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Tiger Woods leads U.S. team to an emotional Presidents Cup win

Tiger Woods, with a broad smile not seen since the Masters, grabbed Justin Thomas for a bear hug after the U.S. victory. (Tim Carrafa/EPA-EFE)
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The red shirts probably should have been a tipoff that what was to come was, as Phil Mickelson tweeted, “a display of great golf and heart.”

The United States’ Presidents Cup team, sporting the color made famous on Sundays by team captain and player Tiger Woods, came roaring back from a two-point deficit to beat the International team, 16-14, on Sunday, and win the Cup for the eighth straight time. Woods sparked the win with his leadership and, more importantly, with his play, going 3-0 at the Royal Melbourne course.

The victory was the 11th in 13 Presidents Cup events for the United States, but this one was more emotional than usual, with Woods personally closing out a 2019 season that began with his 15th major victory at the Masters and the U.S. team having to rally to win. He was in tears afterward, fiercely clutching and hugging players as they finished.

“We relied on one another as a team, and we did it — together,” Woods said after wiping away his tears. “This Cup wasn’t going to be given to us. We had to go earn it. And we did.”

The experience, he said, was sweet as both a captain and a player and he played like a man savoring a second chance personally and professionally. As a player, though, he was a flash of the Tiger Woods who has won 82 PGA Tour events. When Abraham Ancer was quoted last month as saying he wanted to go head-to-head with Woods at the Presidents Cup, Woods cracked after his 3 and 2 win Sunday, “Abe wanted it. He got it."

And asked if he was aware of Ancer’s earlier comment, he replied with a crisp, “Yes,” and a killer grin. Shades of the old Tiger Woods.

Woods was the first player-captain in 25 years and he was first off the tee Sunday, setting the tone and then watching as his players won again and again. His squad was so fired up that none of the six singles victories went the full 18 holes and the last two matches were halved. The 8-4 margin was the largest since the 8-4 win by the United States in the first Presidents Cup in 1994.

The clincher came from Matt Kuchar, a five-foot birdie putt that gave him a halve against Louis Oosthuizen, delivering the 15½ points the U.S. squad needed to retain the Cup it had easily won two years ago at Liberty National.

Mickelson, watching from home, called the finale “one of the most exciting days in Presidents Cup history. What a display of great golf and heart.”

The U.S. side hadn’t won a singles session since 2009, mostly because they have so often led by such a large margin that the final day of play is inconsequential. Not this year, when they trailed on Sunday for the first time since 2003, when play finished in a tie.

Ernie Els, the International captain, put together the Cup’s youngest team from nine countries — the Presidents Cup does not involve European players — and his upstarts had the International side’s first lead in 16 years, up 10-8 going into the final day.

“We didn’t get the result we wanted,” Els said.

Patrick Reed, playing with a different caddie after his usual man was benched Saturday for shoving a fan who had cursed Reed over his recent accusation of cheating at the Hero World Challenge, won his only match of the week, beating C.T. Pan. Webb Simpson, who played with Reed as they lost all three team matches, never trailed in beating Byeong Hun An.

After speaking with the media, U.S. players packed their gear and hopped on a bus, breaking into a spirited version of Queen’s “We Are the Champions” as it rolled away from Royal Melbourne.

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