It has been 24 years since the Internationals captured their first and only Presidents Cup against the United States. That formidable drought notwithstanding, the succeeding years of the competition have witnessed serious drama on multiple occasions, replete with sensational shots, clutch putts, and partisan flag-waving.
As this year’s match pits another 12 top Americans against 12 greats from the rest of the world on U.S. soil at Quail Hollow Club, we look back at the five greatest moments since the Presidents Cup launched in 1994.
5. Water woes fail to sink U.S. chances at Royal Montreal (2007)
Canada earned its turn to host the Presidents Cup for the first time in 2007, with Quebec’s Royal Montreal (Blue course) doing the honors. The U.S. team led comfortably by 14.5 to 7.5 after the first three days of play and ultimately coasted to a 19.5 to 14.5 victory. However, two incidents—both involving water hazards—elevate this competition into rarefied air in terms of memorability.
On the second day of the competition, in the Friday Four-ball, American Woody Austin, paired with David Toms, attempted to drive the par-four 14th green to match the Internationals’ Rory Sabbatini, who was teamed with Trevor Immelman. Austin’s pulled tee shot found the greenside lake. He removed his socks and shoes and attempted to splash it out, but he slipped on a rock and tumbled into the water face-first without making contact. The Yanks conceded the hole to go two down, but Austin redeemed himself by finishing birdie-birdie-birdie to halve the match.
As embarrassing as Woody’s “Aquaman” splashdown was, it became his signature moment. Fans shouted out “Marco” and “Polo” over the next few holes. U.S. Captain Jack Nicklaus introduced him the next day as “Jacques Cousteau.” And Austin played along, arriving for his Sunday singles wearing snorkeling gear.
Less humorous, but equally memorable for the home crowd was the conclusion to the Tiger Woods vs. Mike Weir singles match. The outcome had already been decided, but national pride was at stake, with native son Weir, a Captain’s pick and the 2003 Masters champ, taking on the world’s best player. After a birdie at 17 to square the match, Weir closed out a victory when Woods found the water on the left with his drive, the shot splashing right in front of two spectators holding a maple leaf flag. The U.S. squad retained the cup, but the Canadian faithful had their moment.
4. Chris DiMarco makes the Nicklaus leap to conclude a wild ride in Virginia (2005)
In one of the closest, suspense-filled matches in Presidents Cup history, the U.S. team, captained by Jack Nicklaus, edged the Internationals, captained by Gary Player, 18.5 to 15.5, thanks to the surprising heroics of the man of the match, Chris DiMarco.
Played for the fourth time at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Gainesville, Va., and presided over by former U.S. President George H.W. Bush, the Americans found themselves down after the first day’s Foursomes, 3.5 to 2.5, and trailed after Friday’s Four-balls, 6.5 to 5.5. After the morning matches Saturday, the score was tied at 8.5, and again in the afternoon, with the proceedings knotted at 11. It would all come down to the Singles.
DiMarco was clearly overshadowed by stars on both sides, yet he turned in a near-dominant performance, partnering with Phil Mickelson to three wins and a half. Only Retief Goosen from the Internationals could keep pace with DiMarco. The Americans finally shook loose the yoke that gripped them and captured five of the first seven Singles matches to surge ahead. With the outcome still in doubt, DiMarco and Australian Stuart Appleby arrived at the final hole tied. After Appleby putted and missed, DiMarco stroked his 15-foot birdie effort. It curled to the left—and dropped. Bedlam! DiMarco yelled and thrust both arms skyward and was met by Nicklaus, who trotted onto the green in sunglasses, holding a water bottle and enveloped DiMarco in what else—a bear hug.
3. Captain Tiger brings the thunder Down Under (2019)
With Australia’s Royal Melbourne as host venue, it was expected that the 2019 Presidents Cup would be closely contested. After all, this was the site for the Internationals’ only victory back in 1998, and the host team featured three Australians who knew these conditions well—Adam Scott, Marc Leishman, and Cameron Smith. Oh, and the fellow who owned the record score at Royal Melbourne’s firm, fast-running Composite course? That would be Ernie Els, Captain of the Internationals. The action didn’t disappoint.
Captain Tiger Woods opened the December proceedings with a clinic on how to play the ground game, as he and partner Justin Thomas routed Leishman and Chilean Joaquin Niemann, 4 & 3. And the rout was on—for the Internationals. The home team grabbed a 4–1 lead after Thursday’s Four-balls, and after a split in Friday’s foursomes, held a 6.5–3.5 overall lead. The margin could have been even wider, except Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele birdied the final hole to win their match 1 up for the Americans, and later, Woods and Thomas did the same.
After Saturday morning’s Four-ball matches, the Internationals increased their lead to 9–5, with Woods sitting out. Tiger also benched himself on Saturday afternoon, in spite of being 2–0–0 and unquestionably the best player on the course. Somehow, the U.S. clawed back. The deficit the U.S. faced was 10–8 heading into the Sunday Singles.
