Retief Goosen’s momentary mental lapse nearly cost his International team a Presidents Cup point. Instead, Justin Leonard’s missed putt cost the Americans.
The last match of the opening day ended in dramatic — if confusing — fashion with the contest halved to give the United States a 3½-2½ lead in the biennial event.
Leonard and Jim Furyk, who had battled back from three down against South Africa’s Goosen and South Korean PGA Champion Yang Yong-Eun, arrived at the par-five 18th with a one-up lead.
After Goosen made his putt for birdie, he took his cap off as if the match were over, but Leonard still faced a three-footer for a birdie that would give the Americans the match.
”I was up there by the green,” said Steve Stricker, who had already sealed a victory with Tiger Woods and was watching the last match finish. ”I was a little confused by the whole thing, to tell you the truth.”
”It looked like he was going to give him the putt,” Stricker said. ”Obviously, he didn’t.
”We talked to Jim Furyk on the inside in there and nothing was ever conceded,” Stricker added. ”But from the side it kind of looked like he was going to give it to him.”
After a moment’s hesitation, Leonard stepped up and hit a putt that lipped out. The Americans lost the hole and halved the match.
”A little bit of a sour finish,” US captain Fred Couples called it, but said he and his team would put it behind them quickly.
”Did we think we were going to be up 4-2? Yes, we really did,” Couples said. ”But it won’t be the last putt ever missed at the Presidents Cup and it won’t be the last time a little bit of a reversal was done.
”So we’ll just come out tomorrow [Friday] and try to get 3½ more points against this team.”
”The game can be cruel,” added Internationals captain Greg Norman, who said there was no gamesmanship involved.
”He didn’t know what the state of the match was,” Norman said of Goosen. ”It was a legitimate mistake. There was no intent of malice.”
Leonard said he didn’t know if Goosen was conceding the putt, he was just focused on making the putt he knew the team needed to win. ”I knew I needed to make that putt,” he said. ”It’s unfortunate.”
In the early going, the Americans hadn’t seemed headed for a victory.
Yang, the first Asian man to win a Major title with his victory in the PGA Championship, and Goosen were three up through five holes but lost four in a row to fall one down through nine.
A bogey by the Americans squared the match at 10, but Leonard made a seven-footer for birdie to win 13.
Yang missed a six-footer at 15 as the Americans took a two-up lead, but the Internationals won 17 to extend the match.
South Africa’s Ernie Els, who was also on the sideline watching the finish at 18, said Goosen just lost track for a minute.
”The thing with Retief was really very innocent,” Els said. ”He hit a bit of a blank there. He thought they were all-square for a split-second, he was almost going to be a good sport and give the putt to Justin.
”But then he realised they were one down. You know, he didn’t say anything to Justin or Jim.
”As it turned out unfortunately for Justin, he missed that putt and we find ourselves one point behind,” Els added.
”These things happen.” — AFP