It was Norman's unabashed cheerleading for the format that persuaded the Tour to go forward with the project. And despite Price's recent rise to No. 1 in the world, it was the charismatic Australian whom television considered the event's biggest draw. Less obvious but just as important, Norman is the player the Americans most wanted to beat. When Irwin learned that Norman had pulled out, he didn't hide his disappointment. "All of us were champing at the bit to get a shot at Greg," he said. "We wanted to kick his butt this week."
But rather than losing interest, the Americans reacted by transferring those feelings to Norman's teammates. In a phenomenal display in the Friday-morning better ball matches, the U.S.'s five teams were a collective 17 up on the front nine. Only one match got to the 18th hole, and according to Azinger, for the 75 holes played, the U.S. had 48 birdies.
Price, who was struggling with his long game even as he was winning the Canadian Open two weeks ago, did his best to catch up. He holed a five-iron from 192 yards for an eagle on the long par-4 13th, but he and Hughes still lost to Couples and Love, one up. Meanwhile, Mickelson was teaming with Tom Lehman to defeat Frank Nobilo of New Zealand and Peter Senior of Australia, 3 and 2. On the par-5 14th, Mickelson holed a 95-yard wedge shot for an eagle—the ball landed on a slope 25 feet behind the pin and spun back so hard that if it hadn't crashed into the pin, it would have rolled by the hole at least another 25 more.
Almost before they knew what had hit them, the Internationals were down 5-0.
"They jumped us," Price said after Friday's matches. "I think because of the experience some of their players have had in the Ryder Cup, they were much more comfortable at the beginning, and they basically wiped us right out of the blocks. Those first nine holes may end up costing us the Presidents Cup."
In the afternoon foursomes the U.S. extended its lead to 7-0 before the International squad began to play better. It nearly won the last three points of the day but was thwarted in the final match when Love and Jim Gallagher Jr. combined for a birdie on the 18th to gain a half from Price and Steve Elkington.
On Saturday morning the desperate Internationals cut the lead to 9-6. It would have been closer, but Mickelson, this time playing with Pavin against Price and Elkington, carved a spectacular six-iron approach off an upslope, this time on the 18th, where the ball rolled back some 40 feet to within kick-in distance. That birdie earned a tie that was another dagger through the Internationals. Immediately after the match, Price, suffering from dehydration, became ill and had to sit out the afternoon matches.
That was the most crucial session, and it was Pavin's turn to shine. The Internationals won two of the first three matches and were leading the last two, with the team of Pavin and Loren Roberts 3 down to Fulton Allem and Craig Parry after 12 holes. It looked like the score would be 10-10 at the end of the day, until Pavin, who will defend his title at the World Match Play Championship near London next month, holed a 40-foot sand shot for a birdie on the 15th. Then he made a four-footer to take the 17th and square the match, and stiffed a six-iron at the 18th that induced a losing three-putt from Allem and Parry. When Mickelson and Lehman also pulled out their match against Hughes and Mark McNulty, the Americans led 12-8. "Those two matches were just enormous," said Irwin.
In Sunday's singles it appeared that the U.S. might clinch early. But the Internationals hung tough at 16-9, one half point away from defeat. Because of the no-tie rule, four of the remaining matches went to sudden death, and the Americans were no better than square in the other three. With all seven of those matches still undecided, there was a remote chance that the ultimate Presidents Cup scenario would be played out, with the mystery players from each side facing off in sudden death.
That's when Couples stepped up with one of the most dramatic shots of his career. In a seesaw match that saw Couples fall 3 down to Price after eight holes, the two golfers were even as they studied their approach shots on 18. After Price pulled a nine-iron left of the green about 30 feet from the pin, Couples addressed his ball in an upsloping bunker 147 yards from the hole. Making clean contact with a nine-iron he hit a soaring shot that landed 45 feet past and to the right of the pin. Then the ball spun along the downslope to within two feet of the hole, as the 15,000 fans surrounding the green produced a gathering roar. When Price could not chip in, the U.S. had won.