- The Washington Times - Friday, November 21, 2003

GEORGE, South Africa — As skies darkened late yesterday, Tiger Woods stood over a 4-foot putt that was more about pride than a measly half-point in the Presidents Cup.

Just holes earlier, he missed a crucial putt from the same distance. And in the morning, he endured his biggest loss in team competition.

“I don’t know if I could have lived that down if I missed that one,” Woods said.

Not to worry.

Woods buried the putt for a 1-up victory with Charles Howell III, the seventh victory out of 10 matches for the Americans on a day when they were the best from start to finish.

The result was a 91/2-61/2 lead over the International team and loads of momentum going into the six better-ball matches this afternoon.

“We were able to turn the momentum today, keep it going this afternoon,” said Jim Furyk, who didn’t have to play the final four holes in either of his two victories. “It was a big day for our team.”

The Americans made sure there was no repeat of the disastrous opening session, when the International team rallied over the final three holes of the final three matches to steal 21/2 points and the early lead.

Fans gathered around the 18th green on the Links Course at Fancourt must have been sorely disappointed. Of the five alternate-shot matches and five better-ball matches yesterday, only three went the distance.

They could only cheer for Ernie Els, who holed a difficult chip from thick grass for eagle in the final match, the only victory in alternate shot for the International team.

Els invited the team to his house for a party last night, and the International players had this to consider while drinking beer by the beach: They trail by three points, and the margin could be a lot worse.

“It’s a very tough team. They are an experienced team,” said Els, the only International player to have won all three of his matches. “We’re going to have a little barbecue tonight, and we’ll get the spirits up.”

The Americans started yesterday by capturing three of the five better-ball matches, with Furyk and Jay Haas leading the way. Their 6-and-5 victory over Adam Scott and Stuart Appleby tied the Presidents Cup record for largest margin.

It turned into a tidal wave in the afternoon.

Kenny Perry, a winner in all three of his matches this week, and Jerry Kelly were 3-up after four holes and beat K.J. Choi and Peter Lonard 2 and 1.

David Toms and Fred Funk had an easy time against Robert Allenby and Stephen Leaney, 4 and 3, especially since the two Aussies failed to make a birdie.

Justin Leonard, who had not won a match in the Presidents Cup or the Ryder Cup since the first one he played in 1996, won twice yesterday. He and Furyk beat mistake-prone Mike Weir and Vijay Singh 5 and 4.

Leonard said the Americans’ failure to finish was a big topic in the team meeting Thursday night. This time, they delivered.

“That bugged a lot of us yesterday,” Leonard said. “I think the guys came out and played a little angry.”

Woods only looked that way yesterday morning.

He has won only two better-ball matches in 11 tries dating to the 1997 Ryder Cup, and Woods and Howell never had a chance against Els and Tim Clark.

Clark, at No.70 the lowest-ranked player at the Presidents Cup, hit his wedge into two feet for birdie on the first hole and only got better. He made four birdies on the front nine and even missed two birdie putts inside 10 feet.

Els took over from there with birdies on the 10th and 11th.

Woods, meantime, had only three birdie chances on the front nine, none closer than 20 feet. He made only one birdie — on the par-5 13th — and the match ended two holes later.

The score was 5 and 3, the first time Woods ever lost in as few as 15 holes.

Nicklaus was aware of Woods’ shabby record in better ball, not that it mattered.

“Tiger would be the logical one to be sitting this morning because his fourball record has not been particularly good,” Nicklaus said. “But if I sat Tiger, not only would he shoot me, but everyone in South Africa would shoot me, too.”

Woods had no explanation for his record.

“I’ve never liked fourball because it takes seven hours to play,” he joked. “I’ve played some of my best golf in fourball and didn’t win.”

He would have had a tough time explaining a loss in alternate shot that followed.

Woods and Howell built a 4-up lead with five holes to play when Clark and Retief Goosen won the next two holes.

Clark missed an eagle putt on the 16th, and Woods only had to make a 4-footer for birdie to retain the 2-up lead. Shockingly, he pulled it left and saw it ripple over the cup.

The pressure began mounting.

Woods’ tee shot was just over the back of the 17th green, but Howell lagged beautifully for a par that was conceded, keeping the lead at 1-up.

From a downhill lie in the fairway, Goosen hit his second shot on the par-5 18th to 15 feet behind the hole. Clark’s eagle putt for a halve turned away to the left.

Howell chipped to four feet, giving Woods a nervy putt for the win.


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