Originally created 11/18/02

U.S. has bunker mentality



ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. - The UBS Warburg Cup was supposed to be an opportunity for most of the golfers, all age 40 and over, to relive their Ryder Cup match play experiences.

Sunday's final round turned out to be more like revisiting their British Open years and the horrid weather that tournament is known for.

On a day when flagsticks bent sideways from a whipping wind off St. Simons Sound and players backed off putts because their eyes were watering, the United States successfully defended its title, winning 14 1/2 -9 1/2 over the Rest of the World team.

"It doesn't get much worse than this," Curtis Strange said of the 42-degree wind chill temperature and 30-mph winds that lashed the Sea Island Golf Club's Seaside Course.

"It was pretty nasty out there," said Paul Azinger.

Strange and Azinger were among the winners Sunday for the U.S., which took seven of the 12 singles matches and halved two others.

Members of the winning team earned $150,000; the losers took home $100,000 each.

The 12-player teams featured six players ages 40-49 and six over 50.

The United States' stars in the three-day event were 43-year-old Tom Lehman and 60-year-old Raymond Floyd, who won all three of their matches. Tom Watson, 53, was 2-0-1.

Lehman, in his Warburg Cup debut and concluding the most disappointing year of his PGA Tour career, tied for the day's low round Sunday. He was 2-under for the 17 holes he played, as was teammate Hale Irwin, who beat Rodger Davis 2 and 1.

"I just felt starting off the day that pars would be good," said Lehman, who beat Eduardo Romero 2 and 1. "I was lucky I made a few birdies as well."

Said the 57-year-old Irwin: "If somebody told me at the start of the day that my opponent would be 2-under after 16 holes, I'd have said, 'Good match' and stayed inside."

As for Floyd, he beat Seiji Ebihara 2 and 1 on Sunday after teaming with Lehman in team matches on the first two days of the event.

"I brought my 'A' game today," said Floyd, the 1976 Masters Tournament champion who was even par for his 16 holes. "I don't know how. These old bones don't fare so well in this cold weather."

Mark O'Meara, another Masters champion from the U.S., ended Nick Faldo's unbeaten streak in these matches, which are two years old. Faldo, 4-0-1 coming into the O'Meara match, was beaten 3 and 2.

"Anytime you beat Nick Faldo, you've got to be pretty pleased," said O'Meara, who was even par for the 16 holes he played. "He's doesn't ever let up."

The Rest of the World trailed 6 1/2 -5 1/2 going into singles matches, and tied it quickly when captain Gary Player drubbed U.S. captain Arnold Palmer 6 and 5 in the first match.

Later in the day, the Rest of the World's hopes died in the right greenside bunker on the par-5 15th hole.

In the third match, Azinger duplicated his bunker-shot heroics from September's Ryder Cup Matches, holing it out for eagle to close out Bernhard Langer, 4 and 3.

Five matches later, Irwin did the same thing, also for eagle, to take a 2-up lead over Davis.

"I followed my teammate Paul Azinger right into the hole," Irwin said. "My bunker play has not been stellar, but that was stellar."

Holing out bunker shots under pressure is becoming practically commonplace for Azinger. He won the 1993 Memorial Tournament by doing it on the 72nd hole, then kept the U.S. hopes alive in September's Ryder Cup by holing out on the final hole to halve his match.

"You know he's going to get it real close and sometimes hole it," Langer said of Azinger. "He proved at the Ryder Cup and again today that he's one of the best bunker players who has ever played."

"I'm just getting lucky on those bunker shots," said Azinger, 42. "Maybe I'm going to be remembered for all those bunker shots. Now I think anytime anybody sinks a bunker shot, they're going to think 'Azinger.' It's pretty cool."

Strange, 47, finally got a victory after losing on the 18th hole in both his team matches. It was also satisfying because of who Strange beat - Sam Torrance, 4 and 3.

Torrance was the captain of the European team that beat Strange's U.S. team in September's Ryder Cup Matches in England.

"We played each other in this event last year and halved," Strange said. "We both wanted each other again.'

Reach David Westin at (706) 724-0851.