By Noel Randewich
SAN FRANCISCO, Sept 22 (Reuters) - A formidable Oracle Team USA is making an America's Cup comeback against Emirates Team New Zealand that last week looked all but impossible.
The team owned by software billionaire Larry Ellison won Sunday's two scheduled races on San Francisco Bay, refusing to give up the one final victory that the Kiwis need to take the Cup home.
With momentum clearly on its side, Oracle now needs to win another four races against New Zealand, which has lost four in a row since its last victory on Wednesday.
In Sunday's first race, Oracle had the edge at the starting gun, then pushed New Zealand toward the course boundary line before rounding the first mark. It used this advantageous position to open a lead that the Kiwis were unable to close, despite closing to within a boat length on the third leg.
With both teams struggling to find wind on San Francisco Bay, Oracle finished 23 second ahead in the relatively slow race.
In the day's second matchup, New Zealand continued to struggle to outmaneuver the increasingly agile Oracle team.
New Zealand dominated the early matches of the final, which began Sept. 7, and appeared poised to easily reclaim the trophy they lost in 2003. But Oracle has made changes to its boat and improved its teamwork, and now the two teams now appear remarkably even.
"We are going to get more out of the old girl," said Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill. "We worked very, very hard last night and found some extra wheels."
New Zealand's point advantage over Oracle has fallen to 8-5 in the best-of-17 series. Last Wednesday, Oracle had just one point. Racing is scheduled to continue on Monday and every day until there is a winner.
Uncooperative weather conditions on the bay wreaked havoc on the race schedule last week and most recently forced the postponement of two races scheduled for Saturday.