DUBLIN, Ohio (AP) — Nobody figured that Tiger Woods, bad back and all, would have to hit a meaningful shot on Sunday at the Presidents Cup.
The International side made sure he had to.
Woods took the lead over the unheralded Richard Sterne with a par at the 16th hole and then had to lag a long birdie putt to within a foot to clinch the United States’ fifth consecutive Presidents Cup victory, 18½-15 ½ over the International side.
“It’s been a long week for all of us,” Woods said of the stops and starts inflicted by yet another series of torrential rains at Muirfield Village, where he’s won five Memorial Tournaments. “I’m a little bit sore. Certainly I’m looking forward to not touching a club in a while.”
Teeing off ninth in the U.S. order in singles, it was Woods who supplied the clincher for the third time in a row in the biennial international competition against a team comprised of players from everywhere in the world except Europe.
A strong finish in foursomes that were concluded early on Sunday morning gave the Americans an overwhelming 14-8 lead. They needed to win just 3½ of the 12 singles matches in order to run their record to 8-1-1 all-time in the event.
Yet for at least a little while in between storm fronts on Sunday, it appeared the International team might just duplicate the final-day turnaround engineered by the European Ryder Cup team against the Americans a year ago.
“We were walking around and I must have asked 500 times, how are we getting this fourth (clinching) point? Where is the fourth point coming from?” U.S. captain Fred Couples said. “At no given time was I a nervous wreck, but it was nice when Tiger two-putted that last green to get the 18th point.”
An emotional Nick Price, the International captain, had praised his team’s hard work and togetherness before the singles began, but also expressed regrets at the “tall order” ahead.
“They feel pretty bad right now,” he said of his players. “They have played their tails off this week. It’s disappointing to go into singles with a 6-point deficit.”
Then Hunter Mahan beat Hideki Matsuyama 3 and 2, Jason Dufner walloped Brendon de Jonge 4 and 3 and Zach Johnson rolled to a 4-and-2 win over Branden Grace to quickly push the Americans within a half-point of the win.
But Jason Day trounced Brandt Snedeker, Graham DeLaet and Ernie Els posted 1-up wins on Jordan Spieth and Steve Stricker, respectively, and Adam Scott beat Bill Haas 2 and 1.
DeLaet had chipped in on the 18th green for a half point in Sunday morning’s continuation of the foursome matches, then holed a sand shot on the same hole in singles to hold off fellow rookie Spieth.
Now there were five matches still going on out on the course, and they all could have gone either way. Still, the U.S. needed one point.
Scott, the Masters champion and No. 2 player in the world, had talked all week about the International team’s underdog status and how they had to overcome a home-course advantage — not to mention a home-country advantage — just to keep up with the experienced and talented Americans.
On top of everything else, there was the talk that maybe the U.S. players were just better.
“It’s really important for the Internationals to get a win,” Scott said. “We need to make this thing really relevant, make it a real competition, because it’s got a bit lopsided the last few outings.”
Marc Leishman got an upper hand on Matt Kuchar and would hold on for a 1-up victory, while Charl Schwartzel was rallying late to take an eventual 2-and-1 win over Keegan Bradley.
Meanwhile, Woods — suddenly in the middle of a dogfight for a vital point — tweaked his back on the 14th hole. At the 15th he grimaced after slicing his second shot wide and near a creek.
He knew what the score was, too.
“I was in a similar position as Freddie: Where is our fourth point going to come from?” Woods said.
But he was able to halve that hole to keep his match all-square. At the par-3 16th, Sterne hit an iron over the green and into a grandstand and made bogey. Woods’ par put him 1-up.
That was the way it stood at the 18th. Woods drove the heart of the fairway and ripped his approach about 35 feet below the pin. Sterne, ranked No. 41 in the world, was farther away and he left his first putt 9 feet away.
Needing only two putts to win his match and the team event, Woods lagged to 12 inches and Sterne conceded.
“I wasn’t feeling my best coming down the stretch and I happened to get a 1-up lead,” Woods said. “I was just trying to hang on.”
In the end, the players persevered through another brutal week of heavy rains, the Internationals put up a valiant fight and the U.S. got some redemption for the disappointment of last year’s collapse in the Ryder Cup at Medinah.
“You know, last year still stings,” said Stricker, one of several American players who faltered on that final day. “If you ask the guys who were on that team, I guarantee you every one of them would think that last year at the Ryder Cup still hurts a bit. So I think it’s important that we came here and got a win.”
The Internationals were heartened by the play of first- or second-time Presidents Cup players Day, de Jonge, DeLaet, Grace, Leishman, Matsuyama, Oosthuizen, Schwartzel and Sterne.
“We kept it very interesting today,” said Scott. “We gave it a good shake. With so many new faces on the team, they got a great first experience here with the Cup.”
Before the competition, Couples decided to put a Cup emblem on their golf bag for every time a player had competed. Mickelson had 10 on his — the only player to see action in each.
Playing partner Bradley said he wondered if Mickelson might need a bigger bag.
Mickelson said when it was first proposed that the Americans would play a major team competition every year — alternating the Ryder and Presidents Cup competitions — he thought it might be too much and each might lose their special feel.
“But it’s the exact opposite of what’s happened,” he said. “I feel that we are the lucky side to be able to play in a team event every year.”
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