MELBOURNE, Australia – The emotions poured out of Tiger Woods, just like they did at Augusta National in the spring, except this felt different.
The Masters was for him.
This was for 11 players – at times his teammates, always under his captaincy – who delivered another American victory in the Presidents Cup and a moment that nearly brought Woods to tears. And when the decisive point was on the board Sunday at Royal Melbourne, Woods celebrated with everyone he could find by hugging them hard enough to take the breath out of them.
“Any time you have moments where you’re able to do something that is bigger than us as an individual, it’s so much more meaningful and so much more special,” he said.
The Americans felt the same way.
Trailing for the first time in 16 years, they followed his lead. Woods, the first playing captain in 25 years, went out in the first of 12 singles matches and outlasted Abraham Ancer to set the Presidents Cup record by winning his 27th match.
It also set the tone for his team.
Patrick Reed, winless in three matches and heckled so badly for his rules violation last week in the Bahamas that his caddie shoved a spectator and was kept from working the final day, was 6-up through seven holes. Dustin Johnson, playing for the first time since the Tour Championship because of knee surgery, was 4-up through seven holes.
Perhaps most inspiring was Tony Finau in the second match. He was 4-down to Hideki Matsuyama through 10 holes when Finau won the next four and earned a half-point that put even more pressure on the International team.
Matt Kuchar delivered the winning point without even winning his match. His 5-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole assured the Americans the half-point they needed to win for the eighth straight time.
The last two matches ended in halves for a 16-14 score. The Americans tied a Presidents Cup record with an 8-4 margin in singles, the largest since the first event in 1994.
“It was really cool being part of this team and having Tiger as captain,” Kuchar said. “We had a roomful of some of the greatest golfers in the world, and when he speaks, we listen. I think all of us will look back and have these pictures hanging on our walls and say, `We played for and alongside Tiger Woods, the greatest player ever.’ It was awesome.”
It was crushing for the Internationals, hoping to end two decades without a victory.
Ernie Els, who has finished second to Woods more times than anyone in golf, assembled the youngest International team ever and inspired them with equal doses of purpose and analytics. His team had the lead going into Sunday for the first time since 2003, the tie in South Africa.
There just wasn’t enough to cross the line.
“I followed a plan, and it didn’t quite work out, but we came damn close,” Els said. “If you compare our team on paper with other teams in other sport, you would have laughed us out of the building. But we gave it a hell of a go and we came mightily close to winning and upsetting one of the greatest golf teams of all time.”
Woods hugged everyone hard, players and vice captains alike, wearing a smile not seen since he walked off the 18th green at Augusta National after becoming a Masters champion again after injuries that nearly ended his career.
The Americans are 11-1-1 in the event. The only International victory was in 1998 at Royal Melbourne.
Rory Sabbatini and Kevin Tway won the QBE Shootout, birdieing the final two holes in best-ball play for a 12-under 60 and a two-stroke victory in Naples, Florida.
Part of a five-way tie for the second-round lead, Sabbatini and Tway finished at 31-under 185 in the three-day event at Tiburon Golf Club.
Jason Kokrak and J.T. Poston were second after a 62.
Brendon Todd-Billy Horschel and Harold Varner III-Ryan Palmer tied for third at 28 under after 63s. Ian Poulter and Graeme McDowell were 27 under, also after a 63. Lexi Thompson and Sean O’Hair were last in the 12-team field at 8 under after a 70.
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