It was a whole lot tougher than most expected, but the Tiger Woods-led United States team defeated Ernie Els’ Internationals to win the Presidents Cup. The United States had to play from behind almost the entire tournament, but in the end clinched a win on the second-to-last singles match. The U.S. won 16-14, but it was even closer than that.
Internationals seized control early
Nobody seriously expected the United States to do anything other than bulldoze the Internationals, the same way they’ve done in 10 (and a half) of the 12 Presidents Cups in the event’s history. That didn’t happen, largely due to the preparation of Els, the determination of the International team, and the challenge of Royal Melbourne Golf Club. On Day 1, only Woods and Justin Thomas could manage to card a point for the U.S. side. The Internationals posted a 4-1 day, one of their best in Presidents Cup history.
Day 2 began on the same shocking note, with the Internationals again starting strong. At one point, the Internationals were ahead in all five of the day’s matches, appearing to craft an insurmountable lead. But late in the day, the U.S. rode putts from Thomas, Patrick Cantlay and Rickie Fowler to split the day and keep the deficit at three matches, 6 1/2 to 3 1/2.
The Internationals used the fourball matches at the start of Day 3 to post their biggest lead of the weekend; led by Abraham Ancer and Sungjae Im, the Internationals led by four points. It would turn out to be their last good moment.
The U.S. rode a suddenly resurgent Dustin Johnson and the solid pairing of Cantlay and Xander Schauffele (2-1-1) to a 2-0-2 record in that session, closing the gap to two points and setting up Sunday’s singles matches with all the momentum on the American side.
All eyes on Patrick Reed
Patrick Reed came into the tournament the center of attention thanks to a curious and controversial incident at the Hero World Challenge last week. Reed appeared to disturb the sand in a bunker in violation of golf rules, but he insisted it was an innocent practice swing. That didn’t deter the Australian crowds from mocking him throughout the tournament’s opening days.
Everything boiled over on Saturday, as Reed’s caddie apparently got into an altercation with a fan. Reports differed over whether the caddie, Keddler Karain, punched or shoved the fan. But the end result was the same: Karain was off the bag for Sunday’s singles matches, and the U.S. had a headache it didn’t need.
Everything down to singles
Captain Woods sent player Woods out first in the singles matches, and it proved a wise decision. Woods faced Ancer, the Internationals’ best player of the week, and dispatched him 3&2. That closed the gap to one point, and the U.S. was now fully engaged:
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) December 15, 2019
Soon afterward, Johnson delivered a hammer blow of his own, taking out Haotong Li from the fourth position, 4&2. And Reed, who’s struggled in international competition lately despite his “Captain America” nickname, silenced the critics in the crowd by defeating C.T. Pan, 4&3, to give the United States its first outright lead since the first match of the tournament, 11-10.
Tony Finau then finished off one of the strongest rallies of the tournament, coming from four down after the 10th hole to split with Hideki Matsuyama. But the Internationals weren’t quite done, as Im throttled Gary Woodland 4&3 to re-tie the match at 11 1/2. Adam Hadwin and Bryson Dechambeau halved their match, moving the total score to 12-12.
Cantlay finished off Joaquin Niemann, 3&2, nudging the United States to within 2 1/2 points of victory. At that point, with the Internationals leading in three remaining matches and the Americans in two, the specter of a possible tie — and a split title, unlike the Ryder Cup — became very real.
Schaffele knocked off perennial International team member Adam Scott 2&1 to put the United States up 14-12 with just four matches remaining. Shortly afterward, Webb Simpson won his match against Byeong Hun An, 2&1, to give the United States 15 points and confirm that the Americans at least wouldn’t lose the cup. Up 15-12, the U.S. needed just one more half-point to win the cup.
Cam Smith delivered a huge blow for the Internationals shortly afterward, taking out Thomas 2&1 to bring the score back to 15-13. That meant there were only two matches left on the course, and at the time of Smith’s final putt, both were tied. The Internationals would need to win both to split the cup.
On the 17th hole, Matt Kuchar faced a birdie putt against Louis Oosthuizen that would clinch at least a half point and, in turn, the Presidents Cup. He rolled it in, and the American celebrations began. Assistant captain Fred Couples embraced and fist-bumped Woods, who exhaled, smiled, and then punched the air.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) December 15, 2019
Kuchar would go on to split the match with Oosthuizen. That left Rickie Fowler and Marc Leishman out on the course, and Fowler missed a match-winning putt at the final hole to end up with a split.
“It’s been one of the more amazing challenges,” Woods said shortly after Kuchar’s clinching putt, tears in his eyes. “We believed in one another, we relied on one another as a team, and we did it together.”
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