Internationals take first-day lead at Cup

Posted: Friday, September 23, 2005

GAINESVILLE, Va. — Adam Scott watched his 25-foot eagle putt from the fringe curl into the left side of the cup for a 3-up lead against Tiger Woods and Fred Couples, a serious blow that set the tone for the International team Thursday in the opening match at the Presidents Cup.

Retief Goosen extended his hand, as if to tap fists with Scott to celebrate such a big putt in alternate shot.

But all Goosen wanted was the ball. It was his turn on the tee.

‘‘I think I got a ’Good putt’ out of him,’’ Scott said with a smile.

With quiet precision, Goosen and Scott turned in a tag-team performance that buried Woods and Couples and sent the International team into truly foreign territory at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club — in the lead.

Mike Weir and Trevor Immelman brought up the rear, making four birdies in the first five holes to crush David Toms and Stewart Cink. In between, the International team did enough right to take a 3 1/2-2 1/2 lead.

One point isn’t much, especially with 28 matches left until the cup is awarded.

‘‘It’s like a mile race and you’re 50 yards ahead,’’ International captain Gary Player said. ‘‘This is as close as it can be without being a tie.’’

But considering how the International team typically starts at RTJ, it was cause for optimism. In three previous trips to this golf course on the shores of Lake Manassas, the Americans have twice led 5-0 and once led 4-1 after the opening day.

‘‘Scott and Goosen beating Tiger and Freddie was a big thing for the International team,’’ U.S. captain Jack Nicklaus said. ‘‘It set the stage for them being ahead. It’s the difference in them being ahead. We were hoping for exactly the same situation. I thought we could match up against them and do well. I was wrong today.’’

The Americans didn’t have a lot of things go right for them.

Jim Furyk’s first swing of the day aggravated a rib injury, and he had to get therapy between shots just to finish his match. He and Fred Funk scratched out a halve against Vijay Singh and Mark Hensby, but Nicklaus won’t know until Friday whether Furyk can play his better-ball match with Woods.

Nicklaus’ best pairing from two years ago in South Africa — Davis Love III and Kenny Perry — each missed par putts to drop two behind down the stretch and lost on the 17th hole when Michael Campbell made a 12-foot birdie moments after Perry had made a 30-footer up the ridge.

‘‘Some places it could have been worse,’’ Nicklaus said. ‘‘Some places it could have been better. Tomorrow is another day.’’

Scott and Goosen got this day off to a resounding start.

It started with a simple halve on the third hole, when Goosen hit a 60-foot putt to a hole location that was a few feet below a steep ridge. The putt was struck with such perfect pace that it settled 16 inches for the cup for a conceded birdie. Then, it was a matter of waiting for Woods and Couples to self-destruct.

A poor chip by Woods cost them the fourth hole. Couples missed a 4-foot birdie putt so badly that it never touched the hole, falling two behind on the sixth. And when Scott made a 10-foot birdie putt on the par-3 seventh that juts out into the lake, the International team already was 3-up.

‘‘The first match out is always important, no matter who you’re playing,’’ Scott said. ‘‘Gary wanted Retief and I to go out and give the guys something to see.’’

The turning point came at the par-5 10th. Woods and Couples won the previous hole, and then Couples made an unlikely birdie with a 35-foot putt. But instead of cutting the deficit to one hole, Goosen calmly rolled in a 15-footer to halve the hole.

‘‘That was probably the point in the match that ... we didn’t win it there, but it certainly had a big impact,’’ Scott said. ‘‘We changed our momentum. Retief rolls it in, and heads off to the next tee as he does, and everything is normal.’’

It was only the third time in 36 matches at the Presidents Cup or Ryder Cup that Woods was beaten without getting to the 16th tee. Neither he nor Couples played well.

‘‘I was outclassed by three guys, and I couldn’t help Tiger at all,’’ Couples said.

It was the marquee match of the day, and the anticipation built as former Presidents Bush and Clinton stood on the first tee amid the wives and the heads of six major golf tours around the world.

Goosen, quiet as ever, kept it all in perspective when asked the importance of taking down Woods.

‘‘Do we get 10 points if we beat him?’’ he said.

The Americans kept it close behind Scott Verplank and Justin Leonard, who grew up in Dallas and have similar games. They recovered from a rocky start, then poured it on with three straight birdies to start the back nine and won, 4 and 2, over Peter Lonard and Stuart Appleby.

Phil Mickelson already atoned from his 0-5 performance two years ago in South Africa, teaming with Chris DiMarco for a 1-up victory over Nick O’Hern and Tim Clark.

The most impressive performance came from Weir and Immelman, the Canadian having one of his worst years on tour, the South African playing his first Presidents Cup as a questionable captain’s pick.

They were 6 under through 13 holes when the match ended, an astounding score for alternate shot. And they never came seriously close to making a bogey.

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