GAINESVILLE, Va. (AP) – Tiger Woods finally found the secret to winning a better-ball match at the Presidents Cup.

Play with a back so sore that it has to be iced between shots.

Play with a partner who has sore ribs. And most of all, make lots of birdies.

Woods birdied seven of his first 12 holes, then relied on Jim Furyk to make the decisive birdie that delivered the world’s No. 1 player his first victory Friday in a better-ball match – and one the Americans desperately needed.

The International team, trailing in only one match at the turn, got more great play from Retief Goosen and Adam Scott to keep their slim lead after two sessions, 6-5.

It looked like it might be an even larger lead until the Dallas-born duo of Scott Verplank and Justin Leonard rallied to win their match and remain undefeated, and Michael Campbell and Vijay Singh failed to capitalize on great opportunities at the 18th hole, both of them settling for halves.

Campbell’s wedge to the 18th hit the pin and rolled back into the rough, then his belly wedge rimmed in and out.

Singh, playing with Tim Clark, stuffed a wedge into 3 feet for birdie on the 17th to square their match, then had a chance to beat Fred Funk and Stewart Cink when he hit a towering shot out of the rough to 15 feet. But the birdie putt never had a chance.

, dipping well below the cup for a halve.

Still, it set the stage for what should be a pivotal third round on Saturday with five alternate-shot matches in the morning and five better-ball matches in the afternoon.

“With a 36-hole day, one side can get a lot of momentum going,” Leonard said.

The crowd warmed up to the action, especially after a 1-hour storm delay as all the matches were on the back nine. The fans were far more vocal in the afternoon, as loud cheers rang out at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club, with only murmurs and grudging applause whenever the International team made a putt.

Some even cheered when Campbell missed an 8-foot birdie putt to stay 1 up on the 17th hole.

“That’s all part of the game over here in America,” the New Zealander said. “A guy said to me over the putt, Miss the putt.’ It’s pretty unfair. But once again, it’s actually a good thing for me personally. It really keeps me going.”

It fired up the Americans, too, especially after they struggled just to stay in the game.

“It’s contagious,” Chris DiMarco said.

Even so, U.S. captain Jack Nicklaus was disturbed by a gallery that ignored the International team, and even spoke to the fans at one point.

“I said, Hey guys, you can root if you want to for the American team, I think that’s fine, but when the International team hits a good shot, I think they deserve a round of applause in appreciation,”‘ Nicklaus said. “Nick O’Hern hit about a 25-footer and you could almost hear a pin drop. I didn’t like that at all.”

O’Hern and Peter Lonard easily beat Davis Love III and Kenny Perry, leaving that American team 0-2.

Woods and Furyk were the last match out, mostly to give Furyk time to heal his sore ribs. When he arrived on the first tee, Nicklaus checked on his health, and Furyk waved both hands at him to signal he was fine.

Turns out it was Woods who was hurt.

The spasms started on the sixth hole, when he hit a shot and his knees buckled. He said it was part of his ribs, which affected his upper back, and it had been bothering him all week.

It didn’t appear to affect his game.

Woods hit a 6-iron on the par-3 seventh, a peninsula green with the flag tucked just over the bunker. The shot soared into the hazy skies, landed softly and rolled just past the edge of the cup to within 2 feet. Woods walked to the side of the tee, and a physical therapist – the same one who treated Furyk on Thursday – filled a plastic cup with ice and pressed it against his lower back.

The birdie was conceded, and the hole was halved when Stuart Appleby pitched in for birdie to match him. Despite the ice treatment, Woods kept firing away with birdies.

He holed a 12-footer on the ninth for a 2-up lead, then reached the par-5 10th in two shots with an approach from down the side of a hill, and barely cleared a bunker on the 11th to set up a 3-foot birdie.

“It’s just a matter of keeping it pain free and loose before I swing,” Woods said.

Furyk managed to play without much pain, and he came through in the clutch. Right when Appleby and Mark Hensby were making a charge with consecutive birdies, Furyk nearly holed his approach from the 16th fairway, then made an 8-footer for birdie to close out the match.

“Jimmy decided to play his three best shots of the day,” Woods said. “Perfect time.”

Goosen and Scott remained perfect, along with Verplank and Leonard.

Scott carried the load in their match against David Toms and Fred Couples, and the International pair raced to a 4-up lead through six holes. The Americans tried to peck away at the lead, and got the deficit down to one hole until neither Couples nor Toms could manage a par on the 15th hole.

The American juggernaut is Verplank and Leonard, who also improved to 2-0.

They fell 2 down after three holes. With International captain Gary Player watching from behind the fifth green, Verplank hit his approach into 4 feet for birdie, Leonard made a clutch par on the eighth to halve the hole, and Verplank came through with a birdie on the ninth to even the match.

They took over on the par-5 12th with a birdie, and Verplank birdied the 13th with another great approach.

Next up is a battle of the unbeatens – Verplank and Leonard against Goosen and Scott in the first match Saturday.

AP-ES-09-23-05 2016EDT


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