The closeness of international golf was perfectly illustrated on an extraordinary day in which the UBS Cup resulted in a 12-12 tie between the Rest of the World and the United States at Sea Island, Georgia, within hours of the Presidents Cup being shared in South Africa.
Eduardo Romero of Argentina held the destiny of the match in his hands when he reached the final hole one up on Scott Hoch, knowing that the Rest of the World required just one point to wrest the trophy from the USA for the first time.
However the 2002 Barclays Scottish Open champion missed the green and took a bogey five, leaving Hoch with the luxury of two putts to squeeze a half from a game he looked like losing when two down with four to play.
That half point was sufficient to guarantee a 6 ½ - 5 ½ win for the USA in the singles and ensured that the UBS Cup would stay in United States hands for the third successive year, but Tony Jacklin’s courageous side made life incredibly difficult for rival captain, Arnold Palmer, whom he beat by one hole.
“I thought I was too old to experience this sort of excitement and nervousness again” admitted Jacklin, who led Europe to two wins and a tie in The Ryder Cup. “It was a magnificent effort by all my players and the matches ebbed and flowed all day and, I think, a tie was just about right.”
The Rest of the World led 6 ½ - 5 ½ after two days of intensive foursomes and fourballs and the signs were ominous for Jacklin’s team when Bernhard Langer, Barry Lane and then Ian Woosnam all suffered heavy defeats at the hands of Halw Irwin, Bruce Leitzke and Mark O’Meara respectively.
Irwin, in particular, was devastating against his old Ryder Cup adversary, Langer. Twleve years after Kiawah Island, the American was nine under par in winning his singles 7 and 5. Langer acknowledged: “He played flawless golf, definitely some of the best I’ve seen at any level for 30 years.”
However, to counter those losses, Jacklin managed to overcome 74 year old Palmer on the last green while that early damage was repaired by the fine efforts of Nick Faldo and Colin Montgomerie.
Faldo birdied the 16th and 17th to edge out another long-standing rival, Curtis Strange, by one hole while Montgomerie conjured up a towering 193 yard five iron stone dead to seal a half with Tom Watson. Montgomerie pointed out: “We’ve got one and a half points from two matches which we could have lost. They could both be crucial at the end of the day.”
The Scot was absolutely correct in that assertion. Slowly but surely, the balance of power began to shift and both Des Smyth and Bill Longmuir won precious points. Ireland’s Smyth delivered a strong finish, sinking a superb 25 foot birdie putt on the last to beat Craig Stadler.
“That’s the only long putt I holed all week” laughed the Irishman, who has made such a solid debut on the US Champions Tour, and with all prizemoney being split equally with $125,000 per player on both sides, can now sit back and enjoy total earnings in excess of $1,000,000 in the USA in 2003.
Longmuir, a rookie on the European Seniors Tour, claimed a fine scalp in US PGA Tour regular, Rocco Mediate, thanks to four birdies in the last ten holes and a magnificent approach to 12 feet at the last to close out his match.
By now, the Rest of the World had edged in front but Brad Faxon and Hal Sutton beat Carl Mason and Vicente Fernandez respectively. Rodger Davis of Australia then had a putt to win the UBS Cup on the 17th against Raymond Floyd but missed, then lost the final hole for a crucial halved match.
Now it fell on the shoulders of Romero and Hoch and victory seemed within the Rest of the World’s grasp when Romero led by two holes with four to play. But Hoch dug deep and eagled the 15th – the first three of the week at that hole- and got up and down from a greenside bunker for a half at the 17th.
At the last, Hoch was on the green in two but Romero pushed his approach and the ball ran down to the foot of the bank to the right of the green. His chip to 12 feet left him with a putt to claim the Cup but it missed and Hoch holed to keep the trophy on American soil.
Romero said: “It was an incredible match. I made one mistake at the last hole with my second shot but that’s match play. We played well all week and it’s disappointing to finish this way. It’s a great competition and I want to come back next year and maybe then we can win.”
Palmer summed up the whole occasion succinctly when he said: “What happened here and in South Africa shows that the world of golf is becoming far, far more prominent than it has been for many, many years. You think about 1960, when I came over the Britain, versus 2003 and look at what has happened to world golf. We are not dominating the game of golf as we once did.”