GAINESVILLE, Va. (AP) – Fred Couples delivered another magical moment. Chris DiMarco provided the clinching point with a dramatic birdie. Best of all, the Americans sent captain Jack Nicklaus into retirement as a winner.

Right when it looked like the Presidents Cup might end in another tie, DiMarco holed a 15-foot putt on the 18th hole to outlast Stuart Appleby for a 1-up victory Sunday, giving the Americans an 18-15 victory at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club and keeping their record perfect on home soil.

DiMarco knew it was good in the final few feet, and he charged toward the cup and then into the arms of Nicklaus.

“All I thought about was to get him a win,” DiMarco said.

Nicklaus, who already said farewell to the majors and might not play another PGA Tour event, was captain for the third time. His team got hammered in Australia in 1998, and the matches ended in a tie two years ago in South Africa.

This time, he went out a winner.

“It feels a lot better to have a win, there’s no question about that,” Nicklaus said. “As far as being something special, I may never captain another team, I may never play another round of golf, and if I end my career this way, it’s a pretty good way to end it.”

Under new rules this year, every match had to go extra holes until one team had enough points to claim the cup.

Someone apparently forgot to tell Phil Mickelson.

With the Americans already at 17 points, Mickelson thought he clinched the Presidents Cup when he stuffed a wedge into 4 feet and made the birdie on No. 18 to square his match with Angel Cabrera. Lefty pounded his fist, removed his cap to shake hands and was about to celebrate when European tour rules official Andy McFee broke the news.

The look on his face was utter shock, and he headed to the first tee.

Mickelson never had to finish the extra hole. A massive roar behind him told him all he needed to know.

And he shouldn’t have been surprised that DiMarco delivered the decisive blow. Despite only three victories in his 10 years on the PGA Tour, DiMarco was the star of this U.S. team by going 4-0-1. He spent the back nine matching Appleby putt-for-putt, none of them easy, until they reached the 18th green all square.

The crowd shouted “USA,” then “MVP” for DiMarco after the biggest moment of his career.

The only other match that reached the 18th hole produced the loudest cheer, from a usual source.

Couples already has made his own highlight reel from the Presidents Cups, having won the cup in 1996 with a 35-foot birdie putt to beat Vijay Singh for a one-point victory.

Couples got Singh again under different circumstances. He is an aging star at 45, while Singh is the No. 2 player in the world who has won more on tour than anyone in the last three years.

Tied coming to the 18th, Couples summoned one more piece of magic by rolling in a 20-foot putt. He turned as it fell, dropping his putter and raising his arms and screaming toward the gray skies in utter elation.

“I figure if I beat him, there might be a small, golden rainbow out there, and I did,” Couples said. “I hope my point means something.”

Did it ever.

Davis Love III closed out an easy victory behind him, assuring the Americans at least a tie and turning the stage over to DiMarco and Mickelson, who never lost a match all week.

Tiger Woods lost for the first time in a Presidents Cup singles match, falling to Retief Goosen on the 17th hole. Goosen also went unbeaten for the week at 4-0-1. But the Americans got loads of help, from Jim Furyk (3-0-2) beating Adam Scott, and Kenny Perry and David Toms getting their first points of the week.

It was another tough loss for the Internationals, who battled the Americans to a tie in team matches the first three days and fought back from early deficits throughout the 12 singles matches.

Appleby, now 0-4 in singles, bogeyed the 17th hole to lose control of the match, and could only watch as DiMarco made his birdie on the 18th.

AP-ES-09-25-05 1827EDT


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