The Americans needed only one more point to win the Presidents Cup.
And there was Tiger Woods, who has a history of delivering the winning point, in the middle of the fairway at Muirfield Village, where he has won a record five times.
The Presidents Cup ended just the way it always does.
Woods found the green and two-putted for par and a 1-up victory over Richard Sterne, the third straight time he has won the clinching point in the Presidents Cup. The Americans won for the fifth straight time — and eighth time in 10 tries — against an International side that showed some fight when it was too late to matter.
The Americans, who finished strong Sunday morning in the rain-delayed foursomes for a 14-8 lead, only needed to win four singles matches.
It took longer than anyone expected.
“I must have asked 500 times, ‘How are we getting this fourth point? Where is the fourth point coming from?’” said Couples, a three-time winner as U.S. captain. “You’re nervous. Not for the players — the players know what they’re doing. But we knew we needed 18 points, and we got them. It was a very, very good match (Sunday). And the matches were all close. At no given time was I a nervous wreck. But it was nice when Tiger two-putted that last green to get the 18th point.”
The final score — United States 18½, International 15½ — and whether the matches would beat the rain was really the only suspense Sunday.
“People say it was close. Jack (Nicklaus) said it was close,” International captain Nick Price said. “You tell me. We were behind the 8-ball all day. If we pulled it off, it would have been miraculous.”
Not that his team of seven rookies didn’t give it a shot.
Zach Johnson closed out Branden Grace, 4 and 2, to give the Americans 17 points and assure them a tie. But it took more than an hour to get that last point.
Graham DeLaet holed out for birdie for the second time Sunday on the 18th hole, this time from a bunker to beat 20-year-old Jordan Spieth. Ernie Els found his putting touch and beat Steve Stricker. Marc Leishman rolled in a 15-foot par putt from the back fringe of the 18th green to beat Matt Kuchar. Adam Scott and Charl Schwartzel won their matches.
The International team’s fleeting hopes ended when Woods, despite suffering back spasms again in the final hour of his match, didn’t make a birdie on the back nine and still won. Sterne helped him by hitting his tee shot off the corporate tents behind the 16th green and making bogey.
“It was a team effort this whole week,” said Woods, who went 4-1 for the best record of any player. “We really played well to give ourselves a nice lead.”
Rain interrupted the matches all week and made Muirfield Village so soft that it was mere target practice for the best players from every continent but Europe. It was a long, tiring week of leaving the course at darkness and completing matches the next morning when it was just as dark.
The Americans might have won this Presidents Cup on Sunday morning.
Returning to finish off the foursomes session, the Americans picked up a win and a halve in matches they had trailed by three holes.
Phil Mickelson hit one of many exquisite shots this week — a 7-iron he had to hook with the ball slightly below his feet, around a tree to about 10 feet. Keegan Bradley had to make the birdie putt for a half-point after DeLaet chipped in for birdie. Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel played the last six holes in 5-over par — three bogeys and a ball out-of-bounds for double bogey in losing to Webb Simpson and Brandt Snedeker.
“It was a tall order, but they gave it their best shot. These guys played their tails off,” Price said. “We’re a real hodge-podge of a team that came together from four corners of the planet. And they gave the might of America a run for their money.”
The closing ceremony was moved indoors because of approaching rain, and it led to an awkward moment as the International team watched the Americans pass around the gold trophy and pose for the pictures before quietly filing out of the room.
Since that famous tie in South Africa in 2003, the Americans have won by at least three points every time. Only one of them, in 2005, was close. International players talked about the importance of making a contest out of this exhibition, and only a 7½-4½ win in singles made it feel that way at the end.
“We kept it very interesting (Sunday),” Scott said. “We gave it a good shake.”
Mickelson and Angel Cabrera were the last match on the course, and it was comical at times. Mickelson hit one shot that ricocheted off a tree to the left, skipped out of the water and into the rough, and he pitched that to 5 feet — and then missed the putt to lose the hole. On the final hole, Cabrera had 3 feet for par to win the match. Instead of conceding, Mickelson first knocked in his 5-foot bogey putt, and then conceded. All in good fun, which is how the day felt.
“There was no intensity. We played and enjoyed the day and the people here in Columbus,” Mickelson said after four bogeys in the last five holes. “I thought it was going to be closed out early. On 12 or 13, they said, ‘Your match is going to count.’ What? We ended up winning. That’s all that matters.”
Even with the captains able to control the pairings, the singles lineup was dull. Woods has played Els in South Africa, Greg Norman in Australia, Mike Weir in Canada and Y.E. Yang the same year the South Korean beat him in the PGA Championship. This time, he was up against Sterne.
“I did my pairings to try to win the cup,” Price said.
It might not have mattered against a U.S. team so strong that every player was among the top 30 in the world.
“They played golf that was incredible to watch,” Price said. “But for this team, I would be honored if they ever asked me to be captain of this team again. I don’t care where it is.”
The next Presidents Cup is in South Korea in 2015 on another Jack Nicklaus design.