There was a reason U.S. Captain Jack Nicklaus had placed Chris DiMarco in the anchor position for yesterday's 12 singles matches at the Presidents Cup. Who better to make a pressure-packed 15-foot putt to win the Cup on the 18th hole than DiMarco, a ferocious competitor who teamed splendidly with Phil Mickelson in going undefeated over the first three days of play.
Spurred by Nicklaus's confidence, DiMarco delivered the grandest triumph of his career, a dramatic 1-up decision over Australian Stuart Appleby that culminated a day of spellbinding theater and spectacular shot-making at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Gainesville. DiMarco's clutch putt delivered the winning point in the Americans' 181/2-151/2 victory over an International team that has never prevailed in four attempts on American soil.
Nicklaus was the first to greet DiMarco with a Golden Bear hug in the middle of the green, and both men were teary in celebrating the first U.S. victory in team match-play competition in five years.
"I don't know why in the world they cared about winning one for an old man," Nicklaus said. "They needed to win one for themselves. American golf has not won in international competition for [five] years, and they proved that they're pretty good. . . . If I'm never involved in the game of golf again, it's not a bad way to end it. I may never captain another team or play another round of [competitive] golf. This is pretty special."
DiMarco set himself up for the victory with a stunning 9-iron out of the rough at the 18th.
"I thought I might whiff [the winning putt], I was so nervous," he said. "I just thought about two people out there, Fred [Couples] and the putt he made to beat Vijay [Singh, earlier in the day], and Captain Nicklaus. That was our whole goal this week -- to win it for him."
At Saturday's final team dinner, Nicklaus's wife, Barbara, told the players they had touched her and her husband's hearts all week, but that now it was time to settle the business left unfinished by the 17-17 tie two years ago in South Africa, the last time these two teams faced off. Couples also spoke Saturday night and choked up when he thanked Nicklaus for making him one of his two wild-card choices to make the team.
Couples repaid Nicklaus in kind yesterday. He had asked to be paired with his friend Singh, the man he beat on the same RTJ course to clinch the 1996 Presidents Cup with a birdie at No. 17. Yesterday, Couples made another vital birdie to win his match, 1 up, at the 18th hole with a putt a few feet longer than DiMarco's but along a similar right-to-left line. That birdie provided the U.S. team with a point few thought possible against Singh, the No. 2 player in the world.
"It was a great match," Couples said, adding that he had wanted to play Singh "because I like him. . . . I enjoy playing with him. You want to win because he's such a great player. I just figured I could lull him to sleep. I figured if I beat him, there might be a small golden rainbow out there, and I did."
There were other heroes, as the Americans maintained their streak of never having lost the singles competition in any of the six Presidents Cup competitions. They won seven of the 12 matches yesterday, and the half-point came in a tense duel between Mickelson and Argentina's Angel Cabrera. Those two finished tied after 18 holes and were on the first playoff hole when DiMarco rolled in the clinching putt. In accordance with the captain's agreement, it was determined that any match still on the course once the Cup was decided would end immediately, with each team given a half-point.
Mickelson actually thought he had clinched the Cup himself when he made his own tricky five-foot birdie putt at the 18th hole to tie his match against Cabrera. Mickelson assumed the match had ended at all square, thus providing the half-point necessary for an American victory. He did a hilarious double take when he shook the hand of European rules official Andy McFee on the 18th green and was told the match wasn't over until it was really over.
"Leave it to me to not read the rules," Mickelson said with a broad smile. "This was just a little different than we're used to, I guess. There are not many times in a player's career when you have a chance to have the Cup rest on your shoulders. It's fitting for Chris to win the Cup, but I still felt the pressure of having to make that putt. I'll take away a memory and a finish that I'll always remember."
Mickelson and DiMarco, who requested a pairing that likely will carry over to the Ryder Cup team next year, also will be remembered for not losing a match this week. DiMarco, playing in his second Presidents Cup, finished 4-0-1 and Mickelson was 3-0-2, a dramatic turnaround from his 0-5 performance in South Africa.
Tiger Woods suffered his first defeat in Presidents Cup singles when South Africa's Retief Goosen prevailed, 2 and 1. Goosen also ended the week at 4-0-1. Woods, who played most of the week with a sore rib cage, could barely lift his left arm in the latter stages of the match, but refused to use the injury as an excuse. Over his amateur and pro career, it was only his 13th defeat in 97 career singles matches.
"The last nine holes, it was giving me a little problem," Woods said. "I had my opportunities to take control of the match. I didn't do it. I didn't make the putts. Goose made a bunch of putts on me today, and consequently he won the match."
Jim Furyk, Woods's partner in earning 21/2 points in the team matches, had back problems earlier in the week. But he got stronger as the competition went on and added the 15th point with a 3-and-2 victory over Adam Scott. Couples beat Singh for the 16th point, and Davis Love III put the Americans on the brink of victory with his 4-and-3 destruction of Australian Nick O'Hern. Love had three birdies in his first five holes and was never in serious danger.
When Love completed his victory, only two matches were left on the course -- Mickelson-Cabrera and DiMarco-Appleby -- and thousands flocked from all around to watch the dramatic denouement. Even Gary Player, the International team captain, had to applaud DiMarco's effort in the end.
"That putt Chris made, I take my hat off to him," Player said. "What a day's golf."
Afterward, Nicklaus added that "Gary just said to me: 'Jack, this could not have been any better. You guys played hard. We played hard, it came right down to the last hole right where we wanted it to come down, and you guys did what you were supposed to do -- three guys birdied the 18th hole to win it.' "