ST. PETERSBURG, FLA., DEC. 1 -- The United States culminated an eight-year odyssey to regain the Davis Cup today, clinching the title with a doubles victory over Australia. And when it was over, team captain Tom Gorman said he wanted to "roll around in the clay all day."

Jim Pugh and Rick Leach defeated Australians Pat Cash and John Fitzgerald, 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (7-2), giving the United States an insurmountable 3-0 lead with two singles matches left to be played Sunday. Andre Agassi and Michael Chang won singles matches Friday night.

Today's 3-hour 6-minute match to clinch the prestigious 90-year-old Davis Cup was an emotional outcome to a rocky year for the American players and their sometimes embattled captain.

The doubles victory in the Florida Suncoast Dome came in front of a crowd of 18,156 -- a record for a Davis Cup match in the United States -- and it rendered meaningless today's singles matches, which will now be best-of-three sets instead of best-of-five. Agassi will face Darren Cahill and Chang will play Richard Fromberg.

The Americans came into the match as strong favorites. Pugh, 26, a former UCLA standout who hits his ground strokes with both hands, and Leach, a 25-year-old former all-American at Southern California, had won three Grand Slam doubles titles, including Wimbledon this year, and entered the match 3-0 in Davis Cup this year.

Even so, the Australians believed the doubles presented their best chance for an upset.

Cash and Fitzgerald had played eight Davis Cup matches together, and were runners-up at Wimbledon in 1985. In addition, Fitzgerald knows Leach's game extremely well. The 29-year-old Australian, who once played for the University of Oklahoma, now lives in Southern California, where he frequently practices with Leach.

Despite the stakes, the caliber of play never reached expectations. Volleys lacked punch, and the players made few of the exciting exchanges of doubles at its best.

Pugh and Leach, respectively ranked third and fourth among doubles players, dominated the first two sets easily, largely on the strength of left-hander Leach's big serve.

The Australians also squandered opportunities. Cash and Fitzgerald failed to convert a dozen break points in the first three sets. "We just had a lot of trouble returning {serve}," Fitzgerald said. "Rick served as well as I've seen him serve."

In the third set, Cash and Fitzgerald got their first service break when Leach netted a backhand volley with Pugh serving at 3-4. The Aussies held serve to finish the set and quickly broke again in the first game of the fourth set on the way to a 2-0 lead.

It looked as if an Australian upset might be in the making. Cash, a last-minute choice to play doubles instead of singles, began connecting on his powerful serve, and the Australians seemed in command as they prepared to serve to square the match.

"I thought the tide was turning," Fitzgerald said.

Although the crowd seemed to have had little effect on the match until then, the American fans came to life, creating a boisterous (and very American) "wave" to bolster Pugh and Leach.

"It was a great feeling," said Leach. "It made me play looser."

Two points away from taking the set and forcing a fifth one, Fitzgerald missed four successive volleys, and Pugh came up with two sizzling service returns to break back for 5-5. Each team held serve to force a tiebreaker.

Again, Leach's serving proved the difference. At 5-2, he hit a booming serve that nicked the line for an ace. "Before the last point I was shaking I was so nervous," said Leach, who had five aces in all. "I hit the best two serves of the match" on the last two points.

"That was the immaculate tiebreaker," Pugh said. "Rick's last two serves were just unbelievable."

"The {American} players were just too good," said Australian captain Neale Fraser. "It's very disappointing. But I'm proud of the team. We put up a good fight."

The 29th U.S. Davis Cup triumph was something of a vindication for a nation that has been criticized for losing its edge as a tennis power during the past decade.

The United States last competed in a final in 1984, losing to Sweden, and last won the silver cup in 1982, over France. Losses dropped the U.S. team out of the world group -- the only teams eligible for the trophy -- in 1987, and had to requalify through zonal play the next year.

"For a while, we were going through the doldrums," said Gorman, who had never won the cup in his five years as captain and had been criticized by some players, most notably Agassi, earlier this year. "Now it's back.

"This has been an incredible year -- a lot of things going on, a lot of emotion. The end result is just unbelievable."

This year's outcome was particularly sweet for Pugh and Leach who, like many top doubles players, have spent most of their careers in relative obscurity.

"Just to be named on the Davis Cup team was such a thrill for us," Pugh said. "To end it with a win is indescribable."