When All the World's a Stage -- and the Competition

It was during a sudden death playoff between America's Tiger Woods and International team's Ernie Els, of South Africa, that the 2003 Presidents Cup was declared a tie as darkness fell. (Themba Hadebe - AP)
By Leonard Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 18, 2005

As darkness approached off the South African coast on a splendid November day two years ago, Nick Price was an emotional wreck as he watched his Presidents Cup teammate Ernie Els entrenched in a sudden-death duel with Tiger Woods over three holes to determine a winner in the four-day event.

"It was the first time in my life I could relate to what my mother had always told me about how nervous she felt watching me play when I was growing up," Price recalled in a telephone interview last week. "For the first time in my life, I was nervous for a teammate. I was chewing on my shirt. I was eating grass. . . . The intensity of it was almost too much to bear."

In light so dim American team captain Jack Nicklaus said he couldn't even see the ball from off the green, Woods drilled a 12-footer on the third playoff hole -- "one of the best, if not the best putt I've ever made," he said -- and then watched Els make his own five-footer to keep the teams tied.

At that point, Nicklaus and international team captain Gary Player decided they had seen enough. After conferring with their respective teams, the 2003 Presidents Cup was declared a draw.

The decision was hailed as a gesture of grand sportsmanship throughout the golf world, and the inconclusive result will serve as the backdrop for the sixth renewal of the matches starting Thursday at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Gainesville.

Nicklaus and Player will return as team captains, with many of the same players from 2003 also on their respective teams, including Woods, the No. 1 ranked player in the world. Els, still recovering from August knee surgery, won't play, but may attend if his doctors allow him to travel.

Nicklaus has since described that 2003 Presidents Cup as "the most fulfilling and enjoyable event I've ever been involved with." Player, a South African native, described it this week as "the most historic thing I've ever seen in my 53 years in golf. There is a new, true democracy there, and after being treated as the polecats of the world for so many years because of apartheid, it was a wonderful thing to see."

Many believe that 17-17 tie in George, South Africa, also may well have elevated the Presidents Cup to a new, more prestigious level on the golf calendar. The PGA Tour runs the event, launching the inaugural Cup in 1994, also at RTJ, where it's been played three times. The two 12-man teams, representing the U.S. against an international side of players not eligible for the European team in the Ryder Cup, compete in a match-play format of two-man and singles matches.

PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said in 1994 the event was started because so many international stars, players such as Price of Zimbabwe, Greg Norman of Australia and Vijay Singh of Fiji, deserved a chance to play in a similar format to the Ryder Cup against the Americans. It also made good sense financially, adding a compelling event to the television schedule at a time of year when golf is usually an afterthought behind college and pro football and the pennant races in Major League Baseball.

Asked at the time about the inevitable comparison with the Ryder Cup, Finchem insisted the two events could stand alone, but that only the passage of time and the chance to develop its own distinct tradition would lift the Presidents Cup into the Ryder Cup's "fifth major" status among the players, the public and the media.

Said Player, "It's an event that will be bigger than the Ryder Cup because it entails the world."

This week, more than 700 media credentials have been issued for the Presidents Cup, compared with 1,000 the PGA of America distributed last September for the Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills in suburban Detroit. At the last Ryder Cup in Great Britain in 2002, a large number of American newspapers sent their golf writers abroad to cover the event. In South Africa, where the Presidents Cup drew huge domestic coverage, only a handful of U.S. papers were represented, though many more will be here this week.

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