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Friday, October 4, 2013
Updated: October 6, 8:13 AM ET
U.S. inching closer to Cup victory

By Bob Harig
ESPN.com

DUBLIN, Ohio -- Things were so bad at Muirfield Village on Saturday that course architect, club founder and Presidents Cup unofficial host Jack Nicklaus did not stick around to be part of the quagmire that is his personal pride and joy.

Actually, that's not altogether correct: He had plans to watch his grandson play football. But could you blame the Golden Bear for staying away?

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods and partner Matt Kuchar are the only players to remain undefeated through three days of play of the 10th Presidents Cup at Muirfield Village.

Nicklaus' Memorial Tournament, played here annually in June, is typically the source of bad weather, a constant source of frustration for the event. And it has carried over to October.

A third day of delays means a Sunday morning completion of the foursomes format and then a quick turnaround to singles to try to beat more bad weather. What an ordeal.

And through it all, the Americans have managed to push back every International attempt to make it interesting, turning what appeared to be a bleak afternoon into a more comfortable advantage that will likely necessitate a big rally for the International squad on Sunday -- or Monday.

When play was halted early Saturday evening due to darkness after a marathon day that began at 7:30 a.m. ET, the United States led 11½ to 6½ and was in front in one of the four remaining matches and tied in another.

At one point late Saturday, however, the International team led all five matches.

"Well, it's not over," said captain Nick Price, who played on the only victorious International team in 1998 at Royal Melbourne. "We've still got a lot of golf to play and I have the utmost confidence in these guys that they can turn those games around.

"We don't want to go into the singles with too much of a deficit. But I want to say one thing; I think one of the reasons why we've done so well in the alternate shot is because our ball striking has been phenomenal. I think the U.S. [team has] putted a lot better than we have in the better ball, and that's probably been the difference this week as far as I'm concerned, because we seem to be pretty evenly matched in the alternate shot, which, you know, has been our downfall in the past."

Price praised the fortitude of all players who endured some challenging conditions. For the third straight day it rained, with another half-inch dumped on the course Saturday, causing a 76-minute delay. For the three days, 1.6 inches have soaked the course, making for a messy situation.

The International side really needs to take three of those four matches Sunday morning -- and perhaps tie in the fourth one to have a realistic shot at coming back in singles.

Not that the Americans were or should be taking anything for granted.

All they need do is think back to last year's Ryder Cup at Medinah, where the U.S. squandered a commanding 10-6 lead, managing just three victories and a tie out of the 12 singles matches, suffering an excruciating defeat to Europe, 14½ to 13½.

Should the board remain as it is, the U.S. would lead 13-9 going into the final session, the same differential it had at Medinah.

The Americans have gotten excellent play from their veterans. Tiger Woods is 3-0 with Matt Kuchar, although they are 2-down in their foursomes match through nine holes against Ernie Els and Brendon de Jonge. Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley are 2-1 and all square with five holes to play against Jason Day and Graham DeLaet -- a crucial match.

Steve Stricker is also 2-1, having paired with 20-year-old rookie Jordan Spieth. Stricker and Bill Haas are 2-up in their match against Adam Scott and Hideki Matsuyama. Woods, Mickelson, Stricker all have holes to play Sunday morning before resuming the singles competition, with the pairings to be made prior to the end of the foursomes.

"They are beat," U.S. captain Fred Couples said. "I just saw Kuchar, who is physically exhausted. But when you ask them ... Tiger says, no, I'm playing five matches. And I asked Phil, and he said he's never been more excited to play in his life and I'm ready to go.

"They have been on, I don't know, 20 teams, each of them. So I rely on their help. They do help me with pairings, and I just totally rely on them. I'm not someone out here who is going to come and just make pairings tomorrow. I ask them more about how they are feeling and they are exhausted, but they help me more than just on the course. They do a lot off of it, too. They have a great feel for this thing."

They should also have a pretty big lead, a familiar but hardly comfortable, position.

By then, Nicklaus will be back -- he watched grandson Nick O'Leary catch two touchdown passes for Florida State in a victory over Maryland -- hoping like everyone else the golf and not the weather is the Sunday story.