By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Heartbroken Internationals captain Ernie Els said he would shoulder the blame for his team's defeat to the United States at the Presidents Cup but defended his Sunday pairings after they crumbled at Royal Melbourne.
The Internationals brought an overnight 10-8 lead into the final day but bowed out 16-14, winning only two of the 12 singles and halving four.
Els put five of his seven debutants in the first seven matches and only South Korean Im Sung-jae stood up as he thrashed Gary Woodland 4&3.
The United States took a different tack, sending captain Tiger Woods out to beat Mexican rookie Abraham Ancer in the opener before experienced Cup players Dustin Johnson and Patrick Reed rode the momentum with crushing wins.
"I could have made different choices in the singles today," South African Els told reporters.
"I can take it on my shoulders. It is what it is. The questions will come from you guys and the public that I made mistakes in the selection of where I put my players.
"But I followed a plan from 100%, and it didn't quite work out, but we came damn close."
No team had ever won the event bringing an overnight deficit into the final day, but the Americans ended up claiming the trophy with a match to spare.
The Internationals' only win was at Royal Melbourne in 1998 and their victory drought will extend to 23 years before their next chance at Quail Hollow in 2021.
Two years after being routed at Liberty National by Steve Stricker's team, there were dire predictions for Els' rookie-laden outfit at Royal Melbourne.
However, they played majestically for two-and-a-half days, ambushing the Americans 4-1 in the Thursday fourballs and sharing the points in the Friday foursomes, their traditional Achilles heel.
But the Internationals could hear the drums beating when Woods's team roared back on Saturday afternoon, dominating the foursomes 3-1 to cut the deficit to two points.
Some of Els' players leave with reputations enhanced, including Ancer, Mexico's first Presidents Cup player, who claimed 3.5 points from his five matches and was excellent on Royal Melbourne's tricky greens.
Bulky South Korean Im was also superb on debut with a 3-1-1 record.
"If you compare our team on paper with other teams in other sport, you would have laughed us out of the building," said Els.
"But we gave it a hell of a go and we came mightily close to winning and upsetting one of the greatest golf teams of all time."
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)