MELBOURNE, Australia – The International team is going so well at this Presidents Cup that it had to settle for a three-point lead after two sessions at Royal Melbourne.
Justin Thomas and Patrick Cantlay were among those who made sure it was only that.
Louis Oosthuizen and Adam Scott rallied from 2 down by winning five of the next seven holes and closed out Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar in the opening foursomes match Friday.
Patrick Reed heard it from the crowd again, including shouts of “Patrick Cheat” for his rules violation last week in the Bahamas. Far tougher on Reed and Webb Simpson was the International team of Marc Leishman and Abraham Ancer, who seized control on the back nine to win, 3 and 2.
The board was filled with black and gold, the new colors of this inspired International team trying to win for only the second time in the 25-year history of this event.
At one point, captain Ernie Els could think about a clean sweep. His team led in every match.
Instead, the Americans took a little momentum into a double session of matches Saturday, winning two matches on the 18th hole and halving another.
The International team led 6 1/2-3 1/2, its largest lead since it won at Royal Melbourne in 1998.
“It’s perspective, isn’t it?” International captain Ernie Els said. “I’ve got to look at where we are. It’s easy to just look at where we could have been, because it was looking really unbelievable. We tie this afternoon.”
Els then considered the Americans have a 50 1/2-22 1/2 advantage in foursomes in winning the last seven times, and maybe it wasn’t all that bad.
“We’re in a very good position,” Els said.
Joaquin Niemann hit a tee shot to 4 feet on the par-3 14th that Adam Hadwin converted into birdie for a 1-up lead. Cantlay answered with a bullet of a shot onto the green at the par-5 15th that set up a two-putt birdie to square the match. Cantlay delivered the winner on the 18th with a 15-foot birdie.
That was the first point.
The biggest moment belonged to Thomas. He and U.S. captain Tiger Woods, playing for the second straight session, were all square against Hideki Matsuyama and Byeong Hun An going to the final hole.
Woods hit a great approach that landed near the hole and rolled out 18 feet. With a putt to win the match, Thomas curled it in for the birdie. Woods dropped his putter, stretched out his arms and gave a hard hug to Thomas.
“I’ve been fortunate to make a lot of putts,” Thomas said. “But to do it with my captain and teammate was awesome.”
Woods tied Phil Mickelson for the record by winning his 26th match in nine Presidents Cup appearances. Mickelson played in 12.
Gary Woodland and Rickie Fowler capped off the late comeback. They were 2 down with three holes to go when they birdied the 16th and 17th holes to square the match against Sungjae Im and Cameron Smith. It ended with the first draw of these matches.
“Momentum is huge,” Woodland said. “That was a huge half-point. Any time you can scrape out something … we did it. Now we have to regroup. We have 36 ahead of us tomorrow and hopefully go out and flip this a little bit.”
Reed, meanwhile, is never bashful about egging on the crowd when playing away from home. He made a birdie on the 11th hole, and as he heard it from the crowd, Reed cupped his hand to his ear, then pretended to use his putter as shovel. Walking up the 16th fairway, two spectators yelled at him to look at their shirts that read, “We love a Tiger, but not a Cheetah.”
Reed declined interview requests after the round. He gets another dose of it Saturday, as Woods sends out Reed and Simpson for the third straight session.
Woods will be nothing but a captain Saturday morning. He took himself out of the lineup, sending Thomas in the first match out with Fowler.
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