- The Washington Times - Monday, September 26, 2005

LAKE MANASSAS, Va. — Scripts simply don’t come any sweeter.

The U.S. team snapped its five-year victory drought in unforgettable fashion yesterday at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club, surging in singles behind past and present heroes Fred Couples and Chris DiMarco for an 18-15 victory over the Internationals in the sixth edition of the Presidents Cup.

“We wanted this bad,” said DiMarco, who clinched both the Cup and U.S. man-of-the-match honors with a clutch 14-footer for birdie that gave him a 1-up victory over Australian Stuart Appleby in the day’s anchor match. “Unfortunately, everybody thinks the Americans don’t care [about the Presidents and Ryder cups]. Well, I can promise you that’s not true at all. We care a lot. And this is big.”

Never has an American squad exhibited the kind of team chemistry which it displayed all week at RTJ. Never has the standard of golf been so generally high among both teams in such a competition. And perhaps never has an American team come up with such a series of clutch performances down the stretch with the results hanging in the balance.

Consider the fact that in the only three matches which reached the 420-yard, 18th hole yesterday, the Americans posted three birdies. For a group maligned for its failings in four of the past five Ryder Cups, a team which hadn’t won a team event since its last visit to RTJ (2000 Presidents Cup), that’s not just clutch; it’s colossal.

“Five years is a pretty good drought for a bunch of darned good players,” said U.S. captain Jack Nicklaus, whose final-bow success this week was cited by his team as their primary motivation at RTJ. “I had a group of guys that was pretty special this week. They wanted to win, they bonded together and they worked hard. Those last few guys coming down the stretch were something else. It was pretty special.”

The first of the three key matches to reach the 18th hole featured Couples and world No.2 Vijay Singh. Though 45 and well past his prime with the putter, Couples had twice before played Presidents Cup protagonist for the Americans at RTJ, clinching victories for the team in 1994 and 1996, the latter coming thanks to a dramatic 2-and-1 win over Singh in the event’s last match.

Apparently, Singh has a short memory, because the opinionated and unpopular 42-year-old Fijian dismissed Couples as an unworthy opponent in the interview area on Saturday night. When the pair came down the stretch yesterday, you could almost hear destiny chuckling at the cocksure Singh.

Though the match certainly wouldn’t have won any awards for aesthetics, both players struggling miserably on the greens and Couples fading on the back nine, the U.S. veteran came to the 18th tee all square with the top-ranked International player. It was clear by then that the U.S. needed two victories from among a set of three final matches to claim the Cup.

While Singh was spraying his way toward a sloppy par, Couples hit a perfect drive and then dropped a wedge from 86 yards 15 feet behind the cup. Nobody had played enough break on the putt all week. And Couples, with his long putter and dodgy stroke, certainly wasn’t a man expected to break the trend. But with most thinking extra holes, Couples pulled a little magic from the past and dead-centered the hard right-to-left breaker to put a 1-up stake through Singh and give the Americans a comfy no-lose proposition with 17 points.

“It was karma,” said Couples of the final putt and the upset. “I thoroughly enjoyed the whole week, but that was really topping it. … It was awesome.”

Phil Mickelson was the next U.S. player through the 18th. He reached the hole 1down to Argentina’s Angel Cabrera and thinking he needed a win at the 18th for a halve and the Cup. Mickelson played a gorgeous approach from the left cut-line of the rough to within five feet of the hole and drilled the putt, removing his cap and reaching for Cabrera’s hand after mistakenly assuming he had just provided the team with the winning half-point. In fact, a rule change after the 2003 Presidents Cup eliminated halves in the singles until the Cup is decided, forcing Lefty and the Argentine to push on to the first tee and sudden death.

With that match off to a playoff, DiMarco then reached the final hole all square in his duel with Appleby. The pair carded six birdies between them over the final five holes in a classic back-and-forth battle. But just as it did for his fellow Americans, the 18th would belong to DiMarco, the fiery 37-year-old Floridian who tortured the Internationals all week with his blade en route to a U.S.-best 4-0-1 record.

After blocking his drive into the right rough, DiMarco faced a nasty stance in a bunker with the ball well above his feet. But he hit a shocking 9-iron to almost the identical spot from which Couples had holed out. When Appleby missed his birdie bid low, it was only fitting that Nicklaus’ top player all week would clinch the Cup with the most dangerous weapon on display all week at RTJ.

“I thought I might whiff I was so nervous,” said DiMarco, who stepped solidly into the void as the team’s emotional soul this week. “I just thought about two people out there. I thought about Fred Couples and how big a putt he made on No.18 to beat Vijay. I watched it, actually, on the JumboTron when I was on the 13th tee. And I thought about Captain Nicklaus. That’s what our whole goal was as a team this week was to win it for him.”

Said Nicklaus: “I don’t know why in the world they cared about winning one for an old man. They needed to win one for themselves, for American golf. And they did.”

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