When Tiger Woods almost went down to one knee after his second shot on the sixth hole, wincing from the pain of a sudden muscle spasm in his upper back, an American team that was trailing in three matches and tied in two others at the time seemed to be in serious danger of falling far behind on the second day of the Presidents Cup yesterday at steamy Robert Trent Jones Golf Club.
But a little ice went a long way toward relieving Woods's pain, and following an 80-minute rain and lightning delay, the U.S. came back to remain only a single point behind the International team.
After each side won two matches and tied two, the International team led, 61/2 points to 51/2, with 22 matches still to be contested this weekend, including a dozen singles contests tomorrow. "I stood at the ninth tee as the last group went through, [and] if you gave me a 3-3, I would have given you 10 to 1 at that point," U.S. captain Jack Nicklaus said afterward. "One point in the match doesn't mean a lot right now. The chances that it's going right down to the wire -- yeah, there's a pretty good chance of that."
Woods was paired yesterday with Jim Furyk, who had rib cage and back problems Thursday and spent most of Friday morning in the fitness trailer trying to get loose enough to play. He had been treated often on the course Thursday by chiropractor Tom LaFountain, and before yesterday's match -- the last to go off -- it was determined that if Furyk couldn't make it, Woods would play a singles match against Australian Stuart Appleby.
Furyk gamely gave it a go, though he was obviously playing hurt. He was not much help to Woods, who made all six of his team's birdies over the first 11 holes -- including each of RTJ's three par 3s on the front nine. With plenty of his signature fist pumps in between occasionally getting iced down by LaFountain, Woods led the pair to a 2-up advantage over Appleby and fellow Aussie Mark Hensby when lightning stopped play at 3:44 p.m., with none of the six matches completed.
When action resumed shortly after 5 p.m., Woods and Furyk -- each of whom needed additional back treatment during the delay -- provided their side's final full point of the day with a victory. Furyk even made several key putts down the stretch, including a 12-footer at the 16th, to clinch a 3-and-2 victory. It also ended an almost incomprehensible drought of six straight best-ball losses by Woods over his three previous Presidents Cup appearances. In his fourth Cup, Woods now has a 9-8 overall record, including 3-0 in singles.
"I have a couple of ribs that are causing some spasm and pain," Woods said. "It's just a matter of keeping it pain free and loose where I can swing. Tom did an awesome job of getting me to where I could swing, which was not exactly easy to do today."
Said Nicklaus: "I saw Tiger and Jim getting treatment [in the team cabin]. I said, 'Who's carrying who here?' They both laughed."
Both teams had reasons to be optimistic entering the weekend.
No International team had ever led this competition after two rounds in the four Cups contested at RTJ. And their strongest pairing, Adam Scott and Retief Goosen, is now 2-0 after a 3-and-1 victory yesterday over Fred Couples and David Toms, now both 0-2. The seemingly potent American team of Davis Love III and Kenny Perry also has lost two matches, dropping a 3-and-2 decision to Australians Peter Lonard and Nick O'Hern.
But the Americans also were getting inspired play from two teams -- Phil Mickelson and Chris DiMarco and Texans Justin Leonard and Scott Verplank who are a combined 3-0-1 overall. After rallying to a draw from being 2 down with four holes remaining against Michael Campbell and Angel Cabrera, Mickelson was especially effusive about DiMarco's contribution.
DiMarco hit a second shot to within a foot for a conceded birdie at the 15th to draw within 1 down, then tied the match when he made an eight-footer for another birdie at 17. At the 18th, both Americans had long birdie putts, and they also watched Campbell, the reigning U.S. Open champion, very nearly win the match with two brilliant, but very unlucky, shots.
His approach shot actually hit the flagstick and ricocheted about 15 feet into the fringe. His birdie chip from there seemed dead solid in the hole, but hit the cup and somehow horseshoed out. Cabrera missed his own 18-footer for birdie, and DiMarco and Mickelson both missed their putts and halved the hole.
"He is unbelievable," Mickelson said of DiMarco, runner-up in the Masters in April. "He's one of the toughest guys we have. I'm proud to have him as my partner. Chris DiMarco made two of the most impressive birdies. The shot he hit at 15, unreal, to almost make it. He's one of the toughest guys down the stretch head-to-head."
For the second straight day, Fred Funk, one of the shortest hitters on tour, had to face Vijay Singh, one of the longest. And for the second straight day, Funk made a number of critical shots and putts instrumental in halving the match against the No. 2 player in the world. After playing with Furyk on Thursday, Funk's partner was Stewart Cink yesterday.
Singh, playing with Tim Clark, put his team in jeopardy when he missed a four-foot putt to lose the 16th hole and go 1 down. He won the 17th with a three-foot birdie putt to even the match and had a chance to win at the 18th, only to pull a 15-footer left of the hole. Cink nearly won the hole for the U.S., but his chip from the fringe stopped about eight inches short.
Singh clearly was not pleased when some spectators applauded his miss of an eight-footer at the ninth hole that would have won that hole. He turned briefly and glared back toward the offending fans, and afterward, Nicklaus said he hoped spectators over the weekend would refrain from such conduct.
"When the International team hits a good shot and makes a good shot, I think they deserve to have applause and appreciation," Nicklaus said. "To me, not basically appreciating what the other team is doing is not in the spirit of what Gary [Player] and I want to see in the matches."