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Momentum favoring International team at Presidents Cup

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Presidents CupSAN FRANCISCO – What’s Justin Leonard going to do now?

When the Internationals stole momentum from the Americans with a late rally on Day 1 of the Presidents Cup, Leonard had a clever answer.

After missing a 3-foot putt in a confusing finish Thursday, Leonard left the course with shoulders slumped and head down.

The next time teammates saw Leonard, he was marching into the team room, slamming the door behind him. He made a beeline to the bar, where he had five shot glasses lined up for him. He proceeded to throw back the shots, one after another with barely a breath between. And then he chugged a bottle of beer.

Greg Norman Presidents Cup
International captain Greg Norman cheers Tim Clark's eagle Friday. (Getty Images)
Unbeknownst to his fellow Americans, Leonard arranged for caddie Mike “Fluff” Cowan to fill the shot glasses with water.

“The beer tasted a lot better than the water did,” Leonard said. “I think a few of the girls were a little nervous for me when I was doing that, but my wife said she just kind of rolled her eyes. She knew exactly what I was doing.”

And what was that?

“Just to kind of let everyone know I was OK,” Leonard said.

Another stunt might have been needed after Day 2 ended.

The Americans still lead, but sometimes scoreboards don’t make sense.

For two days now, play has ended with the big electronic television screen at the 18th green telling us something that didn’t quite register.

The scoreboard showed the Americans leading 6 ½ - 5 ½ Friday, but it sure didn’t feel that way, not with the Internationals winning the final hole in thrilling fashion, not with captain Greg Norman’s team celebrating in the fading light with so many American fans staggering out of the bleachers in stupefied silence.

When Tim Clark rolled in the last putt of the day, a 14-foot eagle at the final hole, he turned the day upside down.

Clark, the diminutive South African who delivered the day’s giant-sized shot, put an exclamation point on another late rally by the Internationals.

One down with two to play, Clark and Vijay Singh won the final two holes to defeat Lucas Glover and Stewart Cink.

Down in five of six matches, the Internationals rallied to split the first round of fourball.

The scoreboard may show the Americans ahead, but the Internationals felt as if they won the day with their comeback.

“We feel like today we’ve come out a little ahead, certainly after that start,” Clark said. “It certainly didn’t look good there for awhile. We are feeling good.

“We have got to think that they have to be, not down, but they may feel like they let a few points slip. It seems like most of the close matches that come down to the last couple holes, we have been able to salvage a halve, or even win a point, which is huge.”

The Internationals have owned the last hole this week.

Clark’s eagle at the 18th was the second of the day by the Internationals. Mike Weir stole another match earlier with his eagle there.

That ought to make American captain Fred Couples nervous.

The Internationals closed hard on Day 1 when Leonard missed that short putt that left the Americans with a one-point lead instead of a two-point cushion. Leonard might have been thrown off over confusion as to whether Retief Goosen was going to concede that last putt, but the miss gave the Internationals a lift.

“It’s a two-point swing, in a way,” Clark said.

Clark, a short hitter, delivered in the clutch at the 18th hole, a 525-yard par 5. He hit a 3-wood from 251 yards to 14 feet to set up his closing eagle.

“I got on the tee not knowing if I could actually reach the hole in two,” Clark said. “In the practice round, I didn’t get there.”

Clark’s putt barely creeped in, curling around and in the cup as it lost speed. His knees buckled when it disappeared.

“Really a shot in the arm,” Norman said. “I can tell you our team cabin is very, very happy right now and very excited about the way we turned things around. It really could have been a disastrous situation.”

If these matches get to Sunday with the Internationals close, they’ll take a lot of confidence to the 18th hole.

Before Clark’s big finish Friday, Weir and Ernie Els closed hard there, coming from 1 down with three holes to play to defeat Jim Furyk and Anthony Kim, 2 up. Weir hit a 3-wood from 255 yards to 21 feet for a conceded eagle.

Couples tipped his cap to Norman’s team, but he saw Leonard’s stunt. He knows the confidence his team carries. He knows how hot Tiger Woods, Steve Stricker and Phil Mickelson are.

“Timmy Clark eagling that last hole was a big boost for them,” Couples said. “At the same time, our guys are awfully excited about the way they are playing.”