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U.S. blasts to 5-0 lead in Presidents Cup

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 20, 2000

GAINESVILLE, Va. -- About 30 minutes before the Presidents Cup began, Michael Campbell laid down the challenge by doing the Haka, a traditional war dance of his native Maori tribe in New Zealand.

The Americans responded with a ritual of their own -- beating the International team like a drum at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club.

Led by the brilliant play of its rookies and clutch putts from Tiger Woods, the United States got off to a perfect start Thursday by winning all five alternate-shot matches, never trailing in three.

"You always hope for the best, but in my wildest dreams I could not have expected 5-0," U.S. captain Ken Venturi said. "We had great shots at the right time."

More than anything, the Americans were on the right course.

The lead is the same one the Americans had in 1994 in the inaugural Presidents Cup, played on this colorful, tree-lined course on Lake Manassas. Two years later they had a 4-1 lead after the opening session and went on to win.

"It was a bit of a shocker," International captain Peter Thomson said. "They've all got to pull their socks up and play a little better."

It was a far cry from Australia two years ago. The Americans suffered their worst loss in team match play, 20 1/2 -- 11 1/2, and some questioned whether they cared about this Cup.

That wasn't the case Thursday.

"We're very happy to be here and motivated to win," Tom Lehman said.

Stewart Cink and Kirk Triplett, both playing in their first team competition, made seven birdies in 17 holes for a 3-and-2 victory over International rookies Mike Weir of Canada and Retief Goosen of South Africa.

"I set (Triplett) up with a lot of birdies, and he drained them all," Cink said. Fittingly, Triplett closed out the match with a 40-foot birdie putt.

The other U.S. rookie, Notah Begay, also won his match -- and not just because his partner was Woods, a former teammate at Stanford. Begay sealed their 1-up victory over Ernie Els and Vijay Singh with an approach into 10 feet on the 18th.

But Woods turned back any hope of a great comeback by the International team's best two players, atoning for an errant tee shot on the 16th with the kind of putt he has been making throughout his record-smashing season.

Clinging to a 1-up lead, Begay chipped from under a tree well past the pin, but the ball came back down the slope to about 20 feet.

"I just hit a terrible shot," Woods said. "And then Notah hit a great shot out of there, just put it on the green. And I told him the job was done, I'm going to make it."

Woods made the par putt for a halve of the hole, ramming his fist toward the cup as the ball fell. He and Begay slapped hands sideways and tapped fists.

"I got a little excited," Woods said, grinning sheepishly. The most excited anyone got on another otherwise tame afternoon was Campbell, and he didn't even play.

On the practice range before the matches began, the International team huddled around as Campbell did the Haka, squatting and hopping, slapping his knees rhythmically and shouting chants.

"The Haka means that we're challenging our opponents," Campbell said. "Basically, it means we are rising, rising, rising . . . above the clouds."

Then they teed off, and it wasn't long before the International team started sinking, sinking, sinking into a deficit they're used to facing at Robert Trent Jones.

Today on TV: 8 a.m., TNT.

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