Golf: Nobilo and Turner grit rewards captain's faith

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The Independent Online
JUST AS at the Ryder Cup, you can tear up and throw away the world rankings at the Presidents Cup. Whatever a player's status in the game, it does not help get the ball in the hole in matchplay and the nine Americans here at Royal Melbourne who were at Valderrama last year will recognise the sentiment.

In a stunning reversal of all previous Presidents Cup form, the Internationals took a 7-3 lead after the first day of foursomes and fourballs. At a similar stage of the previous two matches, both won by the Americans on home soil, the Internationals trailed by five points. "My guys feel they played decently," Jack Nicklaus, the American captain, said, "but it was not decent enough."

As an ambassador for the game, Peter Thomson, the Internationals' captain, typically hit the right note when he welcomed the Americans saying they were the mightiest collection of players in the world. As an astute leader, Thomson also knew the effect of reverse psychology on his own side.

Over the previous two tournaments, the Americans had a combined record of 9-1 for the opening session, fourballs on both occasions, and although the world No 1 Tiger Woods and Fred Couples were the first to put points on the board with a 5 and 4 win over Ernie Els and Vijay Singh, the switch to foursomes on the first morning worked well for the home side.

They took the session 31/2-11/2 and then followed up by taking the fourballs by the same margin. Although there are only four Australians among the 12 International players, home advantage helped as the wind switched overnight to a strong northerly that sent temperatures soaring to over 100OF.

Under such conditions, Royal Melbourne provides a similar test to the Open. But Greg Norman and Steve Elkington proved their familiarity with the surroundings by first beating Jim Furyk and John Huston by two holes in the foursomes, and then Furyk and Mark O'Meara 2 and 1 in the fourballs.

"Steve and I have probably played over 250 rounds here," Norman said. "Between the two of us, we knew where to go and how to control the situation."

Although Thomson had to juggle players from seven different nations, he profited from sticking to compatriot combinations. Frank Nobilo and Greg Turner, the two New Zealanders on the team, rewarded his faith in being sent out first in the morning by beating O'Meara and David Duval at the last.

The match featured the second and third-ranked players in the world (O'Meara and Duval) against the No 60 (Nobilo) and No 62 (Turner). Nobilo was irritated by seeing a report on an American cable sports channel, presumably piped into the players' hotel to make the visitors feel at home, which dismissed the chances of the Kiwis.

As it turned out, O'Meara and Duval were never ahead and came to the last one down. O'Meara put his approach close but Turner, persuaded by Nobilo not to leave the ball on the lower tier and take a six-iron instead of a seven, put his over the back of the green.

"I was feeling bad for Greg but then my caddie reminded me Wayne Riley holed from there to win an Australian Open," said Nobilo, whose 45-footer duly found the cup. "I hit it perfectly and it kept running until the hole sucked it in.

"The thing about Kiwis," Nobilo added, "is we'll nip at someone's heels all day for 18 holes and eventually we'll take a leg off." Nobilo also said it was nice to be cheered like a local by the gallery to which the inevitable response was: "It's only temporary, mate."

Norman recognised the significance of the point won. "That sort of thing filters back through the entire team," said the Shark. So did the performance in the afternoon of the two Japanese players, Shigeki Maruyama and Joe Ozaki, who beat Mark Calcavecchia and John Huston 4 and 3.

The pair had practised with Norman and Elkington, and Maruyama won his foursome with Craig Parry in the morning but neither expected to reel- off 10 birdies in 12 holes. "We never thought about losing," Ozaki said, "but never thought we would win this easily." Maruyama added: "We don't go out of Japan very often but when we do we like to play well."

PRESIDENTS CUP (Royal Melbourne): International Team v US: First day: Foursomes: F Nobilo & G Turner (NZ) bt M O'Meara & D Duval (US) 1 up; G Norman & S Elkington (Aus) bt J Furyk & J Huston (US) 2 up; S Maruyama (Japan) & C Parry (Aus) bt L Janzen & S Hoch (US) 3 & 2; T Woods & F Couples (US) bt E Els (SA) & V Singh (Fiji) 5 & 4; D Love III & J Leonard (US) halved with S Appleby (Aus) & N Price (Zim). Fourball: Norman & Elkington bt O'Meara & Furyk 3 & 1; Maruyama & J Ozaki (Japan) bt M Calcavecchia & Huston (US) 4 & 3; Duval & P Mickleson (US) halved with Els & Price; Appleby (Aus) & Singh bt J Leonard & Woods (US) 2 & 1; Couples & Love III bt Parry & C Franco (Arg) 1 up. International Team lead 7-3.