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 31/2-to-21/2 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."
Said Woods: "Even though we lost, we had so much fun out there. . . . We just didn't get the holes we needed early."
Justin Leonard and Scott Verplank, the Dallas natives who asked Nicklaus to play together, had little difficulty against Australians Appleby and Peter Lonard. They broke open the match at the start of their back nine with three consecutive birdies and prevailed, 4 and 2, for the Americans' first victory on this warm, breezy afternoon.
Phil Mickelson and Chris DiMarco, who also wanted to play together, found themselves in a tense duel against Cup rookie Nick O'Hern and South African Tim Clark. The teams were even after 13 holes until Mickelson made a 12-foot birdie putt at the 14th to go 1 up. O'Hern missed a three-footer at the 15th that would have won the hole and squared the match, and when Clark missed a 20-foot putt at the 18th, Mickelson and DiMarco had a 1-up victory.
Those same two will go out first today against U.S. Open champion Michael Campbell of New Zealand and Angel Cabrera of Argentina, who held on for a 2-and-1 victory over Davis Love III and Kenny Perry.
Perry missed an eight-foot putt at the 16th that would have cut the International team's lead to 1-up, but on the 17th, he made a gritty 30-footer for birdie that could have extended the match to the 18th. But Campbell, just as he did so often at Pinehurst in June to win the Open, dropped his 15-footer in the heart of the hole to close out the victory.
"When Kenny holed that putt [at 17], I looked over at our guys and I said, 'Michael Campbell has been holing a putt like that all year long,' " Nicklaus said afterward. "He just drilled it right in the middle. It was a beautiful putt, a beautiful pressure putt."
In the final pairing, South African Trevor Immelman and Canadian Mike Weir pounded David Toms and Stewart Cink, 6 and 5. Immelman, one of Player's captain's choices, and Weir, who hasn't played well all summer, birdied four of their first five holes, opened a 4-up lead at the turn, then added two more birdies in the next four holes.
Nicklaus and Player will each send out three of the same teams they used in alternate shot for today's best-ball competition. The opening match should offer another spectator's delight -- Mickelson and DiMarco against Campbell and Cabrera.
"I believe in the first matchup, if you can get ahead, it is a definite advantage psychologically," Player said. "I think the matches turned out just ideally for a great day's golf. . . . You could feel the excitement on the first tee. . . . I was standing next to President Clinton and he said to me, 'Wow, what a match!' And at the same time I'm thinking, isn't this fantastic?"