Think this Presidents Cup was a snooze? Get used to it. The U.S.
is back--with a vengeance--and last week's record 21 1/2-10 1/2
shellacking of an overwhelmed International team is only a taste
of what is to come in these annual team grudge matches. (Yes,
this kind of dominance will be visited on the Ryder Cup, too.) On
Sunday afternoon the Americans officially regained possession of
the Presidents Cup on the 15th hole of the Robert Trent Jones
Golf Club, in Manassas, Va., when Davis Love III closed out a
hapless Ernie Els during the anticlimactic singles session.
Truth be told, this Prez Cup was probably won on Sept. 26, 1999,
the day of the Americans' historic final-day comeback win at the
33rd Ryder Cup. With that awesome unleashing of talent and
willpower the Yanks exorcised the demons of Choke Hill (the '95
Ryder Cup), the Pain in Spain ('97 Ryder) and, most
embarrassingly, the Blunder Down Under, the '98 Presidents Cup in
Australia in which an apathetic U.S. squad, miffed by having its
Christmas shopping interrupted, suffered what had been the worst
defeat in the history of international team competition.
Of the galvanizing performance a year ago at the Country Club,
Tom Lehman says, "Something changed that day. It was a turning
point, and we're still feeling the effect. In every other event
before that, it felt like we got out-teamed. Now we're the ones
making each other better. We're the ones inspiring each other.
You look at this team, and there are a lot of young guys. I don't
know if we can win every Presidents Cup or Ryder Cup for the next
10 years, but we're going to be very tough."
Seconds Hal Sutton, "It's an exciting time to be part of American
Not only are the Americans the most talented players in the
world, but now they're also the most fearless. Not only is the
U.S. the deepest team, but now it's the most cohesive, too. At
this Presidents Cup the Americans excelled in every format and
showed the kind of blood lust that was a marked departure from
the usual slap and giggle of the Presidents Cup. The Americans
devoured the Internationals in all five foursome matches last
Thursday, and by the end of play on Friday the lead was 10-5. By
Saturday night the margin was up to 14-6, and needing only 2 1/2
points from the 12 singles matches on Sunday, the Yanks instead
rolled up 7 1/2.
What was scary about this U.S. team was its balance. Ten players
won at least three matches, and two of the unbeatens were
rookies, Stewart Cink and Kirk Triplett (see page G8), who were
so supernatural in teaming for three victories that they may as
well have been touching rings and chanting, "Wonder Twin powers
activate." While the Internationals clearly didn't play their
best--particularly their stars, Els and Vijay Singh, who were
being fitted for goat horns after going a combined 1-9--it didn't
matter. This U.S. squad was unbeatable.
"It was a magnificent performance," said Peter Thomson, the
gracious captain of the International team. "This seems to me to
be as powerful a team as you've ever had."
Sorry, Thommo, but it's only going to get worse for you and the
boys. The American go-to guys, Love, 36, and Phil Mickelson, 30,
are in their primes, and the team game seems to bring out their
best. After a flawless 4-0 performance, Love has a 12-5-2 record
in the Prez Cup to go with a 3-1 mark in Ryder Cup singles.
Mickelson, meanwhile, is so wolfishly competitive that he was
sent out in last week's opening match and, along with Lehman, set
the tone for all that would follow with a 5-and-4 filleting of
Steve Elkington and a toothless Greg Norman, the pairing that
used to be the Internationals' most potent. That Lehman was
batting leadoff was no surprise, given that he and Sutton are the
U.S.'s emotional leaders. Both are playing some of the best golf
of their careers despite being over 40, and even if they don't
qualify for the next couple of Cups, you can be sure they'll be
Complementing this core Fab Four was a collection of valuable
role players, notably Jim Furyk, 30, a steady, flinty competitor
who went 3-1 last week and is now 4-0 in singles in the Ryder
and Presidents Cups. Cink and Triplett, the heroes among the
"tail-enders"--Nick Price's term for the less glamorous
players--are testaments to the depth of talent on the U.S. tour.
