Golf: Americans maintain their winning habit: Cool Couples turns the heat on Faldo as England succumb in Dunhill Cup final despite efforts of James to reverse Ryder Cup form: Tim Glover reports from St Andrews

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The Independent Online
THE United States, personified by the cool authority and impressive form of Fred Couples, defeated England 2-1 in the final to win the Alfred Dunhill Cup over the Old Course here yesterday. The Americans may be used to warmer temperatures but they are also accustomed to winning in Britain this autumn, having already taken the Ryder Cup across the Atlantic.

The American trio of Couples, Payne Stewart and John Daly won pounds 100,000 each. They were the No 6 seeds and England, represented by Mark James, Peter Baker and Nick Faldo, were seeded five but the seeding committee did not fool the bookmakers. Before the start they had the US and England as 4-1 joint favourites.

James, who failed to win a point in the Ryder Cup at The Belfry last month, was immovable yesterday and he gave England a promising start by defeating Stewart in the opening match, scoring 70 to 74. However, in the second game Couples was never behind against Faldo and he had three birdies to the turn to the Englishman's one. Faldo nearly holed his chip to the 18th - he did so in the first round of the Open Championship here in 1990 - but even a birdie three there was not enough to deny Couples, who went round in 68 to his opponent's 69. The crucial difference, to Faldo's mind, was that Couples was able to outhit him on the two par fives. Whereas Couples birdied the fifth and the 14th with fours, Faldo had to settle for fives. 'He had me for length,' Faldo said. 'I'm going to have to work on hitting the ball 30 yards further.'

In the final game Daly, making his debut here, had the better of Baker with a 70 to a 73. Daly had got into the habit of driving the green at the 18th but even the Wild Thing's Killer Whale could not reach the target yesterday. It made no difference. Daly's short game may not be as extravagant as his howitzer drives but it is nonetheless effective and he played an exquisite chip through the Valley of Sin to five feet from the flag and he was able to walk off St Andrews with the satisfying memory of a birdie three at the last.

'Fred played solid all week and as for John he's going to have a great appreciation of this place,' Stewart, the American captain, said. 'This will help him a lot.' Couples, who was wearing a polo neck sweater complete with the Ryder Cup motif, was nine under par for two rounds yesterday and Daly was six under. That is impressive scoring by any standards. 'I could not have played any better,' Couples, whom England chose to confront Faldo, said. 'I didn't go out just to beat Nick but to enjoy it. Neither of us had any bogeys and that says a lot. It was a fun week.'

The weather was not quite as Arctic harsh yesterday morning and some players even ventured out without the obligatory sponsored bobble cap. Even so, Faldo's caddie, Fanny Sunesson, hit on an innovative idea to get her employer's tee peg into the hardened sod (the St Andrews turf, not Faldo). She produced a pencil sharpener and whittled away at the wooden point of the peg.

As it happens Faldo did not really need an edge for by the time he had beaten Paul McGinley with a 70 to a 74 England had already beaten Ireland in the first semi-final. In the first match James defeated Ronan Rafferty with a 67 to a 70 and then Baker shot 72 to David Feherty's 73. James had four birdies over the front nine and he kept hitting his approach shots close to the flag.

The losing semi-finalists received pounds 31,666 each and Feherty was in better humour than Anders Forsbrand. Forsbrand, the anchor man for Sweden in the second semi- final, led Couples in the decisive match until he took a double-bogey six at the 17th, the Road Hole. And he managed to do that without hitting the road. Although conditions were kinder, some holes, including the 17th, were playing considerably longer than on Saturday. Instead of wedges and nine-irons they were hitting one and two-irons.

Forsbrand hit a one-iron and aimed it left of the bunker. His ball flew so far left it bounced into the Swilken Burn, the hazard that meanders across the first fairway. At that point Forsbrand held a one-stroke advantage over Couples but that disappeared in the water. 'I thought it was OK,' Forsbrand said. 'It was an easy shot. I don't know how the hell it got down there.' With a penalty stroke, Forsbrand had to drop from behind the Burn and his chip on to the green was too conservative. Couples got a four there to Forsbrand's six and a birdie at the last gave the American a 67 to a 69 and his country a win by 2-1.

ALFRED DUNHILL CUP

(Old Course, St Andrews)

SEMI-FINALS: Ireland 0 England 3: R Rafferty 70 lost to M James 67, D Feherty 73 lost to P Baker 72, P McGinley 74 lost to N Faldo 70. United States 2 Sweden 1: P Stewart 68 lost to J Parnevik 66, J Daly 68 bt J Haeggman 71, F Couples 67 bt A Forsbrand 69. Final: England 1 USA 2: James 70 bt Stewart 74, Faldo 69 lost to Couples 68, Baker 73 lost to Daly 73-70.

(Photograph omitted)

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