News & Opinion

Americans stave off rout in Presidents Cup

Patrick Cantlay and Justin Thomas hole birdie putts on 18th hole to win key points as U.S. halves foursomes session but still trails Internationals, 6½-3½

MELBOURNE, Australia – Did the worm turn?

That’s the feeling here after the Americans, who at various points were losing or tied in all five matches deep into the back nine of Friday’s Presidents Cup foursomes, eventually earned 2½ points to avoid a second consecutive day of big losses (scores/pairings).

Australia’s Adam Scott (right) congratulates teammate Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa after their victory Friday, but the Americans rallied to stay close in the Presidents Cup.

When International pairings Louis Oosthuizen-Adam Scott and Marc Leishman-Abraham Ancer won their matches by 3-and-2 scores, the scoreboard read 6-1 in favor of the Internationals, and the rout seemingly was on.

But that was as big of a lead as the host team would amass as Americans Patrick Cantlay and Justin Thomas dropped birdie putts on the 18th green to flip their matches and gain two big points for the Americans.

The teams split the final match, resulting in a 6½-3½ lead for the Internationals after two days of the biennial series. On Saturday, eight points will be available, with four four-balls matches in the morning and four foursomes matches in the afternoon.

The question to be answered over the next two days: Did the Americans manage to flip the script on an International team that controlled the matches until the last hour Friday afternoon, or was the U.S. finishing surge just an aberration?

“It's huge,” said Thomas, who sank a 17-foot birdie putt on the par-4 18th hole as he and teammate Tiger Woods defeated Byeong Hun An and Hideki Matsuyama, 1 up, in the alternate-shot format. “I mean, stuff can change so quickly in this format, but I heard P.C. [Cantlay] made a great putt to win the hole to flip their match, as well. These guys are clawing back.

“I know one thing: I like our chances a lot more, getting those two points.”

It’s a point that was echoed by Cantlay after he sank a 13½-foot birdie putt on the final hole as he and Xander Schauffele defeated Adam Hadwin and Joaquin Niemann, 1 up. However, the heavily favored Americans still find themselves three points down.

International captain Ernie Els points to the fact that his team has struggled in the foursomes format in past Presidents Cups. In the five most-recent meetings, the U.S. has won the format convincingly: 7-2 in 2017, 6-3 in 2015, 6½-4½ in 2013, 8-3 in 2011 and 7-4 in 2009.

“Hey, look at the record we've had in the foursomes,” Els said. “For us to come out 2½-2½ in the session is like a win for us. We would have taken that at the start of the day.”

That’s really the point. Find your weakness and make it a strength. Els’ team was close to posting a 4-1 victory or better on Day 2, which would have put the matches in peril for the Americans, who were routed, 4-1, in the opening session. Only some final-hole heroics by the U.S. kept the visitors close entering the weekend.

Now, captains Els and Woods must get their teams prepared for a sprint to the singles.

Woods, the first playing captain since Hale Irwin in 1994, will sit out his first session after having won two points in two days. Among his biggest challenges will be the pairing of Webb Simpson and Patrick Reed, which Woods will send out for a third consecutive session, despite their 0-2 performance together in four-balls and foursomes.

In turn, Els goes with his strength in Australian Adam Scott and five rookies. Among the Internationals’ lineup Saturday morning, only China’s Haotong Li has yet to post a point.

“We take it session by session,” South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen said of countryman Els’ philosophy this week. “We are so proud of these rookies on this team. Great bunch of players, and they are all playing well.”

The last time the Internationals led after two sessions was in 2005, when they held a 6½-5½ edge at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Gainesville, Va., eventually losing, 18½-15½, after a big U.S. rally in singles.

“Any lead against them is good, but a three-point lead is even better,” Australian Marc Leishman said of the Americans, who have won seven consecutive Presidents Cups and lead the series, 10-1-1. “But there's still a lot of points to play for. You know, we need to keep doing what we're doing and keep improving, because we know their jet lag is going to start wearing off, and I'm sure they will start firing up. We need to be ready for it.”