- The Washington Times - Monday, September 26, 2005

LAKE MANASSAS, Va.

Make up an 8-by-11 of that for me, will ya? I’m not talking about the picture of Chris DiMarco raising a clinched fist after his birdie on 18 clinched the Presidents Cup for the United States yesterday (though that’s a keeper, too). I’m talking about the picture of Phil Mickelson — eyes wide, mouth agape — being told by an official a few minutes earlier that he hadn’t clinched the Cup for the U.S., that instead of earning a half-point against Angel Cabrera with a dramatic bird at the last, all he had earned was a trip to the first tee for golf’s version of overtime.

Somehow Mickelson had missed the memo that there would be no halves on the final day, that all 12 singles matches would continue until there was a winner. Even when team captain Jack Nicklaus tried to explain it to him after the 15th hole, it didn’t quite sink in.

“I thought that we had won,” he said, “… because I’m an idiot and didn’t read the rules of the game.” He took Nicklaus’ instructions to mean “don’t go for the tie, go for the win.”

The face Lefty wore as the official set him straight was the same one the rest of us wore for much of this unpredictable, unforgettable event. It was like a football game in which neither side ever led by more than a field goal. And it threw surprises at us, good and bad, with almost every swing of the club.

The last surprise — DiMarco rolling in a 14-footer to beat Stuart Appleby and give the home team an 18-15 victory over the Internationals — might have been the least of them. After all, the fiery veteran had been the Americans’ best player at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club, racking up 4 points out of a maximum of five and playing some of the best golf of his life. A far bigger shock was that, until his ball fell in the hole, there was still a chance the Cup would end in a tie for the second straight time.

Such an outcome wouldn’t have been so hard to imagine at the start of the day, when the score was deadlocked at 11. But early in the afternoon, the U.S. actually led in 10 matches and was even in the other two. How did things suddenly get so tight? Well, this is what happens when you assemble eight of the top 10 golfers in the world (and 12 of the top 16). Put it this way: The No.1 (Tiger Woods) and No.2 (Vijay Singh) players in the world lost yesterday, and No.3 (Mickelson) was fortunate to halve (after DiMarco’s putt rendered Phil’s joust with Cabrera moot). As Internationals captain Gary Player told Nicklaus afterward, the competition “couldn’t have been any better.”

No exaggeration there. Kenny Perry, who hadn’t produced any points in his previous matches, scorched RTJ for eight birdies in his 4-and-3 hiding of Mark Hensby, Then there was Fred Couples, the struggling captain’s choice, who took down Singh 1up, with the first of the Americans’ three birds on 18. And let’s not forget David Toms, another no-show going into the singles, eagling two holes to outduel talented young Trevor Immelman 2and 1 — barely a week removed from a heart scare.

On the Internationals’ side, you had Cabrera catching Mickelson with four back-nine birdies and Stuart Appleby doing likewise to DiMarco. Take that, Ryder Cup. (We’ll discount, slightly, Retief Goosen’s 2-and-1 trumping of Tiger because of the latter’s back spasms.)

Woods and Singh, who had faced off in 11 of their last 19 Presidents Cup matches, didn’t go head-to-head yesterday — another (mildly) unexpected turn. It’s probably just as well, given Tiger’s medical condition and Vijay’s loose play. (The Fijian spent so much time in the sand, you would have thought he was playing beach volleyball. It’s a shame Player couldn’t have paired him with Misty May in the four-ball and Kerri Walsh in the alternate-shot.)

Finally, America’s top golfers can breathe a sigh. They hadn’t won a Presidents or Ryder Cup since 2000, and their fans were beginning to wonder what was going on. As an added bonus, Tom Lehman, who’ll captain next year’s Ryder team, will have a better idea about pairings, what with DiMarco-Mickelson, Woods-Jim Furyk and Justin Leonard-Scott Verplank all clicking at RTJ. In these international competitions, chemistry hasn’t exactly been the U.S.’s strong suit.

And for the next Presidents Cup, maybe Mickelson will have a firm grasp of that “no halves” business on the final day.

And Lefty wasn’t the only one. When DiMarco teed off yesterday, he also was under the impression that “once it got to 17 points, a tie was good enough” to clinch the match. (His confusion was cleared up later in the round.) Fortunately for his teammates, he didn’t let it get to that point.

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