It is never surprising to see Fred Couples make a crucial putt in the Presidents Cup. But considering how few putts Couples had holed this week, it was stunning to see him drain the 20-footer on No. 18 to close out his match with Vijay Singh. Couples defeated Singh, 1 up, and earned a vital point for the American team in its 181/2-151/2 victory over the International team yesterday.

In 1996, Couples made a 40-foot putt on what was the old No. 17 at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club to beat Singh and clinch the Presidents Cup for the Americans. In 1994, he won his match against Nick Price by sticking his 147-yard approach shot from a fairway bunker to within 18 inches of the pin on No. 18.

Yesterday's putt was no less dramatic. Before the ball found the bottom of the hole, Couples began celebrating. He raised both arms above his head, dropping his putter to the green in the process, and gave a throaty yell toward the heavens. Justin Leonard was the first player on the green to congratulate him, engulfing him with a bearhug. The crowd at the 18th green chanted "Freddie, Freddie, Freddie."

"I thought the ball was going in the hole; someone said that was an early call," Couples said. "My thought was, 'Well, I think it's the only putt I made all week so I knew it was going in when it was four feet from the hole.' It looked good. It would have been embarrassing if it had lipped out."

Couples has a distinguished Presidents Cup career, but was a captain's pick to make the team this year. He was unhappy with how he had played this week, feeling he had let Captain Jack Nicklaus down. Yet his poor play did not stop him from wanting to face Singh, the No. 2 player in the world, in the singles matches. On Saturday night, Couples lobbied Nicklaus hard to play Singh.

"I just felt like in my mind that if I was going to beat anyone, it was probably going to be their best player," Couples said. "I had enough of Goose in the first two matches so I selected Vijay. And to be honest, I thought if I could play with him and handle him, several guys would be excited about that. It happened that way and then the putt on the 18th was thrilling."

Davis Love III was one of the players who got a lift from Couples's victory.

"I had tears in my eyes trying to putt back on the par 3 when I heard that he had made it," Love said. "It means an awful lot for all of us for him to be on the team."

An Early Treat

Those fans who came out early to watch the players warm up on the driving range were treated to golf balls and gloves from the players. Justin Leonard started the practice by tossing a glove into the bleachers. Tiger Woods threw several balls, lofting them high up into the stands. Couples signed a few balls and had his caddie hand them out. The players' generosity didn't turn out well for one woman in the crowd, however. In an eagerness to get a glove from Jim Furyk, one fan inadvertently hit a woman in the face with a forearm. Furyk, concerned for the woman's welfare, immediately went to find a range marshal. "There's a woman who needs first aid in the front row," he said, pointing her out. The marshals quickly brought her ice in a towel for her face. She left before medical personnel arrived to treat her.

Attendance Appreciation

Yesterday's attendance, 28,325, exceeded the expectations of tournament officials.

"We had wonderful crowds and they were larger than we could have hoped for," Presidents Cup General Chairman George Burger said.