24 November 2003
The 2003 Presidents Cup has been rated as one of the best-organised – and most exciting – golfing events ever.
Jack Nicklaus, winner of 18 majors and captain of the United States Presidents Cup team, said at the conclusion of the competition at Fancourt near George that he had never experienced anything as enthralling as the battle between the USA and the International Team to land the trophy.
“It’s the most unbelievable event the game of golf has ever seen,” he said.
Jack Warfield, vice-president of championship operations for the PGA Tour, told The Star newspaper that the level of organisation at the event was “second to none. The event was truly world-class, and rates with the best I have ever seen.
“It has proved beyond doubt that South Africa is perfectly capable of staging huge golf tournaments”, Warfield said.
Hollywood scriptwriters would have been sent packing had they come up with the story that unfolded on The Links course over four wonderful days of world-class golf and fantastic sportsmanship. It wouldn’t have been believable.
Leads change hands
On the first day it appeared that the Americans would go into the second day with a lead, maybe as big as five-one ahead. But the Internationals stormed back, dominating the final holes to snatch an unlikely advantage of 3½ to 2½.
On the second day, though, Nicklaus’ team got it all together and surged past the International team. In the morning four-ball action they won three matches to the two of the Internationals, but in the afternoon foursomes the real move came as the Americans won four of five contests to move three points clear of their opponents.
It seemed that the powerful American line-up would run away with the title, but no one told the International Team that – they stormed back into the lead with a devastating performance in the four balls, winning six out of six matches as the USA was swept for the first time ever.
That left only the singles to be played, with Nicklaus and co needing to pull something out of the hat to get close to Gary Player’s team. Making it all the more exciting was that South African favourite Ernie Els had been in fine form throughout the event, and had by that time established himself as the only unbeaten player.
Nicklaus and Player gave the spectators the showdown they wanted when they pitted Tiger Woods against South Africa’s number one.
One on one
An incredible story unfolded as the USA started reeling in the Internationals, eating away at the deficit. In a clash of two major winners, US Open winner Jim Furyk saw off US Masters champion Mike Weir three-and-one to get the Americans moving.
Jerry Kelly nipped South Africa’s Tim Clark one-up in a back-and-forth match. Then Kenny Perry defeated Nick Price one-up as the normally calm Zimbabwean – truly one of the nicest men in the game – broke his putter over his knee on the final hole as his putt to halve the match just failed to drop.
It was an action indicative of the close-fought nature of the competition and the tension it engendered.
KJ Choi, though, pulled one back for the Internationals with a convincing four-and-two win over Justin Leonard, who had been responsible for some outstanding putting on the testing greens earlier in the competition.
Unfortunately for young Adam Scott of the International Team, he came out with a cold putter against Charles Howell III and was well beaten, going down five-and-four. Jay Haas then put in a storming back nine to race away from Stephen Leaney, clinching a four-and-three win for the Americans.
Down to the wire
Retief Goosen, though, took charge of his match against Phil Mickelson on the back nine, eventually triumphing two-and-one to leave the big hitting left-hander without a point in the Presidents Cup in 2003.
Big Peter Lonard backed up the South African star’s fine effort by trouncing Fred Funk four-and-three.
In a terribly tight battle, Chris Di Marco edged Stuart Appleby one-up before Vijay Singh drew blood for Player and co with a four-and-three success against David Toms.
The contest between Els and Woods, meanwhile, had fizzled out. Els took a lead on the first hole, but five holes into the match, Woods took the lead for good, eventually claiming a four-and-three win.
So it all came down to the match between Davis Love III and Robert Allenby. Heading into the final hole, the American was one-up and needed only to halve the 18th to secure the title for the USA. Unbelievably, Allenby snatched the hole to leave the two men all square and the contest tied at 17 points all. Both sides were just a half-point shy of victory.
That meant a sudden death playoff had to take place, and again it was Ernie versus Tiger as Els and Woods took to the course again, with the pressure rising.
They started on the 18th. Both players managed par fives – Els with a testing putt – and so the contest moved on to the first hole. With all eyes on them and everything on the line, Woods and Els responded with fine pressure putts again, and so it continued on to the third playoff hole, the nasty second that is fortified by a collection of tough bunkers.
Again, with incredible tension in the air, the two golf stars responded like the great gladiators they are by sinking tough putts.
Then, both captains, Player and Nicklaus, said the playoff couldn’t continue because the light had faded too much and neither Woods nor Els could read the grain of the greens.
There followed a period of consulting between the two captains, the two teams, a discussion with PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem and, when it was all over, the two legends, Player and Nicklaus, showed just why they are so revered around the world.
Showing great respect for the game of golf, for each other, for their teams and their opponents, they agreed to share the trophy in a heart-warming decision – even though, as defending champions, the USA should have kept the trophy.
As both men said: neither team deserved to lose.
“I want to thank them for the way they have played the game here”, said South African President Thabo Mbeki, who followed US Presidents Gerald Ford, George Bush and Bill Clinton and Australian Prime Minister John Howard in playing the role of honorary chairman of the Presidents Cup.
“The rules state that the defending champions hold the cup in the event of a draw, but theirs was an act of pure sportsmanship when they decided to share the Cup with us”, Mbeki said.
That magnanmous gesture brought the curtain down on a spectacular competition. It started with the captains and it worked its way down through their players to the spectators, and the event went off in the very finest traditions of the game.
Hollywood scriptwriters couldn’t have penned it better than this one.
The Presidents Cup has now been contested on five occasions, with the United States winning three times. The last meeting resulted in a 21½ to 10½ victory for the USA.
- 1994 USA 20 International Team 12
- 1996 USA 16½ International Team 15½
- 1998 International Team 20½ USA 11 ½
- 2000 USA 21½ International Team 10½
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