GAINESVILLE, Va. - The American players sat on one side of the 18th green in gathering darkness Saturday, hopeful Fred Couples would make an 8-foot birdie putt for their first lead in the Presidents Cup. Watching from the other side were the International players.
It was similar to the scene two years in South Africa, and so was the score. Tied.
After 22 matches over three days, the Americans and Internationals showed their strengths at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club that set the stage for a dynamic conclusion today.
Former Florida Gator Chris DiMarco emerged as the star with a hole-in-one in the morning and more birdies than he could count in the afternoon, teaming with Phil Mickelson in two victories that never saw the 16th tee.
Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk staged two comebacks, with birdies on the last two holes for a halve against Stuart Appleby and Vijay Singh, then a late surge from Woods to beat them in the afternoon.
And Retief Goosen and Adam Scott were as formidable as ever.
All that remained are 12 singles matches today to decide a Presidents Cup that is so evenly matched, the captains refused to rule out the possibility of another tie.
"We played three days, four rounds of golf, and we are dead even," U.S. captain Jack Nicklaus said. "We've got two teams that are so even, it's unbelievable."
A spectacular day concluded when Couples missed his putt and settled for a halve with Davis Love against Michael Campbell and Angel Cabrera in their better-ball match. Each team had 11 points, the first time the Presidents Cup has been tied after three days since it began in 1994.
Woods faces Goosen in the third match, and Couples plays Singh in the fifth match. Mickelson and DiMarco anchor the U.S. team, facing Cabrera and Appleby in the final two matches.
The United States typically is strongest in singles. It has never lost a singles session at the Presidents Cup, and has a 35-25 lead overall. Then again, the International team is equally strong in this format, especially because many of its players compete on the PGA Tour and four of them have won major championships.
"It just shows you that when you take the best players in the world, that kind of thing can happen," International captain Gary Player said of the tie. "They are all pumped up."
Woods and Furyk, both dealing with rib injuries, turned in a full day of work.
Two holes down with two to play, they birdied the 17th and 18th in an alternate-shot match in the morning for a surprising halve. They never led the better-ball match until it mattered. After Furyk carried the team most of the round, Woods came through with an 18-foot birdie putt that caught the corner of the cup.
The star was DiMarco, who has only three PGA Tour victories in his 10-year career but plays like a major champion in these team events. At No. 7 he made the second hole-in-one in the Presidents Cup in the morning and holed just about every putt that mattered.
The Americans started the day trailing by one point and pulled even by winning three points from the five alternate-shot matches in the morning.
The day wasn't without a major misunderstanding, which came when Love thought Canadian Mike Weir conceded an 18-inch putt at the 17th hole during the morning foursomes.
When Love picked up the ball - which had been hit by Stewart Cink on a nice approach shot - Weir asked him what he was doing. As Love stood with his arms outstretched, the gallery began to boo.
"I think they thought I was trying to win the hole that way," Weir said. "That wasn't the case at all."
Weir just wanted to see the coin mark on the green, a psychological reminder that the match was over if Weir missed his 8-foot attempt.
"It was my fault," Love said. "I heard him say "good.' And he said "Good shot, Stewie.' "
Unsure what to do, both captains arrived on the green, along with retired USGA rules chief Tom Meeks. Weir's partner, Trevor Immelman, argued that picking up the ball without it being conceded is loss of the hole, but all Weir wanted was for Love to replace the ball.
Meeks said replacing the ball was okay because Love had misunderstood Weir's words. Weir made his putt, picked up Love's coin and they headed to the 18th, where the Americans finished the 1-up victory.
PGA TOUR: Woody Austin took the third-round lead in the Texas Open at San Antonio, shooting 3-under 67 in 100-degree heat and wind gusting to 30 mph as the edge of Hurricane Rita roared about 150 miles to the east. The 41-year-old Austin made a 4-foot birdie putt at No. 18 to finish at 13-under 197 on the LaCantera Golf Club's Resort Course. Robert Gamez (68), Mark Wilson (66) and Dean Wilson (70) were tied for second. Austin began the round two strokes behind Dean Wilson (70-198) and was as far back as five shots on the back nine.
EUROPEAN PGA: Playing captain Colin Montgomerie and Nick Dougherty beat Thomas Bjorn and Henrik Stenson 1-up to help Britain and Ireland take a 91/2-81/2 lead over Continental Europe in the Seve Trophy at Billingham, England.