Originally created 11/24/03

Tiger, Ernie slug it out to a tie



GEORGE, South Africa -- After 34 matches between the best two teams in the world, and three exhilarating playoff holes between the best two players in the world, the Presidents Cup was declared a tie Sunday.

Tiger Woods and Ernie Els, playing against each other with 11 guys counting on them, parred all three playoff holes before darkness fell on the Links Course at Fancourt.

After much debate, captains Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player agreed to share the cup.

The United States is the defending champion, but that doesn't mean they retain the cup, which happens in all other international cup competitions.

"We'll have to make another one," PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said.

In the end, there were no losers, and that includes the Presidents Cup.

The Presidents Cup, which began only nine years ago, doesn't have the tradition and will never have the history of the Ryder Cup. But it at least gained credibility, thanks to a dramatic afternoon beneath the majestic Outeniqua Mountains.

It was a breathtaking conclusion, unlike anything ever before in the game. And the golf leading up to the sudden-death playoff wasn't bad, either.

Trailing by three points, the United States showed it can stage a Sunday rally even on the other side of the world.

Just like the '99 Ryder Cup - only without the home crowd cheering them on - the Americans won 7 1/2 points from the 12 singles matches for a tie at 17.

Four matches came down to the 18th green. Jerry Kelly, Kenny Perry and Chris DiMarco each won, and Davis Love III was poised to make the playoff a moot point.

Instead, he muffed a chip on the par 5 and wound up making bogey, allowing Robert Allenby to earn the half-point needed for the playoff.

Both captains put the name of one player into an envelope during the day. No one was surprised which two names they scribbled on a piece of paper.

And no one could have imagined the excitement or pressure that followed.

Players, caddies and wives perched on the knolls in the fairways and the edges of the greens. Some 10,000 fans followed along, racing ahead to see the next shot.

Woods and Els both missed the green on the par-5 18th and settled for pars.

They headed to the second hole, the pressure mounting. From the fairway, Els' wedge just carried the green, while Woods hit from the rough to about 40 feet, facing a steep climb up the ridge.

Woods lagged to 4 feet, while Els' chip stopped 12 feet short. Miss it, and the International team goes home a loser.

It was good all the way, and Woods studied his short putt long and hard before making it to go to the par-3 second.

Els hit into 70 feet on the contoured green. Woods' shot came back down the slope to the bottom of the green, some 90 feet away. His putt swung wide left and was 15 feet left of the cup. Miss it, and the American team goes home a loser.

He took two steps as it neared the hole and pumped his fist when it fell, more emotion than he has shown all year. Els lagged to 6 feet, and made that one to tie him.

Ultimately, that's when it ended.

Player and Nicklaus said before the matches began Thursday they didn't like the idea of a sudden-death playoff because it was too much pressure on two players.

After Els' putt dropped for par, Player and Nicklaus rushed it and told them they decided the matches should end in a tie.

Player barked at the rules official that it was too dark to continue. Nicklaus said a tie was the best finish to such a great competition.

Woods had his cap off, ready to shake hands.

Els was confused.

"I've got to ask my team," the Big Easy said.

Player pleaded with an official, saying, "That's what all my players want."

Oh, really?

Allenby, Adam Scott, Stuart Appleby and Mike Weir all protested behind him, saying they committed to play until Monday if necessary.

Both captains agreed to a tie, until Nicklaus casually mentioned that the United States, as the defending champion, retains the cup.

Whoa!

"Play, Ernie. We've got nothing to lose," Appleby said.

As confusion swarmed players and captains, both teams called a meeting. The International team in their blue shirts huddled on the back right portion of the green, and Player emerged from the meeting to declare, "We'll play."

The Americans met at the bottom of the green, and Nicklaus replied, "How about if we share the cup?"

Player took the offer to his players and a few minutes later accepted the deal.

"It's the most unbelievable event the game of golf has ever seen," Nicklaus said, strong words from its greatest player. "There shouldn't be a loser."

It was a symbolic ending for Nicklaus. He conceded a short par putt to Tony Jacklin in the 1969 Ryder Cup so that it ended in a tie, the most famous act of sportsmanship in those matches (although the U.S. retained the trophy.)

And it was a fitting finish for Woods, who called the 18-foot par putt "one of the biggest putts in my life."

His other great putts brought him a trophy, usually a major.

This one was worth only a tie.