U.S. Leads in Presidents Cup Start

Thursday, October 19th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

GAINESVILLE, Va. (AP) — No one can say this American team doesn't care about playing in the Presidents Cup.

Led by the brilliant play of its rookies and a clutch putt from Tiger Woods, the United States got off to a perfect start Thursday by winning every alternate-shot match for a 5-0 lead over the International team.

It was the second time the Americans have led 5-0 after the first session, matching their record start six years ago at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club.

Three matches reached the 18th hole, but it was never really close.
The International team, which handed the Americans their worst loss ever in team match play two years ago in Australia, led in only two of the five matches at any point, but never after the third hole.

Stewart Cink and Kirk Triplett, both playing in their first team competition, made seven birdies in 17 holes on a difficult course for a 3-and-2 victory over International rookies Mike Weir of Canada and Retief Goosen of South Africa.

``I set him up with a lot of birdies and he drained them all,'' Cink said. Fittingly, Triplett closed out the match with a 40-foot birdie putt.

The other U.S. rookie, Notah Begay, also won his match — and not just because his partner was Woods, his former teammate at Stanford. Begay sealed their 1-up victory over Ernie Els and Vijay Singh with an approach into 10 feet on the 18th.

But it was Woods who turned back any hope of a great comeback from the International team's best two players, atoning for an errant tee shot on the 16th with the kind of putt he has been making throughout his record-smashing season.

Clinging to a 1-up lead, Begay chipped from under a tree well past the pin, but the ball came back down the slope to about 20 feet. Woods made the par putt for a halve of the hole, ramming his fist toward the cup as it fell.

He and Begay slapped hands sideways and tapped fists.

``I got a little excited,'' Woods said with a sheepish grin.

The most excited anyone got on another otherwise tame afternoon was Michael Campbell of New Zealand. And he didn't even play.

On the practice range before the matches began, the International team huddled around as Campbell did his native Maori ``Haka'' dance, slapping his knees and shouting chants.

``The Haka means that we're challenging our opponents,'' Campbell said. ``Basically, it means we are rising, rising, rising ...above the clouds.''

Then they teed off, and it wasn't long before the International team started sinking, sinking, sinking into a deficit they're used to facing at RTJ.

The Americans led 5-0 on this course in 1994, the inaugural Presidents Cup, and won 20-12. Two years later it was a 4-1 lead after the first set of matches, although those ultimately were decided by one point.

``We're hoping for a change of fortune,'' International captain Peter Thomson said.

Phil Mickelson and Tom Lehman buried their opponents quickly, winning six straight holes against two Aussies joined at the hip — Steve Elkington and Greg Norman, who each had innovative hip surgery this year.

``We should get a refund,'' Norman joked.

It was no laughing matter.

The Aussies, 3-0-1 two years ago at Royal Melbourne, were 6 over par after the first eight holes and lost 5 and 4. None of the 14 holes were halved.

``We didn't have any rhythm at all,'' Elkington said. ``The other guys put the pressure on us and got a big lead.''

That summed up the entire day.

The other Australia duo, Robert Allenby and Stuart Appleby, led after the second hole. But Ryder Cup star Hal Sutton and Jim Furyk won three straight holes and hung on for a 1-up victory.

Nick Price and Carlos Franco also took a brief lead on the second hole over David Duval and Davis Love III. It was the closest match of the day until Duval made a 10-foot birdie on the 14th and Love hit it close on the 15th for a 2-up lead and command of the match.

Woods and Begay never trailed in their match and applied the pressure quickly when Woods hit a sand wedge from 83 yards that hopped over the ridge of the first green and skidded to a halt about 18 inches from the cup.

Singh, meanwhile, hit his drive 50 yards left of the fairway, causing Els to say to him, ``A little pumped up there?''

They weren't laughing when they walked off the 10th hole, 3 down and without a birdie.

Singh finally hit one close on the par-3 11th for their first birdie. They picked up another hole when Woods hit his drive left along the lake, and brought the match to all square with another birdie on the 13th.

Momentum shifted with one shot, a fairway wood from Begay that narrowly cleared the water in front of the par-5 14th and set up a two-putt birdie. Singh opted to lay up from the rough, and he failed to make a 10-foot birdie putt.

Singh and Els never made up the difference, as Woods made a 6-footer for par to halve the 15th and then made his big putt on the 16th.

``We've got a long way to go,'' Els said. ``Obviously, we didn't get off to the start we wanted. The boys will come out fighting. We've got 36 holes tomorrow, and we can get it ball back.''