A US lead a moral victory for International


SAN FRANCISCO (AP)'The Americans were in a familiar spot at the Presidents Cup, taking the lead after the opening session of foursomes on the strength of its best players' Tiger Woods , Steve Stricker and Phil Mickelson .

The International team had to settle for a moral victory, which it gladly accepted.

Two years ago at Royal Montreal, the Americans didn't lose a match on opening day in building a five-point lead, which turned out to be the margin when the golf trophy was awarded. It was so bad that captain Greg Norman and Ernie Els were among those who thought anything better would be considered a good start.

It wasn't looking good. Not with the Americans already up 3-2 in matches, and leading the final alternate-shot match 1 up on the final hole with Justin Leonard only 3 feet away for a birdie to halve the hole.

Lucas Glover of the United Sta…
AP - Oct 8, 9:05 pm EDT Everything changed with one putt.

After some confusion over whether the putt had been conceded, Leonard missed with a putt that spun out of the right lip. The match was halved, although it felt like a full point for the International side. Instead of the U.S. team leading 4-2, it was 3 1/2 -2 1/2 .

At the end, we were pretty fortunate to have 2 1/2 points, Els said. That's one of the better starts we've had, believe it or not, for the last three Cups or so. So we are not too despondent about today.

Some of the matches were clean. Woods and Stricker combined to make six birdies against no bogeys'solid stuff for the difficult alternate-shot format ' and pounded Geoff Ogilvy and Ryo Ishikawa in the shortest match of the day, 6 and 4. It was a powerful tandem of Woods' iron play and Stricker's pure putting.

It's a pretty nice feeling to have Steve putting for us, Woods said.

Some of the matches were sloppy. Mike Weir and Tim Clark , the only partnership without a birdie Thursday, still had a 1-up lead with six holes to play until Mickelson and Anthony Kim came to life with four straight birdies for a 3-and-2 victory. It started with Kim's wedge to 3 feet on the 13th hole, and they never let up.

We needed something to ignite us and that wedge shot did the trick, Mickelson said.

Els and Adam Scott came up with a 2-and-1 victory over Hunter Mahan and Sean O'Hair , while Robert Allenby and Vijay Singh held off major champions Lucas Glover and Stewart Cink , 1 up. Those were the only two matches in which the Americans never led.

Then came the crazy finish.

Retief Goosen and PGA champion Y.E. Yang , 3 up after five holes, lost four straight holes at the turn and down themselves in a no-win situation when trailing 2 down with two to play. Somehow, they found a way not to lose.

Goosen holed a birdie putt on the 17th, although the U.S. had the advantage on the par-5 18th.

Leonard hit a beautiful fairway metal onto the green, which looked like a sure birdie. Goosen hit his metal to the right rough, from where Yang chipped to 4 feet and Goosen rapped in the birdie putt.

Goosen then forgot the score.

He looked over at Jim Furyk as if wanting to give Leonard the putt since the match was all square, only to realize eventually that the Americans had a 1-up advantage. Leonard stood over the putt, with his teammate ready to celebrate.

He missed.

The International team, ready to settle into another big hole, tried to contain their glee, but that was a big miss.

We wanted to get out of the day with pretty close to a push, and I'm very, very happy, Norman said.

Leonard made no excuses.

I just hit a bad putt, he said. I knew I was going to need to make that little putt. Unfortunately, I missed it.

U.S. captain Fred Couples said Goosen later spoke to him and Leonard and apologized for any misunderstanding.

He didn't mean anything by it, and Justin didn't have a problem, Couples said. No one has a problem with it. Did we think we were going to be up 4-2? Yes, we really did. But it won't be the last putt every missed at the Presidents Cup, and it won't be the last time a reversal was done. So we'll just come out tomorrow and try to get 3 1/2 more points against this team.

It looked simple enough on a cool, cloudy day on this public course south of San Francisco.

Until the final putt.

I was a little confused by the whole thing, to tell you the truth, Stricker said. It looked like he was going to give him the putt. Obviously, he didn't. We talked to Jim Furyk, and nothing was ever conceded. But from everybody standing there on the side, it kind of looked like he was going to give it to him.

Norman said there was no gamesmanship on Goosen's part.

He thought the match was over, Norman said. He didn't concede the putt. He just thought the match was over. It was a legitimate mistake, and no intent or malice. It was just the intensity of the game.

It only figures to pick up starting Friday, with six matches of fourballs.