MONTREAL — The air was crisp and alive with roars, the ground smelled of damp leaves, and the colors of autumn sparkled in the sunlit trees. This was how the Presidents Cup ended Sunday, in a postcard setting on a scenic island with a finish that wasn’t quite idyllic yet had something for everyone.
Canada had Mike Weir, and the United States had a reassuring 19.5-14.5 team victory.
The golf was great, especially for Stewart Cink, who birdied seven of the first eight holes and added another at the 12th en route to a 6-and-4 singles win over Nick O’Hern. Charles Howell III also had eight birdies to beat Stuart Appleby, 2 and 1.
The heroics were great. Weir electrified his fellow Canadians with — pardon me, Augusta National — the round of his life. He took down Tiger Woods, the game’s greatest player, with a gallant performance that drew raucous cheers from les habitants. He jumped on Woods early and was 3 up after six holes, but Woods stormed back and took a 1-up lead with three holes to play.
But Weir wasn’t done. He made a clutch birdie putt at the 17th hole to square the match, and it was one of the loudest birdies ever heard in North America. He won the 18th hole and the match when Woods conceded after his drive found the lake, his next shot didn’t reach the green and his pitch shot just missed the hole. Woods removed his cap to concede the match, and a minor earthquake registered around the green.
It was a storybook ending for the masses, a consolation prize for a team that had too much ground to make up on the final day. “It’s overwhelming,” Weir said after he finally escaped a relentless ring of Canadian camera crews. He was 3-1-1 for the week and contributed 3 1/2 points, more than any other International player.
The drama was great. It was a week in which the instant folk hero and submariner Woody Austin took a dive in a lake and returned to the scene on Sunday in a pair of goggles, prompting chants of “Wood-deee! Wood-deee!” from the delighted crowd. Phil Mickelson tried a shot out of the same lake on Saturday, and Weir, of course, took a crack at it on Sunday, taking off his shoes and socks and rolling up his pants for the shot.
The shotmaking was great. Royal Montreal was set up for birdies, and the players made them. Vijay Singh holed bunker shots, Austin made incredible clutch putts, Scott Verplank drained a long birdie putt on the first hole of the first singles match, and Weir hit a fearless iron onto the 18th green in his match against Woods. It was quite a show.
The only thing that wasn’t great on the final day was the intrigue. The American team had built a nearly insurmountable lead on Saturday, and the Internationals needed to win 10 of 12 singles matches to take the Cup. When Verplank and Phil Mickelson won two of the first three matches, a miraculous comeback was down the drain. When Cink crushed the unfortunate O’Hern, he notched the point that clinched the Cup for the U.S. All eyes then turned to the Weir vs. Woods thriller.
The Americans won the Presidents Cup fairly easily, but Weir won the hearts of his countrymen by outplaying the game’s giant. In many ways, it was a day like no other. Even for Woods.
“It was like a Ryder Cup,” Woods said. “It was unbelievable how loud the roars were, especially starting out. Pretty deafening, actually. I was 3 down early, so they had a lot to cheer about. It was unreal how the atmosphere was electric out there. It got quiet on the back nine, and then it got real loud at the end. Overall, it was a great day. The way Mike came out and played this week and represented all of Canada was impressive.”
The other 11 matches were anticlimatic. The Internationals won 7 of 12 singles matches, and the Americans’ margin of victory was 5 points, the same number they led by after the first day’s foursomes matches. In other words, the matches were dead even the last three days, 14-14.
“It was only going to be a miracle for us to win this thing today,” said Ernie Els of South Africa. “We won both four-ball sessions, but we got trounced in the foursomes sessions. It’s almost like a test match in cricket. You have your sessions, and we just had two bad ones — they scored about a thousand runs against us in those two.”
Ultimately, there were two Presidents Cups at Royal Montreal. The first one lasted three days, featured a slew of close matches and ended with the Americans holding a Wal-Mart-size lead. The second happened Sunday and consisted of one match that mattered, Woods vs. Weir.
Weir won and reaffirmed his nation’s affection. The Americans won and reclaimed their self respect after multiple Ryder Cup humiliations.
“We came into this week with a little score to settle in the international golf arena,” Cink said moments after icing the Cup for the U.S. “And I think we showed everybody that we can play again.”
The Americans have a year to enjoy this impressive victory and the history they wrote. When they arrive at Valhalla in Louisville next September for the Ryder Cup, perhaps they’ll have a few ounces more confidence.
Captain Jack Nicklaus and the American players wore smiles and patted shoulders as they filed out of the press center Sunday night. Howell accommodated a photo request, stopping to pick up the Presidents Cup. Then he joined his teammates outside in the dark, their breath visible in the brisk night air. You could feel their sense of accomplishment as easily as the evening chill.
It was clear in Montreal that the seasons had changed. And maybe something more.