After playing golf from dawn to near-dusk at the Presidents Cup yesterday, the U.S. and International teams were right back where they ended the last competition: dead even. After three days of churning competition, the sides were tied at 11 points, with each needing to get 61/2 points out of today's 12 singles matches to win the Cup.
The Americans managed to maintain their streak of never trailing entering the last day in four events at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club, and they've never lost in the final round of 12 Sunday singles matches in all five previous Cups.
The Americans had a decent chance to open a one-point lead late in the day in the final match on the course, with a former Cup hero facing an eight-foot putt to win his match on the 18th hole. But veteran Fred Couples, after hitting a second shot nearly stiff to the pin, just missed to the right of the cup, and he and partner Davis Love III had to settle for a tie against Michael Campbell and Angel Cabrera.
Today, the Americans will attempt to win their first team match-play competition since prevailing by a point over the International team at RTJ in 2000. In the five years since, the U.S. has lost two Ryder Cups against Europe (2002 and 2004) and played to a 17-17 draw in the Presidents Cup in South Africa in 2003.
"I think tomorrow is a tossup," said Phil Mickelson, who teamed with Chris DiMarco again yesterday to form the only undefeated American team at 3-0-1. "They are extremely tough and playing very good golf, and the American team is playing exceptional golf itself. We have a lot of work ahead of us. There are a lot of fun, exciting and stressful pairings."
One of the best will involve Tiger Woods, No. 1 in the world rankings, who will face two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen, undefeated this week in pairs play, in the third match of the day. Vijay Singh, No. 2 in the rankings, will face Couples in the fifth match off the first tee, and Mickelson, now No. 3 in the world, will meet Cabrera in the ninth match.
Mickelson and DiMarco, who specifically asked to be paired together this week, were sharp from the start yesterday.
DiMarco had a hole-in-one, only the second in Presidents Cup history, at the 187-yard No. 7 in the morning during his and Mickelson's 5-and-3 victory over Cabrera and U.S. Open champion Campbell in alternate shot play. Then they overwhelmed the Australian pair of Peter Lonard and Nick O'Hern, 6 and 5, in the afternoon best-ball session, when DiMarco missed a double eagle by inches at the 580-yard 12th.
"This has been working out really well this week," Mickelson said. "We read putts the same way, we have the same demeanor and we really have a lot of fun. When you're having fun, you're going to play better golf."
Woods also was having a delightful time playing with Jim Furyk, the 15th partner he has had in either Ryder or Presidents Cup competition. In the morning, they came back from being 2 down with two to play to birdie the final two holes and gain a tie against Vijay Singh and Stuart Appleby. In the afternoon, with Furyk keeping them in the match against the same formidable foe, Woods made a critical 18-foot putt, only his second birdie of the match, at the 16th for a 1-up advantage, and the Americans held on for a 2-up triumph.
"We've had a bunch of fun and I'm actually playing half-decent, too," Woods said of his pairing. "It's kind of a no-brainer because we're similar in how we like to compete and play the game."
The International team had its own juggernaut pair. South African Goosen and Australian Adam Scott also ended 3-0-1 this week. Goosen and Scott got a half-point in the morning when they played to a draw against Texans Justin Leonard and Scott Verplank, their opponent in the afternoon session, as well.
In one stretch during the later match, Goosen and Scott combined to produced birdies on nine of 10 holes starting at the fourth to win easily, 5 and 4.
The teams were also tied after the morning alternate shot round, each with 81/2 points after some spirited matches and just a whiff of controversy, mostly involving the issue of conceded putts.
As Mike Weir and Trevor Immelman were trying to mount a back-nine comeback after trailing by as many as 4 down to Love and Stewart Cink, the Americans were protecting a 1-up lead at the 17th when Cink hit a gorgeous second shot into the green that stopped 18 inches from the cup.
Love picked the ball up, thinking that Weir had said the putt was good, but Weir said he had never formally conceded the putt. "I said, 'Good shot, Stewie,' " Weir said on the green. "I didn't say anything to the fact that it was good."
Both team captains and rules official Tom Meeks came onto the green to listen to both sides of the story. Meeks finally said, "In this case, because there was a misunderstanding, there was no penalty." The putt was conceded, and Weir halved the hole anyway to keep the match alive by making his 10-footer for birdie.
The Americans finally clinched the match on the 18th, but only after Immelman's 22-footer to win the hole and halve the match grazed the left edge and stayed out.
"The crowd is yelling and I don't think [Love] heard it correct," Weir said afterward, adding that he didn't want to concede right away because Love's ball mark would have given him a point of reference in helping him read his own putt. "It was an honest mistake. I just wanted to make sure we did the right thing."
Beginning at 12:05 this afternoon, with the Presidents Cup hanging in the balance, 24 golfers will be trying to do the right thing one last time.
Mickelson make up the only undefeated U.S. pair at 3-0-1.Vijay Singh blasts from the trap on the 11th hole. Singh, No. 2 in the world rankings, will face American Fred Couples in the fifth match off the first tee today.