SAN FRANCISCO - Oracle Team USA notched a pair of wins in the America's Cup on Sunday, repeatedly denying the Kiwis the one victory they need to claim yachting's top prize.

The Americans beat the Kiwis across the finish in Races 14 and 15, staving off a death blow in the regatta. "We let ourselves down today," said New Zealand skipper Dean Barker, adamant that the Kiwis will be taking the Cup home with them. "We've had a tough few days; things have gone against us but I am certain we can bounce back." The Kiwis claimed their eighth win in the regatta on September 18, but have been bedeviled by a tenacious Oracle team and wind conditions that caused races to be abandoned or postponed.

It was puffy, patchy winds that made Sunday's races tricky, leaving boats sluggish or zipping along depending on where they were on the course. "There was something happening out there today," New Zealand wing trimmer quipped when asked whether he suspected a higher power was working against them. "It was a very holy day." The USA now needs four consecutive wins to retain possession of the Cup, while New Zealand remains just a single win away from triumph in the best-of-17 series.

"We believe we can win this, and we've got a wave of momentum now getting bigger every day," said Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill. The next two races are slated for Monday, when the regatta will become the longest in the history of the 162-year-old Cup, according to organizers. "I still think we are the underdog," Spithill said. "But with the people we've got, strangely enough, they seem to perform better when they are facing the barrel of a gun."

The Kiwis jumped across the start a nose ahead in Race 15 but the USA managed to slip in front and round the first mark with a lead of a few seconds. The Americans built on the lead, laying claim to more favorable sections of the course and denying the Kiwis a chance to close the gap. The USA crossed the finish 37 seconds ahead of New Zealand. The outcome was similar in the first race of the day.

The Americans crossed the start nearly even with challenger Zealand in Race 14 but forced them to a side of the course and then darted around the first gate ahead. Oracle proved slighty quicker, out-maneuvering the Kiwis to extend the lead as the course split at the second mark with the America's heading toward Alcatraz Island and New Zealand going toward the San Francisco waterfront. The Kiwis pressed hard in the pivotal upwind third leg, pulling within 25 meters at times, but the American's fended off the advances.

Oracle crossed the finish 23 seconds ahead of the Kiwis. "The breeze was really moving around today; a lot of holes, a lot of shifts," said Oracle tactician Ben Ainslee. "The guys did a fantastic job keeping the boat going fast." Sweeping the next four races would result in Oracle accomplishing an unprecedented Cup comeback. "When we need to put the pressure on, we come out fine," Barker replied when asked whether the Kiwis were 'choking.' "Nothing is any different here. We will go out there tomorrow and make sure we don't make the same mistakes that we made today."