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Tight-knit U.S. squad enjoys the experience

MELBOURNE, Australia -- For a group of independent contractors who allegedly are disinterested in being a unit, these Americans not only can play some golf. They're terrific actors.

When the shiny gold Presidents Cup was brought into their cabin adjacent to Royal Melbourne late Sunday afternoon, even serious ping-pong games at two tables screeched to a temporary halt. It was time for pictures. Players with their wives, players with their caddies, caddies with their wives, wives with the girlfriends of players or caddies who didn't have wives.

There was only one prop that qualified for all photographs: the Presidents Cup that had been earned an hour or so earlier with a 19-15 victory over the Internationals. To delve into another constant, one had to lend an ear to a veteran voice.

"I said this years ago, and it's still true," mentioned Jim Furyk. "This stuff about how we aren't close and how we can't come together as a group, it's just not accurate. We will win some of these events like the Presidents Cup and the Ryder Cup, and we'll lose some. But whatever we do, we'll do it as a team. Since I've started playing in these, I've always loved them. But so do all the guys. They all care. Look at Tiger and Phil in his room. Do they look like they don't care about what we just accomplished? Did they look like they didn't care the last four days on the course?"

Furyk is not a rock star, only a rock. His clubs arrived here after him -- we will not identify the airline. However, when they showed up, he was ready. Furyk did not have a banner season on the PGA TOUR, primarily because the putter was not his friend. But on Royal Melbourne's devilish greens, through all kinds of weather, Furyk found his stroke over four days during which he posted a 5-0 record.

"Best I putted all year, for sure, and best in a long time," said Furyk, who secured the Americans' 17th point by ousting the great Ernie Els in singles, 4 and 3. Previously, Furyk shared three wins with Mickelson, who is his friend. He asked for Furyk as a partner in the foursomes and fourballs, and Furyk credited the effervescent left hander for greater golf through bonding. You would not imagine a consummate professional such as Furyk needing inspiration, but this is a mind game that ravages confidence and self-esteem.

Meanwhile, Woods got a putting tip from who else? His pal, Steve Stricker. Woods grew progressively stronger during the competition, and Sunday, he rolled over Aaron Baddeley to clinch the Cup. Months ago, Woods declared that he wanted to be on the United States roster, and Captain Fred Couples' defied convention by announcing Woods as a wildcard. Whether Couples, dumb like a fox, thought the experience might also help ease Woods' re-entry into the golf community, the captain isn't saying. But Tiger did everything he was asked, then profusely thanked Couples for allowing him to do it. What is they say on the PGA TOUR? Together, anything is possible.

"Perfect," Furyk continued as ping-pong derby resumed. "Fred's a terrific leader by keeping things loose, Tiger leads in his own way. This group really meshed."

This group really had to mesh, because the Internationals won the first four matches in the Sunday lineup -- K.T. Kim, Charl Schwartzel, Ryo Ishikawa and Geoff Ogilvy. However, quite significantly, the first point of the afternoon was registered by American Hunter Mahan, who defeated Aussie Jason Day to complete an excellent week. So, when the United States nailed its 14th point, the Internationals still were stuck on 9. After Mahan lost the deciding and final match in the 2010 Ryder Cup to Graeme McDowell, amateur psychologists suggested he might be ruined for life, or at least the golf portion of it. But after cracking during the immediate post-mortems, Mahan decided that it was better to have competed and had his heart broken rather than to have not competed at all. Athletes think that way. The rest of us don't get it. Similarly, Adam Scott, a very classy fellow, said that this week's defeat will not affect his recollections of special occasion on his home soil.

"A fantastic week," said Scott. "One I will remember for the rest of my career."

Various and sundry local experts predicted, or at least wished, that the Americans would be hopelessly out of their element on a sand belt course after making a living of target golf on the PGA TOUR. The variable winds, the nuances of Royal Melbourne, the heat and humility of performing halfway around the world before partisan audiences would be too much for the visitors, or so it was projected. We've all heard how Aussies characterize Americans as travelers: like prawns on a hot day.

But the Americans, six Presidents Cup rookies in tow, were comfortable with the pressure and the challenge. Couples never bought into the prawns comparison. He said newcomers could develop a working knowledge of a course without camping out for a month. He also credited his staff, namely assistants John Cook and Jay Haas, along with caddies for reconnaissance missions. Whether aspersions cast upon their ability to navigate Royal Melbourne motivated the Americans might be a stretch. Anger probably wouldn't apply either. Let's just say they were puzzled.

For local flavor, Norman invited the "Fanatics," a gaggle of men who are ubiquitous at sporting events in Australia. The semi-official designation of these lads is a "cheer squad," but they also create songs to support their favorites. Sunday, the "Fanatics" had a hymn for each International player beside the first tee, yet weren't the least bit rude to the Americans. Norman insisted that even if the "Fanatics" can't carry a tune, they carry on the traditions of golf etiquette, and they respectfully obliged. Witness the U.S. team members who joined the cheer squad's scrum after the final match. Furyk left the arena in one of their yellow and green shirts, and it won't be a loaner. It's a keeper. Wisely, Furyk passed on the knee socks.

Photo - PGA Tour

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