Americans rally by winning 8 of 12 points in singles, leaving Internationals with an 8th consecutive Presidents Cup defeat but also a taste of what might have been
MELBOURNE, Australia – Putting the Presidents Cup in context is difficult after another U.S. victory Sunday.
No question that it was close. The Americans’ 16-14 comeback is not the sort of 19-11 romp of 2017 at Liberty National, which in itself is a blessing. That match effectively was over by Saturday night, rendering the 12 singles matches practically moot.
The Sunday singles proved to be compelling this time at Royal Melbourne, but predictably the result was the same: another International loss.
With the Americans’ eighth consecutive victory, the U.S. leads the series, 12-1-1.
Let that sink in for a second and then ask: Is this biennial series still relevant? Does the Presidents Cup need some changes, or is the plan with which Ernie Els operated enough to change the tide?
Unfortunately, Els was unwilling to answer the question about what his plan actually was.
“I would have revealed it if we won,” Els said to laughter in the Internationals’ final press conference. “It will take a while. One day, I will do that. The next captain can do that; I'm sorry, I lied.”
To a large extent, Els’ plan worked. If you listen to Adam Scott and Louis Oosthuizen, both veterans of Els’ cup-playing days and now his captaincy, they have bought into what happened this week, even if it was another disappointing loss.
“It's hard to digest at the moment,” Scott said after the loss. “It's incredibly disappointing but generally the positivity and being optimistic are what's happening, and I like where this team is going. I'll be working really hard now to be on the team in two more years, if I can keep my game at a good-enough level.”
Scott and Oosthuizen both failed to get the job done on Sunday. Scott, an Australian, lost to Xander Schauffele, 2 and 1. Oosthuizen, of South Africa, tied Matt Kuchar, whose half-point secured the cup for the Americans.
If the Internationals, who led 10-8 entering the singles, would have found a way to win, the discussion today would be much different. But it’s a loss that, no matter how well things looked for the hosts through three days, still stings.
Yet, captain and players alike suggested that the team is headed in the right direction. The Internationals did manage to score 10 points in the first four team sessions and led going into the singles for only the third time in the 25-year history of the cup.
“Before the week started, we had a plan to get to 10 points by Saturday evening,” Els said. “So that's why we were so excited yesterday, losing 3-1, because we knew we got to 10 points. I could have made different choices in the singles today. I can take it on my shoulders.”
A big part of the goal was accomplished, but it could have been so much more.
In Friday’s second session, the Internationals led at one point in all five matches, but lost two of them on the 18th hole and squared the last match, effectively taking what would have been an insurmountable 9-1 or 8-2 lead to a more manageable 6½-3½. The swing gave the U.S. team some desperately-needed momentum.
“I wouldn't say we totally lost momentum, but it was a bit of a blow,” Els said. “There's not many times when you get a team like that under the gun. It was great, but it could have been unbelievable. It could have been a knockout blow.”
U.S. player-captain Woods, who went 3-0-0, would mention the turnaround at times, as well, in an effort to show how well his team responded.
After Friday, the U.S. won 12½ points to the Internationals’ 7½.
Some would call that case closed, but for whatever reason it seems like what happened this week at Royal Melbourne is just part of a learning experience for the Internationals.
You have to walk before you can run, and it’s just possible that the Internationals and their captain have learned to at least jog.
Whether the 14th Presidents Cup was a learning experience or an aberration will come in two years at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, N.C., site of the 2021 matches.
It will be a difficult task on U.S. soil for Els, who would seem to be the ideal choice to return as the Internationals' captain.
The International players were sold on Els’ plan and nearly pulled off the upset. With two years of tweaking, maybe the Internationals can break through.
To receive Morning Read’s newsletters, subscribe for free here.