The Masters was for him. This was for 11 players – at times his team-mates, always under his captaincy – who delivered another American victory in the Presidents Cup and a moment that nearly brought Woods to tears. When the decisive point was on the board at Royal Melbourne yesterday, Woods celebrated with everyone he could find by hugging them hard enough to take the breath out of them.
“Any time you have moments where you’re able to do something that is bigger than us as an individual, it’s so much more meaningful and so much more special,” he said.
Trailing for the first time in 16 years, Woods, the first playing captain in 25 years, went out in the first of 12 singles matches and outlasted Abraham Ancer to set the Presidents Cup record by winning his 27th match.
It also set the tone for his team. Patrick Reed, winless in three matches and heckled so badly for his rules violation last week in the Bahamas that his caddie shoved a spectator and was kept from working the final day, was six up through seven holes. Dustin Johnson, playing for the first time since the Tour Championship because of knee surgery, was four up through seven holes.
Perhaps most inspiring was Tony Finau in the second match. He was four down to Hideki Matsuyama through ten holes when Finau won the next four and earned a half-point that put even more pressure on the International team.
Matt Kuchar delivered the winning point without even winning his match. His five-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole assured the Americans the half-point they needed to win for the eighth straight time.
The last two matches ended in halves for a 16-14 score. The Americans tied a Presidents Cup record with an 8-4 margin in singles, the largest since the first event in 1994.
“It was really cool being part of this team and having Tiger as captain,” Kuchar said. “We had a roomful of some of the greatest golfers in the world, and when he speaks,
“I think all of us will look back and have these pictures hanging on our walls and say, ‘We played for and alongside Tiger Woods, the greatest player ever’. It was awesome.”
It was crushing for the Internationals, hoping to end two decades without a victory.
Ernie Els, who has finished second to Woods more times than anyone in golf, assembled the youngest International team ever and inspired them with equal doses of purpose and analytics.
They had the lead going into the final day for the first time since 2003, the tie in South Africa.
They just didn’t have enough to cross the line.
“I followed a plan, and it didn’t quite work out, but we came damn close,” said Els, pictured. “If you compare our team on paper with other teams in other sport, you would have laughed us out of the building. But we gave it a hell of a go and we came mightily close to winning and upsetting one of the greatest golf teams of all time.”
That team included the greatest player of his generation. Woods was the only player to go undefeated at Royal Melbourne, winning twice with Justin Thomas and on his own ball against Ancer, one of seven rookies for the Internationals.
“We were very inspired to play for Tiger – with Tiger – and it’s so satisfying to win this cup because of that,” Finau said.
In his TV interview, Woods was fighting back tears, yet another indication to his players how much it meant.
“I love seeing other people cry, especially Tiger Woods,” said Steve Stricker, one of three vice captains who allowed Woods to hold dual roles at Royal Melbourne..
The Americans now lead the series 11-1-1, the only International victory coming at Royal Melbourne in 1998.
“I’m disappointed. That’s all I can say,” said Adam Scott, who has played nine straight Presidents Cups without winning. “But I like what’s happening in the future. I can’t wait for another crack at it.”