby. It was here five years ago that one of Singh's former caddies wore a hat that read, "Tiger Who?" and the relationship between the world's two top-ranked players hasn't warmed since.

Singh had a chance to give the International team a bigger lead yesterday. But after making a 3-footer for birdie on the par-4 17th hole to help he and Tim Clark of South Africa draw even with Fred Funk and Stewart Cink, Singh missed a 15-footer for birdie on the par-4 18th.

"I was disappointed to finish with a halve [tie] because I felt like we had a good chance to win it, but they can say the same thing, too," Singh said.

Said Funk, who halved a match involving Singh for the second straight day, "I thought we dodged a bullet there on 18."

The atmosphere yesterday, especially after the more than one-hour delay for dangerous weather, seemed closer to the Ryder Cup than the Presidents Cup. When Nick O'Hern of Australia made a 25-foot birdie putt on the par-4 eighth, the only American applauding was Nicklaus.

Later in the day, when Singh missed a short putt on the par-4 16th to give Funk and Cink the hole, a loud cheer went up from the pro-American gallery. It seemed to disappoint Nicklaus, though his International team counterpart didn't mind.

Asked about the silent treatment given O'Hern, Nicklaus said, "I didn't like it at all. Gary [Player] and I are very strong on how we feel the spirit of the matches should be played. The matches in South Africa, sure there were more people rooting for the International team than the U.S team, but they treated us very fairly.

"I don't think it was terrible today, but I think we can do better."

Said Player, who along with Nicklaus agreed to have the last Presidents Cup competition end in a tie: "It's Mickey Mouse compared to what I went through. So when I hear some screaming, to me, I don't even worry about it at all."

don.markus@baltsun.com

PRESIDENTS CUP

Yesterday's results

At Gainesville, Va., par 72

International 6 1/2 , U.S. 5 1/2

Fourballs

International 3, U.S. 3

Phil Mickelson and Chris DiMarco, U.S., halved with Angel Cabrera and Michael Campbell, International.

Adam Scott and Retief Goosen, International, def. Fred Couples and David Toms, U.S., 3 and 1.

Justin Leonard and Scott Verplank, U.S., def. Trevor Immelman and Mike Weir, International, 2 and 1.

Fred Funk and Stewart Cink, U.S., halved with Vijay Singh and Tim Clark, International.

Peter Lonard and Nick O'Hern, International, def. Davis Love III and Kenny Perry, U.S., 3 and 2.

Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk, U.S., def. Stuart Appleby and Mark Hensby, International, 3 and 2.

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