BY DOUG FERGUSON
JERSEY CITY, N.J. (AP) — Nick Price got the celebration going. He won the second of 12 singles matches when David Duval conceded his short par putt on the 17th hole at Royal Melbourne, the decisive point for the International team to win the Presidents Cup.
That was 1998.
Price was the No. 6 player in the world. Tiger Woods had only one major. Jordan Spieth was in kindergarten.
At the Payne Stewart Award ceremony in Atlanta, Price was introduced as a past recipient. He rose to be recognized, his gray hair brushed straight back, and the host couldn’t resist asking him with the Presidents Cup a week away, “Is this finally the year?”
Price only smiled and returned to his seat.
He gets his third chance as International captain to change the outcome of matches that have been one-sided for the better part of two decades. Nothing has changed except the venue and nearly a dozen fresh faces.
The Americans have won more tournaments. They have better world rankings. They are playing before a home crowd. They are big favorites.
“We’re tired of losing. There’s no doubt about that,” Price said last month under grandstands that were being constructed around the first tee at Liberty National Golf Club from the Statue of Liberty.
“Adam Scott has been on seven teams in a row and he hasn’t won one yet,” Price said. “That’s an awful lot of golf shots to come up empty-handed.”
The International team — 12 players representing eight countries from every continent but Europe — gets yet another crack it when the 12th edition of the Presidents Cup begins Thursday across the river from America’s most international city.
The Americans not only have the stronger pedigree, seven of their players were at Hazeltine a year ago to celebrate a rare Ryder Cup victory. They already are used to winning the Presidents Cup every year since that infamous tie in 2003 in South Africa. Now their cups are starting to overflow.
That led U.S. captain Steve Stricker to utter words of caution.
“I think the challenge will be a little overconfidence,” Stricker said.
The matches get started on Thursday with five matches of foursomes, followed by five matches of fourballs on Friday, both formats in the morning and afternoon on Saturday, and the 12 singles matches on Sunday.
It takes 15½ points to win, and that’s exactly what the Americans scratched out two years ago in a tense finish in South Korea.
That’s part of what gives the International team hope.
After losing by at least three points five straight times, this is one it thought it had won. Chris Kirk was 15 feet away for birdie on the par-5 18th. Anirban Lahiri, the first player from India in these matches, was 4 feet away. If Kirk missed and Lahiri made, the International team would win.
Kirk made. Lahiri missed. The Americans won again.
But it was the mood in the team room that made Price want to return for a third time, his hopes higher than ever.
“The morale and the feeling and the emotion that went through that team room, it won’t take much to pick that up again,” Price said. “Those who were there and experienced that, it will motivate them.”
Price has eight players back from that team, including Lahiri, whom he chose with one of his two captain’s picks. For the first time in 10 years, every player on the International team is a PGA Tour member who is comfortable competing against America’s best.
Stricker has six newcomers to the Presidents Cup, five of whom have never played for their country as professionals. That includes PGA champion Justin Thomas and Daniel Berger, along with 40-year-old Charley Hoffman.
And it includes Phil Mickelson, playing in his record 23rd consecutive Presidents Cup or Ryder Cup. Mickelson has played in every Presidents Cup, and while he thrives in the team atmosphere, he also brought up the word “overconfidence.”
Even so, the Americans have a built-in advantage from their experience in the Ryder Cup and history of their flag.
The International team plays under a flag that was created specifically for this event in 1994. They come from different continents. They grew up on different tours. They are united now by losing, even those who have never played.
“I don’t have the battle scars that some of these guys have from the previous ones,” Adam Hadwin of Canada said. “But the guys are hungry. Everybody who’s been there really wants to win. We’ve got a crop of freshmen coming in wide-eyed and ready to play good golf. It’s going to be fun — difficult, but fun.”
Scott won at Liberty National in 2013 when it hosted a FedEx Cup playoff event. He hasn’t competed for three weeks, though his motivation is high. This will be his eighth Presidents Cup match, tying the International team record held by Ernie Els and Vijay Singh. At least the other two know what it’s like to win the Presidents Cup.
Jason Day is playing for the fourth time. He failed to win a match two years ago as the International side’s best player. Scott and Day are among seven players on the International side who have failed to win a tournament anywhere in the world this year.
That doesn’t help the odds. What the International team has going for it is the sting of losing by a fraction last time, and the belief that it can change.
“It’s not a question of beating America,” Price said. “Maybe Europeans, whatever, they want to beat America. We want to win that cup. Because we’ve only had it in our hands once. It will be a memory, or week, that these guys will never forget.”
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