GAINESVILLE, Va. (AP) _ The United States put the International team in a Ryder Cup squeeze Sunday and walked away with the first-ever Presidents Cup.
The U.S. team, starting fast with three Ryder Cup veterans and closing strongly with three more, swept six of the 12 singles matches and defeated the International team, 20-12.
Five of the six Americans with Ryder Cup experience won on Sunday, including Fred Couples who closed out Nick Price with a brilliant 147-yard 9- iron from a bunker to a foot from the 18th hole to win the deciding match.
″You can’t really ask for a better day,″ Couples said. ″I did happen to beat Nick Price and I did get the 17th point, but what really mattered is that we won as a team.″
And it was truly as a team that the United States handled the International squad, drawing heavily on the six players with Ryder Cup match-play experience on the 12-man team.
Since the International team was composed of players from nations not eligible for Ryder Cup play, it had none of that experience.
Captain Hale Irwin and co-captain Paul Azinger used that edge Sunday, sandwiching the less-experienced foreign team between Ryder Cup players in the first three matches and in the last three matches.
″Paul and I talked about putting some experience in front, and getting off to a quick start, and it happened,″ Irwin said. ″And we talked about having some experience at the end so that we could close strong, and it happened.″
It was a game plan followed to perfection.
The U.S. won five of those six matches, with Irwin, Jay Haas and Jim Gallagher giving the U.S. team a quick start by taking the first three matches decided.
Couples and Davis Love were the other Ryder Cup veterans to win, taking matches No. 10 and 11. Corey Pavin was the only one among the six to lose, falling to Craig Parry 1-up in the last match of the day.
The U.S. team came into the day needing only five victories in singles play to take the cup and quickly won four of the first five matches decided, only to watch the next four matches go to sudden-death playoffs.
But those playoffs became meaningless when Couples stuck his 9-iron close enough to the hole on No. 18 to be given the birdie putt by Price. Price then lost the match - and the Presidents Cup - when his chip for a birdie to tie barely missed.
″He made a great shot,″ Price said of Couples. ″I thought I chipped mine in.″
It was the end of a frustrating competition for Price, who was the only one of the 24 players not to win at least one match over the three days. The best he could do was two halves for a total of one point.
In all, the United States won six of the 12 singles matches, lost two and four were declared halved.
″I knew how strong the American team was,″ Price said. ″Maybe if there is an edge they had over us it’s that they know each other a little bit better and they know their games better.″
Not even the arrival of Greg Norman could help pull this one out for the International team. Sidelined by an intestinal problem that caused him to lose 13 pounds, Norman withdrew from the competition last week but showed up Sunday to offer moral support to his beseiged colleagues.
″I’m just here as a cheerleader,″ Norman said as he stood on the first tee, looking thin and drawn, his International team uniform hanging loosely on his tanned frame. ″I just called them up and said I’d like to be here.″
When Phil Mickelson walked onto the first tee and said: ″I haven’t seen Fulton (Allem),″ Norman quickly replied: ″No, I’m playing,″ then he took a few half swings left-handed, smiling broadly.
It’s too bad he wasn’t able to play. And too bad for the International team composed of foreign players from nations outside Europe that U.S. Open champion Ernie Els of South Africa and Japanese stars Jumbo Ozaki and Tommy Nakajima chose not to compete.
Their refusal to play angered International team captain David Graham enough to make him say: ″I hope they regret it the rest of their lives.″
With them, the International team might have had a chance. Certainly they might have avoided the disastrous 5-0 sweep they suffered in Friday morning’s opening four-ball matches.
They never really recovered from that. And they didn’t really get very much from Price, who may have hit more bad shots at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club this week than he has hit all year while winning six tournaments, including the British Open and the PGA Championship.
Price was forced to pull out of Saturday afternoon’s match because of exhaustion.
On Sunday, Haas defeated Mark McNulty 4 and 3; Gallagher topped Tsukasa Watanabe 4 and 3; and Irwin won the 17th hole and halved No. 18 to take Robert Allenby 1-up, giving the United States 15 of the 17 points it needed for victory.
The International team got its first win of the day when Peter Senior defeated John Huston 3 and 2. Then Jeff Maggert took Bradley Hughes 2 and to give the United States its 16th point.
But just when it seemed like victory was assured, the matches involving Phil Mickelson and Fulton Allem, Tom Lehman and Vijay Singh, Scott Hoch and David Frost and Loren Roberts and Frank Nobilo all went to sudden-death playoffs, another innovation the Presidents Cup had over the Ryder Cup.
All four of those matches were declared halves after Couples closed out Price.