- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 25, 2005

LAKE MANASSAS, Va. — Game on.

After three days of scintillating golf, the sixth edition of the Presidents Cup has come down to an all-square singles showdown.

Propelled by the continued brilliance of two power pairings, Jack Nicklaus’ U.S. squad erased a one-point International lead during yesterday’s double shot of sessions at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club, leveling the overall points total at 11 apiece entering today’s singles finale.

“I think the level of play has been great on both sides,” said U.S. firebrand Chris DiMarco after he and Phil Mickelson ran their record to a dominating 3-0-1 by dispensing a pair of thrashings on the 7,335-yard, par-72 layout yesterday. “Way-under par is winning matches, and I think that’s what people want to see. The score is 11-11, and you’ve seen lots of unbelievable golf shots. I think it’s good for the game of golf.”

The 37-year-old DiMarco, thus far the hands-down choice as U.S. man of the match, authored the most unbelievable of those shots yesterday, recording a hole-in-one on RTJ’s 187-yard, 7th hole with a 7-iron during the duo’s 5-and-3 trouncing of Internationals Michael Campbell and Angel Cabrera in the morning foursomes session.

In a performance that rivals any in the recent history on team match-play competition, DiMarco and Lefty combined to play 28 holes yesterday in 16-under par, completing a perfect day with a 6-and-5 demolition of Aussies Nick O’Hern and Peter Lonard in the afternoon.

“We just really cat-and-moused it out there,” said DiMarco of his partnership with Mickelson, who came to the event with losses in eight of his last nine matches in Presidents/Ryder Cup play. “We just gelled together.”

Also meshing perfectly yesterday for the United States was the tandem of World No.1 Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk. That pair spent all day jousting with the International union of Vijay Singh and Stuart Appleby. And after rallying from 2-down with two to play for a morning halve, Woods and Furyk used another stretch-run surge to down Singh and Appleby 2-up in the afternoon four-balls.

“Jim played unbelievable golf today,” said Woods, who watched as Furyk made six birdies in the afternoon to carry his superstar teammate. “I really didn’t do much except for read putts and have the pompons out.”

But if Furyk kept the two in their afternoon match, it was the 29-year-old Woods who rose to the occasion to clinch the victory, holing a 16-footer at the 16th to give the pair a 1-up lead and then stuffing a pitching wedge to five feet at the 18th to snuff out any thought on an International rally.

Woods’ undefeated partnership with Furyk has sparked the game’s goliath to his best performance in eight Presidents/Ryder Cup appearances, resulting in Woods’ first winning record (2-1-1) in the team formats of such events and an obvious spike in his enthusiasm.

“Even though we have different styles of games, our personalities are very similar in how we approach the game of golf and how we compete,” said Woods of his association with Furyk. “From that standpoint, it’s kind of a no-brainer.”

Perhaps that’s the case for Woods, but the pairing didn’t occur to the previous seven captains shared by Woods and Furyk. Some credit must be given to Nicklaus for agreeing to the player-suggested pairings that have turned the two top U.S. players into warriors this week and created the best U.S. team chemistry at such an event in years.

Despite that superb synergy, the U.S. squad still has a full plate today against an International group that found its own magic in the combination of Retief Goosen and Adam Scott (3-0-1) and enters today’s singles equally positioned to claim the cup.

That said, no world team has historically enjoyed more success in singles play than the Americans. A U.S. squad has never lost a singles session in Presidents Cup play, posting a 7-5 victory on average in five previous singles’ tussles with the Internationals. And only once in recent history has an American team been bested in singles (2002 Ryder Cup).

“We have traditionally been strong in the singles, but anything can happen,” Nicklaus said. “Our guys are charged. They are absolutely pumped right to the ceiling right now.”

And chances are, they’ll be even more pumped when they wake up this morning and see the comments Singh made late last evening.

Perhaps soured after his long and losing day against Woods and Furyk, Singh blasted the U.S. pair for their pace of play in the day’s last interview.

“[They’re] just [darned] slow,” Singh said. “It took us five and a half hours to play, and toward the end, it took its toll. Tiger is fine around the tee shots or the second shot, but when he gets to reading putts and all that, they just took forever.”

Unfortunately, Woods drew Goosen and not Singh for today’s finale. The brusque Fijian will be out in the day’s fifth match with U.S. veteran Fred Couples, whom he had a few choice words for, as well.

“Unless he does something drastically amazing or I play really poorly, I should be quite comfortable,” said Singh of his duel with Couples.

Interestingly, the 45-year-old Couples knocked out Singh (2 and 1) at RTJ in the anchor match of the 1996 Presidents Cup to clinch a victory for the Americans. Given that history and Singh’s typically graceless barbs, perhaps another karma-induced, cup-clinching upset is in the offing.

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