Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson and Chris DiMarco rolled them in, all three on putts that were anything but gimmes. Take any one of the three out of the equation, and America probably loses ' again. But maybe this year the U.S. men have finally learned what it takes to win ' and that is to play well on the final hole.
The Americans have so often failed in singles on the last hole. Their problems with 18 began in 1987, when another Nicklaus-captained team played on a Nicklaus course, Muirfield outside Columbus, Ohio. There the Americans proved to be miserable closers, failing to win the 18th in any match, making bogey or worse five times, losing three critical matches in a 15-13 defeat.
That began a trend in Ryder Cup play which began in 1985 and now has reached into last year with the U.S. winning only three times in the last nine matches. The Americans have had more success in the Presidents Cup, where four of six have been played on home soil.
But Davis Love III bogeyed the 18th in the 2003 Presidents to allow Robert Allenby to escape with a tie in the final match, necessitating the Woods-Els three-hole playoff before it was agreed that this exercise would be declared a draw. The 18th has been nothing but a problem for the Americans down through the years.
This year, though, Couples, Mickelson and DiMarco refused to give up on 18 after all three had lost leads which many thought they wouldnt. Couples was 2-up on Vijay Singh though 11, Mickelson was 2-up on Angel Cabrera through 9, and DiMarco trailed Stuart Appleby on only one hole ' the 16th.
But of all the winners Sunday, the most surprising was Freddy. Truth be known, he probably shouldnt have been here. He has missed six cuts this year, including his most recent attempt at the 84 Lumber. He stands a woeful 159th on the tour putting statistics. Some suspected Nicklaus was overly impressed when Couples finished second in Jacks own Memorial tournament this year.
Nicklaus made Couples a wild-card pick, then put him with Woods in the opening foursomes match. Their International opponents won, 4 and 3, then won again in fourballs by 3-1 against Couples and David Toms. Nicklaus was already being widely second-guessed for picking 45-year-old Freddy.
Couples teamed with Love Saturday to escape with a half, though. And Saturday night, when Nicklaus asked his team for suggestions of whom they wanted to play, only Freddy wanted to try his luck against Singh ' ranked No. 2 in the world, incidentally.
Why would anyone want to play Singh? Because I like him, Couples said simply.
He's a great player and we've played - this is the third time. He beat me in Australia on the last hole and I beat him here. I just figured maybe I could lull him to sleep.
It was no (slap) intended to play against him. I enjoy playing with him Because he's such a great player, I figure if I beat him, there might be a small golden rainbow out there. And I did.
Couples did, even though he really hasnt been a major force in the world of golf since 1998, when he finished ninth in the tour money race. A back that has all the strength of a strand of spaghetti has prevented him from doing any more damage, particularly since 1992 when he has the top money-winner in the world.
His win Sunday kept the Americans head above water until Mickelson and DiMarco could come to the rescue. He rolled in a 20-foot left-to-right slider on the final hole for the birdie, somewhat reminiscent of his 45-footer in 1996 which toppled Singh on the 17th hole.
It was a great match, said Freddy. He hit the ball extremely well and I got it around. To hole that putt in front of everyone ' I did the same thing, I don't know how many years ago, but on the old No. 17. So it was a great match and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute.
Eight of 10 times, Singh will win a match against Couples ' and this was Freddy speaking, being painfully honest. But in a one day time, I have just as good a shot as anyone, he said.
Singh shocked everyone when he hit his second shot over the green, then his third-shot chip back left him six feet from the hole.
It gave me a little charge of energy just to say, Hey, even if I don't miss this, which is two out of ten times, he still has to make a tricky little 6 footer and we'll see what happens. But it was great to see it go in, which was Freddy-speak for, I will miss that putt eight of 10 times, but even if I miss, he can miss that tricky little six-footer. But it was great to see it go in.
Couples prayed that he might be an example. And in the end, he was.
To be honest, I thought, if I could play with him and handle him, that I would be doing the same - several guys would be excited about that. And it happened that way and then the putt on the 18th, was thrilling. It was energetic, and if I could throw one word out there, it was karma.
Karma, indeed. He had played his first two matches against Retief Goosen and lost definitively. No thanks, he didnt want any more of that. But against Singh, he called up a lot of old memories and ' he prevailed! Maybe he has started something for the U.S. now. Old guys sometimes bring back pleasant old memories. Freddy did.
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