Final-hole dramatics give US new life at Presidents Cup

MELBOURNE, Australia — It looked like the U.S. team was about to get blown away down under on Friday at Royal Melbourne Golf Club, but a late rally gave the Americans new life heading into Saturday’s round of the 13th Presidents Cup.

Down 6-1 at one point, the Americans won two matches on the 18th hole and halved another to close the International team’s lead to 6 1/2 -3 1/2 , heading into Saturday’s double session of Four-Ball and Foursomes. There will be 12 singles matches on Sunday.

With 22 points still available, the International lead isn’t as insurmountable as it once looked, but the U.S. team will have to play more consistently than it has over the first two days.

“We are digging ourselves a bit of a hole,” Matt Kuchar said when the U.S. was down 6-1. “We need to regroup, but thankfully there’s still a whole lot of golf left. There’s so many veterans on the team, a handful of rookies. We’ve been behind before. Others have been behind before and made big comebacks. This is still only halfway through, not even halfway through. There’s still so many points to play for. I think there’s that good veteran leadership that guys know there’s still a lot of golf to be played.”

A tone of early frustration was set in the opening match on Friday when Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar, playing in the alternate shot format, blew a 2-up lead after seven holes and wound up being trounced 3&2 by Louis Oosthuizen and Adam Scott. The Internationals upped their lead to 6-1 when Marc Leishman and Abraham Ancer did away with Webb Simpson and Patrick Reed, 3&2.

The U.S. needed to collect any kind of point out of the final three matches. Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay went to the 18th tied with Adam Hadwin and Joaquin Niemann. Schauffele’s approach left Cantlay with a 15-footer for birdie, while Hadwin left Niemann with a 30-footer that he missed right. Cantlay needed to make his putt to win the point. He drained for the much-need, 1-up victory to cut the Internationals lead to 6-2.

Meanwhile, playing captain Tiger Woods and Justin Thomas were also tied after 17 holes with Byeong Hun An and Hideki Matsuyama. Thomas put Woods in the rough with an errant tee shot, while Matsuyama drilled his to the middle of the fairway.

Woods was able to land his approach about 15-feet hole high, while Hun An left a distant birdie opportunity for Matsuyama from about 25 feet. Matsuyama missed his putt to the right, leaving Thomas with a putt to win the match.

With Woods watching, Thomas hit a slow-curling putt that dropped in to claim another valuable point. Woods and Thomas went into a hug fest, rejuvenating the U.S. team.

Presidents Cup
Patrick CantlayGetty Images

“I’ve made a lot of big putts and big shot, but to do it in front of my captain and my teammate at the Presidents Cup was awesome,” Thomas said.

Suddenly, the International lead was down to 6-3 with Gary Woodland and Rickie Fowler heading to the 18th with their match tied with Sungjae Im and Cameron Smith. Woodland and Fowler were 2-down at the 16th tee, but Woodland made birdie at 16 and Fowler made a 2-footer for birdie at 17 to square the match.

Fowler’s approach to the 18th green wasn’t his best effort. Woodland had 35-foot putt for birdie with the Internationals about 15 feet from the hole. Woodland missed to the right, running the putt three feet past the cup. The U.S. first had to hope Smith would miss his putt, which he did, leaving Fowler to make par for the half point.

The once desperate Americans once down 6-1 will enter Saturday feeling much better about their chances.

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