In this era of inflated purses, a Cink or a Triplett can get
rich without any serious ambition, but both have realized that
team events like the Presidents Cup can define a career. "I
pushed hard to make this team," says Triplett, 38, who won his
first Tour event earlier this year in Los Angeles. "There is a
perception that this event is not important to the players, but
I can assure you it is very significant to me, and it was
significant for a number of others who tried like heck to make
the team but didn't quite get here."
Among the U.S. stars conspicuous by their absence were Justin
Leonard, the hero of last year's Ryder Cup, and two-time U.S.
Open champion Lee Janzen, one of the best players on the '97
Ryder Cup team. The battle to be considered one of the 12 best
American golfers gets more competitive every year. That should
guarantee that our national teams are stocked with motivated
players at the top of their games for a long time to come.
As valuable as the Kirk Tripletts of the world are, every team
needs superstars, and the most noteworthy development of this
Presidents Cup was that the U.S.'s slumbering giants, David Duval
and Tiger Woods, finally seem to have been roused. Neither seemed
fully engaged in a team competition before, but last week they
won six matches between them. Duval putted like it was 1999 and
displayed the kind of ebullience he hadn't shown since he heaved
his wraparound shades into the crowd at the Country Club. Woods
hadn't played since his win six weeks ago at the Canadian Open,
and although he was rusty, he proved that his passion can
transcend medal play. (Before last week this rugged individualist
was an uninspired 5-9-1 in a pair of Ryder Cups and one
Woods landed the most devastating blow of the opening day. He was
teamed with his old Stanford roommate, Notah Begay, in a
heavyweight bout against Els and Singh. Clinging to a one-up lead
on the 16th hole, Woods buried a 20-foot par putt to steal a
halve, save the match and break the spirit of poor Els, who has
seen this sort of thing before. Woods admitted after the match
that he had been "a little tight," which was a good thing because
it meant that he cared.
Els cares, deeply, and on Thursday night gave his teammates an
impassioned pep talk. Thomson--the MVP of the week's press
conferences with his glib asides--described the scene:
"Everybody gave him a rousing cheer, and we all had another
beer." Thus fortified, the Internationals won four of the five
Friday morning four-balls, all in blowouts, to close the U.S.
lead to 6-4 and briefly inject a little pizzazz into the
proceedings. Begay-Woods were part of the drubbing, losing 3 and
2 to Shigeki Maruyama and Carlos Franco, but at least Tiger went
out with a roar. On the par-4 15th he airmailed the green with
his approach, and when a nearby TV reporter intoned into his
microphone, "Tiger hit it into the water," Woods turned to him
and said, "No s---."
It didn't take long for the Internationals to lose the momentum.
Leading off the Friday afternoon foursomes, Cink-Triplett made
seven birdies in a decisive victory over Robert Appleby and
Stuart Allenby (or is it the other way around?). As sizzling a
pace as Cink-Triplett set, they weren't the only stars of the
session. Paul Azinger and Loren Roberts, captain's picks who
also proved to be handy fill-ins, made six birdies and an eagle
in 13 holes, dispatching Franco-Maruyama 5 and 4. Lehman-Sutton
had six birdies in the first 11 holes in trouncing Michael
Campbell-Retief Goosen, while Begay-Woods racked up three
birdies and an eagle in winning the first six holes in their
blowout of Els-Singh.
Over the first two days the U.S. won nine of the 10
foursomes--previously a team weakness--which led Thomson to
declare the alternate-shot format "goofy golf" and dismiss it as
"a bloody English invention for old ladies in golf clubs."
Lehman saw it another way. "It's the truest test of teamwork,"
he said. "It's about working together and picking up your
partner when he needs it."
