United States off to solid start at Presidents Cup


The most entertaining opening match in the Presidents Cup had everything but a winner. There weren't any losers, either.

"There shouldn't have been a winner or loser. Both sides played like winners," Phil Mickelson said Thursday after teaming with Woody Austin to halve their match with Vijay Singh and Canadian Mike Weir.

That was as close as the International team came to winning. When Scott Verplank and Lucas Glover finished off Stuart Appleby and Retief Goosen 2 up in fading light, the United States had taken 51/2 points out of the six alternate-shot matches.

Tiger Woods also starred in the biggest opening-session rout in seven years, teaming with Charles Howell III to beat K.J. Choi and Nick O'Hern — and 1.

Jim Furyk and David Toms had a big win, too, taking down long-hitters Ernie Els and Angel Cabrera — up when Els missed a 4-footer on 18.

But those matches were afterthoughts on a gray day at Royal Montreal.

With enthusiastic spectators jockeying for seemingly every available viewing space, Mickelson and Austin overcame a three-hole deficit and Singh's holeout from a greenside bunker on No. 15 to salvage the half-point.

"That was probably, in the four Cups I've played in, probably the toughest match," Weir said. "They got ahead and then we stormed back and then they stormed back."

On the par-4 18th, Austin pulled his approach into a bunker. Singh hit his right of the green, and Weir chipped to 31/2 feet. Mickelson's sand shot soared high above the green and stopped 12 feet past the hole, setting up a left-to-right putt that Austin read perfectly. As the ball tracked toward the cup, he punched the air in celebration.

Before Singh could place his ball for the 31/2-footer, the Americans &

at captain Jack Nicklaus' urging &

conceded the putt for only the sixth halved hole of the match.

"What do you want to do with (his) putt?" Nicklaus asked.

Mickelson understood the question to be a directive.

"Captain Nicklaus was right. It was the right thing to do," Lefty said.

It was typical coming from Nicklaus, who conceded a putt about the same length to Tony Jacklin in the 1969 Ryder Cup that allowed those matches to end in a draw. That gesture became a symbol of sportsmanship in matches between countries and continents.

"That didn't surprise me at all with Jack," Weir said. "I'd like to think that if it was role reversal there, we would have done the same thing."

In other matches, Steve Stricker and Hunter Mahan put the first point on the board with a 3-and-2 victory over Australians Geoff Ogilvy and Adam Scott, and Stewart Cink and Zach Johnson beat South Africans Trevor Immelman and Rory Sabbatini — up.

"Our guys were sensational," Nicklaus said. "They finished the matches. They played great. And I'm happy that Mike Weir from Canada got on the board."

There's still a long way to go. After six best-ball matches Friday, the teams will play five morning alternate-shot matches and five afternoon best-ball matches Saturday, then finish Sunday with 12 singles matches.

The International team lost three matches on the 18th hole, something captain Gary Player blamed on poor decisions.

Sabbatini and Immelman were tied with Johnson and Cink playing the 18th, and they made it easy on the Americans when Sabbatini hit his tee shot into the water. Johnson played a bunker shot to 2 feet for a conceded par.

Player said Sabbatini should have hit 3-wood off the tee.

"I don't like to interfere with my players at all," Player said. "He said, 'It was in my mind and I just made the wrong decision.'"

In the big match, Austin made a 17-foot birdie putt to start the rally on the par-5 12th, Singh gave away the par-3 13th when his tee shot came up 20 yards short, and Austin hit to 31/2 feet to set up Mickelson's tying birdie putt on the par-4 14th.

The Americans appeared to have the advantage on the par-4 15th after Mickelson hit his approach 12 feet past the hole and Weir pulled his into the left bunker. But Singh holed out for birdie and Austin's putt to match slid by on the high side.

"Vijay is a great partner," Weir said.

Mickelson answered two holes later with a 15-foot birdie putt to tie it.

Hours earlier after the start of play was delayed 30 minutes because of heavy morning rain, Mickelson and Austin took advantage of Weir's weak approach shots following Singh's perfect drives to win Nos. — and 3.

The International team took the par-3 fifth with a par and Weir sent a roar across the course with a 95-yard wedge shot to 11/2 feet for a conceded birdie and a win on the par-5 sixth. It was the Canadian's first quality shot of the match.

Weir and Singh grabbed the lead with Weir's 20-foot birdie putt on the par-4 eighth and won the long par-4 ninth with a par. Austin struggled with his ball-striking on the front nine, leaving Mickelson in five bunkers, before making up for it at the end.

"I hope I played as bad as I can play on the front nine," Austin said. "I have to bring more sunscreen for Phil tomorrow for all the bunkers I put him in."

Weir increased the lead to three holes on the par-4 11th, hitting a fist-pump inducing shot from 186 yards to 31/2 feet that Singh finished off for a birdie.

Then things really got interesting.

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