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Original Issue

Fit to Be Tied

New rules designed to avoid another embarrassing Presidents Cup draw nearly caused one

When god--or was it PGA commissioner Tim Finchem?--invented the Presidents Cup, it was supposed to improve on the Ryder Cup team match-play format by eliminating the possibility of a week of exciting matches ending in a tie. If things stood all square between the U.S. and the International team after Sunday's singles matches, each captain would send one man to play in a sudden-death showdown. That's what happened two years ago in South Africa at the last Cup, but alas, Ernie Els and Tiger Woods ran out of daylight in the midst of their duel. Captains Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player magnanimously agreed to waive the rules and call it a tie in the name of sportsmanship (and certainly not because Tiger had reservations for a safari in South Africa, on which he proposed to his girlfriend). Nicklaus's and Player's decision put a smart face on the epic blunder of scheduling 12 afternoon singles matches and not leaving time for a playoff.

Despite changing the Cup rules in the wake of that ungrand finale, the tour narrowly avoided another embarrassing finish last week in Gainesville, Va. And no wonder: This time, no singles matches could end in ties. Each match had to be played to a decision. But a tie between the teams, curiously (that's the polite word), would not be broken.

The confusing new format fooled Phil Mickelson, who sank a birdie putt on 18 to halve his match with Angel Cabrera. Under the old scoring system Mickelson's half point would have given the Americans the victory. Mickelson began shaking hands all around, thinking he'd clinched the Cup. Instead, a rules official informed Mickelson that he and Cabrera were off to the first hole for a playoff. "What?" Mickelson said, his eyes wide in disbelief.

Meanwhile, Chris DiMarco came to the 18th hole tied with Stuart Appleby. If DiMarco hadn't made a birdie putt to win the hole and the match (and the Cup), he, too, would have headed for a playoff. And if both International players won in sudden death, the Presidents Cup would have ended in another tie--because of the playoff system.

It made no sense. Mickelson said it best: What?




 Much to his surprise, Mickelson was told to proceed to a playoff round.