Down five points heading into Saturday's final five four-balls,
the Internationals needed a major rally but were blunted from the
beginning. In the day's first match Furyk-Sutton roared to a
6-and-5 victory over Campbell-Norman. Said Sutton, "Jim said this
was a very Southern remark, but I made the statement, 'We're
going to start the fire, and everybody else is going to throw
some gasoline on it as they come by.'"
The powerhouse teams of Lehman-Mickelson, Duval-Love and, yes,
Cink-Triplett all followed with victories. The only U.S. loss of
the day was suffered by Begay-Woods in one of the most spirited
matches of the Cup. One down to Singh and the partner who was
carrying him, Goosen, Woods sidled up to Begay on the 13th tee
and nearly pressed his cheek into his pard's. "Let's bury these
boys," Woods growled. He would top Singh's eagle with one of his
own on the following hole, the par-5 14th, and then make a
kick-in birdie to win the 15th, but Goosen was too much down the
stretch, and he and Singh took the match 2 and 1, setting up the
two best grudge matches of the Sunday singles.
With the ownership of the Presidents Cup all but wrapped up,
Singh-Woods took center stage, particularly after a testy
exchange on the 4th hole. In with a bogey, Woods made Singh putt
out an eight-footer for birdie, which left the Fijian shaking
his head. Singh then ran his putt two feet by the cup, and Woods
stood at green's edge, arms crossed, haughtily staring a hole
through his opponent. Singh was so miffed at being made to putt
again that he began muttering under his breath to his caddie,
and therein lies the rub. Singh's bagman, Paul Tesori, had
showed up on the 1st tee with a hat that had TIGER WHO?
emblazoned on the back. Was that extra motivation? "Oh, yeah,"
Singh and Woods were still battling when Love polished off Els,
officially lifting the Americans to victory. "He said,
'Congratulations,' and I said, 'It's not over yet in this
match,'" Woods said. "I didn't want him to let down." Woods
mercilessly closed out Singh 2 and 1, making five birdies and an
eagle over the final 13 holes.
Begay, too, was grinding it out to the end in the day's final
match, against Goosen, an elegant player who joined Franco, Price
and Mike Weir of Canada as the only Internationals to show any
mettle. (The other eight guys would have had trouble defending
the Solheim Cup.) Begay had his own motivation. On Saturday night
the Americans had decided that their goal was to surpass the
20 1/2 points the Internationals had finished with in 1998. Two
down at the turn, Begay stormed back to take the lead with a
birdie at 17. Both teams gathered behind the 18th green to await
the outcome. The assembled Internationals seemed not crushed by
the defeat but rather resigned to its inevitability. They had
lost to a superior team, and they knew it.
The Americans, meanwhile, quietly chatted amongst themselves,
trading tales from their matches. There would be no over-the-top
celebrations this time, no champagne-soaked shirts to toss to the
crowd. The victory had brought not catharsis but confirmation.
These potent U.S. players had proved to themselves, and to the
rest of the golf world, that they are every bit as good as they
showed on that magical Sunday last September.
Finally the last match reached the green, and with a deft chip
Begay left himself a six-inch putt for the victory. Goosen
stepped in and ended the Presidents Cup, fittingly, with a
The U.S. Team came into its own during its runaway win at the
Presidents Cup. A good measure of that success can be attributed
to experience. Here are the players' records last week and their
overall records in the Presidents and Ryder Cups.
Last Week Overall
Stewart Cink 4-0-0 4-0-0
Davis Love III 4-0-0 18-13-5
Kirk Triplett 3-0-1 3-0-1
Jim Furyk 3-1-0 6-8-0
Notah Begay 3-2-0 3-2-0
David Duval 3-2-0 8-8-2
Tom Lehman 3-2-0 11-10-4
Phil Mickelson 3-2-0 12-10-7
Hal Sutton 3-2-0 9-6-4
Tiger Woods 3-2-0 8-11-1
Loren Roberts 2-1-0 7-3-1
Paul Azinger 1-2-0 6-8-2
"This seems to me to be as powerful a team as you've ever had."