Stunning. It’s the best and only way to describe the final stretch of action at the Presidents Cup on Saturday.
Faced with the prospect at the start of the day, of not only losing for the first time in 21-years, but getting blown out of Australia in the process, the United States Presidents Cup team put together a furious comeback on Saturday afternoon in Melbourne … until the unimaginable happened.
After losing 2 ½ to 1 ½ in the morning fourball matches to see their deficit swell to 4 points, the Americans stormed back during the afternoon foursomes, and were poised to sweep the session and even up the score until two matches went haywire for the United States.
Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler found themselves 5 up with 8 holes to play but were unable to finish off Abraham Ancer and Marc Leishman. The match ending in a tie ... a tie that very much felt like a loss.
That was followed by Tony Finau and Matt Kuchar failing to close out Joaquin Niemann and Byeong Hun An despite leading 2 up with 5 holes to play. Another halved match, another half point and a full plate of disappointment for the Americans.
It all equals a 10-8 lead for the Internationals with 12 singles matches on tap for Sunday.
With three days of exhilarating golf in the books, the odds are stacked against the United States as no team has ever come from behind to win the Cup when trailing heading into singles competition.
Here are four thoughts on Day 3 at the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne.
Saturday Morning fourball matches
Justin Thomas/Rickie Fowler 3 & 2 over Haotong Li/Marc Leishman
Tony Finau/Matt Kuchar Halved Adam Scott/Byeong Hun An
Abraham Ancer/Sungjae Im 3 & 2 over Patrick Cantlay/Xander Schauffele
C.T. Pan/Hideki Matsuyama 5 & 3 over Patrick Reed/Webb Simpson
Saturday afternoon foursome matches
Gary Woodland/Dustin Johnson 2 & 1 over Adam Scott/Louis Oosthuizen
Abraham Ancer/Marc Leishman Halved Rickie Fowler/Justin Thomas
Patrick Cantlay/Xander Shauffele 2 & 1 over Sungjae Im/ Cameron Smith
Joaquin Niemann/Byeong Hun An Halved Tony Finau/Matt Kuchar
Internationals can taste victory
Holding on to a 2-point lead heading into Sunday’s singles matches, the International team finds itself as close as it’s been to victory in almost twenty years.
This marks the first time the Internationals have held the lead heading into the final day of the Presidents Cup since 2003, when the matches ended in a tie, and the great unknown is how Ernie Els' group will handle sitting on the cusp of victory.
Despite being heavy underdogs heading into the matches, the pressure has shifted and is clearly on the Internationals. Can a group made up of 7 Cup rookies handle the daunting task of snapping a 2-decade long drought?
A big part of what has helped the Internationals get to this position, is the creative pairings that Els has come up with over the first three days. But now they ride alone, in singles play against a dozen of the top players in the world.
Can the Internationals handle the heat? We’ll find out on Sunday.
One of the most puzzling moves made at the Presidents Cup (aside from Patrick Reed’s antics) was the decision made by U.S. Captain Tiger Woods to sit Tiger Woods the player for both the morning and afternoon matches.
It was expected Tiger would sit one of the sessions, but after missing the morning fourball matches, Woods made the shocking call to bench himself for the afternoon foursomes. Considering he was 2-0 and one of the lone bright spots for the Americans through two days, the decision was puzzling to say the least. Down 4 points heading into Saturday afternoon’s session the Americans were in desperate need of a pick me up. One Woods clearly could have provided.
The move makes you wonder how well Tiger is feeling physically. He was seen stretching on the 18th tee during his match on Friday, and Saturday observers saw Woods walking gingerly around Royal Melbourne.
Saturday’s weather was cold and damp in Melbourne, and Tiger has repeatedly talked about how difficult it is for him to get his surgically repaired back loose in cooler conditions. When asked how he was feeling physically in between the two sessions on Saturday, Wood’s told Golf Channel that he was feeling fine and that he would be ready to go for Sunday’s singles matches.
Patrick Reed saga turns ugly
For three days Patrick Reed has heard it from the Australian fans who have been on him about the rules violation from a week ago and have never let up. On Saturday the Reed situation turned from bad to worse when his caddy got into an altercation with fan.
The incident occurred after Reed’s morning fourball match, which he lost alongside Webb Simpson. According to Reed’s caddy Kessler Karain, a fan came up to Reed and told him “you “f------ suck”. Karain took exception to the comment and shoved the fan, with some reports stating that a punch was thrown.
President’s Cup officials were alerted to the situation and Karain released a statement to the @foreplaypod saying that “the most harm done was a little spilled beer”
Regardless of the details, the incident was just another example of the type of distraction Reed has turned into this week. Along with the antics with the fans, Reed is 0-3 over three matches after being sent out for a third consecutive day by Tiger Woods. Mercifully Woods benched Reed for the afternoon foursome session on Saturday.
Reed has now lost his last 5 International team matches dating back to last year’s Ryder Cup, and though he’s guaranteed to play in Sunday’s singles matches, it’s fair to say, regardless of the that result, the 2019 President’s Cup has been a complete debacle for the man formerly known as Captain America.
Justin Thomas remains hot
Despite a disastrous tie in the 2 to last match of the day, it’s clear who the leader is for this American Presidents Cup team. Justin Thomas has quickly emerged as 2019’s version of Captain America. Pair him with Tiger Woods on Thursday and Friday…he wins. Pair him with Rickie Fowler on Saturday…he wins. After a victory and a push on Saturday, JT is now 3-0-1 at this year’s President’s Cup and is the most reliable member of this American team.
Thomas’s success really shouldn’t come as a surprise. JT has been the ultimate TEAM player in International matches for three years now. His 3 wins at this year’s Presidents Cup, brings his team match-play record to
9-1-2. A run that stretches over two Presidents Cup and a Ryder Cup.
He’s a stone-cold assassin on the course, and just brash enough to make a point, without disrespecting his opponents or the game.
Case and point, Saturday morning when forced to finish up a two-and-a-half-foot birdie putt.
JT was not afraid to call out the International squad, that has been rather chippy all week with conceding putts.
If I’m an International player, Thomas is the last name I’d want to see as my opponent in Sunday’s singles matches.