U.S. again draws even

Team hopes strength of singles play will secure Presidents Cup win



GAINESVILLE, VA. — There is no more strategy about making the right pairings, no more intrigue about which players are melding their talents and personalities and which are not.

In golf terminology, the final day of the Presidents Cup is not about ham-and-egging.

When it comes to singles, meat and potatoes are more like it, and for the U.S. team, it's usually well-done.

Considering that the Americans drew even with their International counterparts in the foursomes matches yesterday morning here at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club and remained there through the afternoon four-ball, it seems unlikely that the U.S. team will lose this competition on what is essentially its home course for the first time in history.

In the five previous Presidents Cup competitions, including the three played here, the Americans never lost in singles, even in the two years when the International team won. With a score tied at 11 going into the 12 singles matches today - the first tie heading into the last day in the event's history - it would seem unlikely to most that the Americans can lose.

To most, but not to U.S. captain Jack Nicklaus.

"We've played three days, four rounds of golf, and we are dead-even," said Nicklaus. "We've got teams that are so even it's unbelievable. What's going to happen tomorrow, both Gary [Player, the International captain] and I are saying, `Hey, it's going to be a great finish.'"

Given what transpired two years ago in South Africa, when the teams finished tied and the same two captains declared it a gentlemen's draw, today's singles matches could help lift up a few notches an event that has paled in comparison to the Ryder Cup in terms of tradition and atmosphere.

Yesterday's matches did nothing to change that.

Two in the morning ended deadlocked: Two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen of South Africa and Adam Scott of Australia narrowly avoided their first defeat when Justin Leonard missed a 7-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole before Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk, after a hot start, won the last two holes to even their match with Vijay Singh and Stuart Appleby. (Woods and Furyk later beat the same pair, 2-up, in four-ball.)

In the afternoon, the retro team of Davis Love III and Fred Couples nearly upset reigning U.S. Open champion Michael Campbell of New Zealand and Angel Cambrera of Argentina before settling for a half-point when Campbell made a 10-footer for birdie on the 17th hole and Couples missed an 8-foot birdie to win on 18.

While there are no must-see matches on today's schedule, there are more than a few that could reverberate all the way down to Lake Manassas.

The first could be between Woods and Goosen in the third match out - an odd place for the world's first- and fifth-ranked players. Another could be between local favorite Fred Funk and Campbell. The last, and potentially the most exciting, could be in the final pairing of Chris DiMarco and Appleby of Australia.

DiMarco, who lost in a playoff to Woods at this year's Masters, has become the star of this year's U.S. team.

DiMarco made the first hole-in-one of the competition yesterday morning and nearly had a rare double eagle in the afternoon to combine with Phil Mickelson on a birdie binge that produced one-sided victories over Campbell and Angel Cabrera of Argentina in foursomes (5 and 3) and a pair of sacrificial Australian lambs, Peter Lonard and Nick O'Hern, in the afternoon four-ball (6 and 5).

"We just really cat-and-moused out there," said DiMarco, who along with Mickelson played 28 holes in 16-under-par.

The same could be said for the way Nicklaus and Player made their final-day singles pairings. Neither would divulge much of the strategy involved, though Nicklaus said that he tried to accommodate players' wishes. The most intriguing tidbit was captain's pick Couples, who despite struggling last week (0-2-1) wanted to play Singh.

Asked why he didn't go with one of his "guns" against the world's second-ranked player, Nicklaus said, "I did go with one of my guns. That's who asked for him."

The other interesting choice for Nicklaus involved Funk's playing against Campbell. Nicklaus said that Funk, the shortest hitter here, jokingly asked to play Cabrera, the longest.

"Freddie will stay there with anybody," Nicklaus said of the former Maryland coach, who at 49 is the oldest player in the competition. "Michael Campbell is a wonderful player, having a great year; he's a terrific match player. I just thought I would put a bulldog against him, and that's what Freddie basically is."

Given the relative inexperience of the International team, with four making their Presidents Cup debuts this year and seven who haven't played here before, it should favor the Americans.

Or should it?

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