Woods led off for the U.S. and set the tone for an historic comeback, by thrashing Mexico’s Abraham Ancer, 3 & 2. Woods birdied seven of the 16 holes, concluding the match in the Tiger Woodsiest way, holing a long putt to end it and basically walking it in when it was still six feet from the hole. That kick-started the U.S., which won eight of the 12 Singles matches to retain the cup by a 16–14 score. The Americans became the first team in Presidents Cup history to win the match after trailing entering the final day. Woods was the only player on either side to go undefeated, at 3–0–0.
2. Riveting theater between the sons in South Korea (2015)
The first Presidents Cup played in Asia at the Jack Nicklaus Golf Club in Incheon, South Korea, unexpectedly proved to be a thriller. Everything came down to the final hole of the final match, with the Captain’s son pitted against the home country’s native son, in a tension-packed Singles match.
The U.S. stormed out to a 4–1 lead after Day 1 but couldn’t press the advantage any further over the next three sessions. The Yanks led going into the Sunday Singles by the slender margin of 9.5–8.5. Credit Internationals Captain Nick Price for keeping his squad motivated, notably South Africans Branden Grace and Louis Oosthuizen, who became the first Internationals duo to win four matches, playing together, in a Presidents Cup. Previously, only the American pair of Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker had accomplished this feat, in 2009 at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco.
In a fitting conclusion to a sensational competition, it fell to two Captain’s picks to provide the last electricity jolt. For the home team Internationals, Captain Price made Korean Sang-moon Bae a popular, perhaps even necessary Captain’s pick, which mobilized the local fans and media to support the event. Bae more than justified Price’s confidence, going 2–0–1 in the three matches he played prior to the Singles. On the American side, Captain Jay Haas made his son Bill one of his selections. It was hardly nepotism at work, given that Bill finished 11th on the official FedExCup points list—one spot from qualifying automatically, but it could still prove awkward for father and son if Billy had been a liability. The younger Haas went 0–1–1 in advance of the Singles, but his moment was about to arrive.
Bill Haas and Sang-moon Bae battled neck-and-neck in the 12th and final Singles match, each shouldering extra pressure. Haas had not only himself and his country to play for, but his Captain father as well. Bae not only had the home-country burden, but he played every shot knowing that it was likely his last tournament golf before he would have to leave professional golf to embark on an age-mandated, two-year military commitment in the South Korean Army. Both fought bravely and brilliantly, and the action came down to the 18th hole, with Haas leading 1 up. Win or tie the hole, and the U.S. wins the match. Lose the hole and halve the match, and the Presidents Cup ends in a tie. With nerves now raw, Bae scuffed his chip shot, his third shot to the par four, then missed his fourth shot as well. Haas laid his bunker shot six feet from the hole, and though he faced a putt for par, Bae, already lying four, conceded. All that remained to celebrate the 15.5–14.5 U.S. victory was to take in the hugely heartfelt hug between the Haases, father and son.
1. Drama in the South African darkness (2003)
On paper, the fifth Presidents Cup figured to be a dead heat, and that’s exactly how it played out. The U.S. team, led by World No. 1 Tiger Woods, ventured to Fancourt Hotel and Country Club’s Links course in George, Western Cape, South Africa. Captained by the GOAT himself, Jack Nicklaus, they faced an Internationals team paced by World No. 2 Vijay Singh and World No. 3 Ernie Els. Captain of the Internationals was legendary South African Gary Player, who also happened to be the course architect of the difficult Fancourt layout. At the end of the day, the results exceeded the buildup.
The back-and-forth affair was so competitive not a single player went undefeated. Els led the way for his squad, with a 4–1 record, numbers matched on the U.S. team only by Kenny Perry. After Friday’s matches, the U.S. forged ahead, 9.5–6.5, but on Saturday, the Internationals swept all six matches to lead 12.5–9.5 going into the Sunday Singles. Just as swiftly, the U.S. rallied, winning the first three Singles matches and splitting the rest to tie it up. When Singh hammered David Toms 4 & 3, the U.S. fell one down. Woods then did what Woods usually did and won the final Singles match, 4 & 3 versus Els. 17–17. What now?
Rules then in place stated that in the event of a tie, each team would choose a player to compete in a sudden-death playoff. And so Ernie Els and Tiger Woods returned to the course and went mano-a-mano. On the second extra hole, Els rolled in a 12-footer for the half. On the third playoff hole, amid peak tension and near total darkness, Woods holed a double-breaking 15-footer for par. Somehow, Els matched it with a six-footer. At that point, Captains Nicklaus and Player gathered in the gloaming. They chose to end the match in a tie, rather than bring everybody back the next day. Given the spectacle and the excitement, nobody seemed to mind. Even with a tie, the 2003 Presidents Cup remains the greatest one of all.