Gentleman's decision

Published : Dec 13, 2003 00:00 IST

JACK NICKLAUS made a decision on the final day that will add to the lustre of his legend.

The United States captain at the Presidents Cup offered to share the trophy with the International team after the tournament was still tied 17-17 after three playoff holes at the Gary Player-designed 7,489-yard Links course at the Fancourt Hotel and Country Club Estate.

In the 1969 Ryder Cup, England's Tony Jacklin had a short but tantalisingly difficult putt to share the cup. Nicklaus casually conceded the putt, and, although the cup was retained by the United

States, the decision was startling in its generosity.

In gathering darkness on the third playoff hole between Tiger Woods and Ernie Els, Nicklaus tried to sell his United States team on another startling idea: How did the players feel about accepting

the 17-17 draw, but sharing the cup, because neither team deserved to lose after such an extraordinary week of golf?

The rules said the playoff had to happen. The International players were not going to let go of their shot at winning the thing.

The United States players did not want to win it in that kind of way from a bunch of players who had given them such a great contest. So Nicklaus made the decision nobody who was involved doubted was the right one.

"It's the perfect decision," Woods said. "The way the week has gone, it's the right decision for the game of golf."

Davis Love III said Player had approached the United States players as early as the end of the first playoff hole, suggesting it was too hard on two individual players to carry the aspirations of nations and teams.

"He and Jack finished it the way it should be finished, and they should go down just like they have done their whole careers, as gentlemen that represent the game of golf and it couldn't have had a better ending," he said.

Zimbabwe's Nick Price pointed out that he had never come across two more competitive golfers than Player and Nicklaus.

"They both wanted to win very badly. And for them to reach the decision and to come and ask us as teams what we thought of that decision was something that I think is very special," he said.

For all that, it was extraordinary theatre.

"I watched those two guys and it was unbelievable," United States player Chris DiMarco said. "The putts that the guys made when it mattered were unbelievable, they really were. It showed why they are where they are and who they are. It was so good for golf."

Woods admitted he felt the pressure. "Man, that was actually one of the most nerve-racking moments I've ever had in golf."

Els agreed: "Probably the first time I've ever felt my legs shaking a little bit."

Watching Woods and Els agonise over monstrously difficult putts on the third playoff hole, Nicklaus decided he didn't want the match to end on a missed putt from either player.

"When Ernie made that putt, I thought it was absolutely perfect, and I don't think there was a player on either side that wanted to see either person miss their putt," he said. "And that is really the spirit in which these matches have been played all week, and I think we'll carry that spirit away from here and I think it will enrich the lives of all these guys forever," he added.

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