DiMarco sends U.S. to victory

Birdie putt on 18th wins Presidents Cup

September 26, 2005|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun reporter

GAINESVILLE, VA. -- Presidents Cup As Chris DiMarco surveyed the 15-foot birdie putt he was about to take on the 18th green yesterday at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club, his caddie, Pat O'Bryan, said quietly, "It's the moment you've been waiting for your whole life, so go ahead and do it."

DiMarco, who went from stalwart to star over the course of four days in this year's Presidents Cup, seized the moment, and the U.S. team, which had been waiting five years to win an international competition, took home a trophy that it had shared in South Africa in 2003.

Punctuated by a fist pump and instantly celebrated by his American teammates and captain Jack Nicklaus in hugs and high-fives, DiMarco's putt gave him a 1-up victory over Stuart Appleby of Australia and provided the U.S. with the clinching point in what turned out to be a dramatic 18 1/2 -15 1/2 victory over a talented group of International players.

It was the fourth win for the U.S. in seven Presidents Cup competitions, all coming here. More significantly, it was the first win in this type of event for many of the American players who had been criticized soundly during two defeats in the Ryder Cup.

"I did it for 13 other guys, counting [assistant captain] Jeff Sluman and Mr. Nicklaus. It's unbelievable," DiMarco said amid the din of the 18th green, where the pro-American but certainly multinational gallery whooped and hollered its approval. "We need this Cup. We really did. People were getting down on us, saying that we don't care, and we care. This is a big, big week."

When told that many of his players had said that they wanted to win for him, Nicklaus said: "I don't know why in the world they want to care about winning one for the old man. They need to win one for themselves. American golf has not won an international competition for a few years, and they proved that they are pretty good."

That DiMarco was the one to make the putt was fitting, because he had brought the U.S. back from its first-day deficit and had carried his more celebrated partner, PGA champion Phil Mickelson, to a pair of easy victories Saturday with a bunch of big shots, including the only hole-in-one of the week. DiMarco didn't lose any of his five matches (4-0-1).

The clinching putt was also a bit of redemption for DiMarco, a 37-year-old transplanted Floridian whose late-blooming PGA Tour career has included three victories and close finishes in a number of majors, including a sudden-death playoff defeat to Tiger Woods at Augusta National in this year's Masters.

Not only did DiMarco prove himself worthy of being the player Nicklaus sent out last in the 12 singles matches, but 46-year-old veteran Fred Couples validated the confidence his captain had showed by adding him to the 10 players who had qualified for the team. Couples, who had played spottily the first three days, had earlier given the U.S. a crucial point with an upset of Vijay Singh.

When his curling 17-foot birdie putt on the 18th dropped in the cup, Couples raised his arms and shook his fists and shoulders as Nicklaus and the American players who had finished their matches came rushing onto the green. A few minutes later, Davis Love III hugged Couples emotionally after Love's 4-and-3 win over Australian Nick O'Hern clinched at least a tie.

"It was huge," said Couples, who Saturday had asked Nicklaus for a chance to play Singh, No. 2 in the world and a golfer he had beaten in President Cup singles in 1996 and 1998. "I enjoy playing with him, so I chose to play with him if I could get it done."

Although it seemed early on that the U.S. would win most of the singles matches, the feeling that that the teams would reprise their tie from South Africa two years ago grew stronger in the afternoon, as the International team started winning matches, including two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen of South Africa beating Woods, 2 and 1.

When Angel Cabrera of Argentina made birdies on 16 and 17 to go ahead of Phil Mickelson, and Appleby made birdies at 15, 16 and 17 to go ahead of DiMarco, another tie appeared likely. But Mickelson made a 17-footer for birdie at 18 to square his match and force a sudden-death playoff that he didn't know he had to play.

As Mickelson shook hands with Cabrera, thinking he halved the match and clinched the Cup for the U.S., the former Masters champion went to do the same with scoring official Andy McFee, who reminded Mickelson of the format change that singles matches would include sudden death if the players finished even through 18.

Mickelson and Cabrera headed for the first extra hole in the history of the Presidents Cup, as DiMarco and Appleby were on the 18th. After driving his ball into the right rough close to a bunker, DiMarco had his feet in the sand and pulled out a 9-iron. Appleby had hit a drive of 309 yards that settled the middle of the fairway.

DiMarco's ball on his approach shot reached the green, while Appleby's flew over it, ricocheting off the grandstand into the rough. The match, and the Presidents Cup, ended shortly afterward when Appleby's chip left him a 13-footer for par and DiMarco stood over his 15-foot putt for birdie.

With the words of his caddie in his head, DiMarco tapped his ball. The moment he had been waiting his entire career for - and the U.S. team had waited five years for - had arrived

"Easy hole," DiMarco said later with a smile.

don.markus@baltsun.com

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