U.S. Opens With a Stumble

Tiger Woods and Fred Couples are left looking perplexed as Retief Goosen and Adam Scott dismantle them. (Shaun Best - Reuters)
Tiger Woods and Fred Couples are left looking perplexed as Retief Goosen and Adam Scott dismantle them. (Shaun Best - Reuters)
By Leonard Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 23, 2005

When his chip from off the green at the 15th hole hit the back of the cup and popped out yesterday, Tiger Woods dropped his wedge over his shoulder and put his hands on top of his head. Woods and partner Fred Couples lost the hole and the match, soundly thrashed by Retief Goosen and Adam Scott, 4 and 3, on the first day of the Presidents Cup at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club.

With more than 20,000 on the grounds, including former presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton, the International team won three of six matches and battled to a draw in another to take a 3 1/2 -to-2 1/2 advantage over the U.S. team, the first time in four competitions played in the United States that the International team has been ahead after the opening round.

"Being up one point is irrelevant . . . absolutely nothing," said International captain Gary Player, whose decision to field his strongest team of Goosen, a two-time U.S. Open champion, and rising star Scott, against Woods and Couples turned out just the way he'd hoped. "This is as close as we can be, other than a tie or a half a point, and it's very, very close and very exciting, which is what Jack [Nicklaus] and I wanted to see happen."

What the Americans did not want to happen was an injury to one of their players. But on his second swing of the day, teaming with local hero Fred Funk, former U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk aggravated a rib injury first suffered last week at the 84 Lumber Classic. A PGA Tour chiropractor worked on Furyk throughout the match, at times with the player lying flat on his face, and Furyk and Funk were able to make several key contributions in securing a half-point against Vijay Singh and Mark Hensby.

Nicklaus said he believes Furyk will be available to team with Woods in their best-ball match today against Hensby and Stuart Appleby. If the injury forces him to the sidelines before the start of play, Player will select either Hensby or Appleby to play Woods in a singles match. If Furyk starts but gets hurt during the match and can't continue, Woods then would have to take on the International pair by himself the rest of the match.

"And who better to do that than Tiger anyway?" Player said.

Woods and Couples had asked to be paired together, but Goosen and Scott took a 3-up lead with birdies at the sixth and seventh. The Internationals' double-bogey at the 190-yard ninth hole enabled the Americans to cut the advantage to 2-up, but that's as close as they got.

Goosen made a 15-foot birdie put to halve the 10th hole after Couples had already holed a 30-footer for birdie. And on the 580-yard 12th, Scott pushed it back to 3-up when he rolled in a 30-foot eagle putt to win the hole. The teams halved the next two, and when Woods's chip at the 15th failed to drop, the International team was able to post the first point of the day.

"Gary wanted Retief and I to go out and give the guys something to see and something to fire them up," said Scott, No. 7 in the world rankings.

"That was kind of our attitude. . . . Retief made a great putt [at No. 10] on top of Fred's. It kept the momentum on our side rather than them winning two in a row and getting back in the match. Retief rolls it in from 15 feet, right on top, and heads off to the next tee. I think I got a 'good putt' from him."

Couples, one of Nicklaus's two captain's choice picks, blamed himself for the loss, saying, "I held us back," but added that he thoroughly enjoyed playing with the No. 1 player in the world.

"That's the greatest thing about him," he said of Woods. "He basically said, 'Just hit it and we'll go find it. I'll carry us.' But they were very good. They had four birdies and an eagle, and even if I had played well, I just don't think we could have beaten them today."

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