Golf: Ryder rerun sinks the US

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The Independent Online
MUCH OF the build-up to the third President's Cup concerned how the American players felt far happier taking on a team of Internationals than at the Ryder Cup. But then the States had not suffered a defeat in the first two matches, in contrast to the last two playings of the Ryder Cup, and the first two days at Royal Melbourne may change that view.

Certainly Justin Leonard and Jim Furyk, the two players rested by the American captain, Jack Nicklaus, for yesterday's fourballs and therefore powerless to do anything about the Internationals' domination on the course, were in a somewhat testy mood, especially when any similarity to the encounter between the US and Europe was mentioned.

"I don't think you can compare the two, they are two different events," said Leonard. "It is like comparing the US Open with the Masters."

Furyk added: "The downfall of this event is being compared to the Ryder Cup. They are separate events, they should be separate; two totally different teams playing. They are not the same event, they should be different. They play five matches [in a session] instead of four, there are a lot of differences."

There are indeed a few variations in the format but the essential contest is the same and the way the Americans have been outplayed in the paired action will have been all too familiar to the nine of the team who were also at Valderrama.

As for the first two days consisting of 20 matches instead of 16, that only meant the US found themselves trailing by a greater margin going into the singles. At Valderrama the deficit was five and an 8-4 win on the final day left America still one point short.

But at 141/2-51/2 down, the Americans trailed by nine points and needed to win 11 of the 12 singles to complete an unlikely hat-trick of victories while the Internationals required only two points for their first win. "We haven't jumped the final hurdle yet but we are looking pretty good," said Greg Norman. "I am so pleased for everyone on the team from captain Peter Thomson down."

Thomson's contribution cannot be overlooked. On a course where local knowledge plays a large role, having the links-like capacity to play totally differently in varying conditions, Thomson juggled those with past experience of Royal Melbourne with the newcomers to the venue to brilliant effect. Each of his foursome pairings on each day contained at least one player who knew his way around the layout blindfolded.

Nicklaus could do nothing about the hot northerly wind which, having been absent in practice, blew in on Friday morning. It was only replaced by a cooling southerly yesterday afternoon and Thomson said he had not seen Royal Melbourne play harder in the last 40 years. The local media, however, has been full of a story of dissension in the United States team.

But Leonard denied the players were unhappy with Nicklaus for not keeping them informed of possible pairings. "That's ridiculous," Leonard said. "I don't know where anything like that would come from. Mr Nicklaus has done an incredible job."

Trailing 7-3 overnight, the US looked like sharing the morning foursomes but ended up taking only half a point. That came from Lee Janzen and Mark Calcavecchia after they had been three down after three against Norman and Steve Elkington. But other American pairings did not show similar determination.

The biggest turnaround came from the diminutive combination of Craig Parry and Shigeki Maruyama who won the last two holes against Tiger Woods and Fred Couples to take the match by one hole. Maruyama holed from 35 feet at the 17th before Parry chipped in from 50 feet at the last. "It's unbelievable what they did," said Couples.

Parry, the "Mighty Atom" from Western Australia, is the Ian Woosnam of the International team. "All I wanted to do was hole it," he said. "Words can't express what happened. I am not saying the Americans don't want it but I am sure the desire of the International team is pretty strong."

Maruyama did not need an interpreter to express his feelings: "Very happy, very, very happy". The exciting, excitable and always smiling 29- year-old, who had not played here before, became the only player with a perfect record of four out of four when he teamed up with Joe Ozaki in the fourballs to beat David Duval and Phil Mickelson 3 and 2.

A sweep of the afternoon session for the home side would have made the singles irrelevant but the US took two points and could have had more. Woods, surprisingly paired with John Huston, birdied the 16th and 17th to get back to level against Ernie Els and Vijay Singh.

All four players had birdie chances at the last but it was Els from 10 feet who holed for a three, Huston then missing from inside to halve the match. "My players all feel frustrated," Nicklaus said. "They said they played well but have never seen so many long putts and chips go in. I just said: 'Well, you were on the same greens, you had the chance to do the same things."