DUBLIN, Ohio – All Adam Scott had done at the par-4 14th hole was launch his drive onto the green from 309 yards, two-putt from 75 feet for his sixth birdie, and get the heads shaking on the American side.
“We’re 9-under, but we’re only 2-up – and we’re only playing against one guy,” said a red, white, and blue supporter on the way to the 15th tee, after having just watched Webb Simpson slide home a 6-footer for birdie to merely answer Scott’s work at the 14th.
It just seemed like Simpson and Bill Haas had done so much without having the sort of comfort their performance deserved. There were romps behind them – Tiger Woods and Matt Kuchar en route to a 5 and 4 win; Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner headed toward a 5 and 3 triumph – but Simpson and Haas just couldn’t shake Scott, who would end the day by hitting all 14 fairways and all but three greens in a ball-striking clinic.
And when Scott at the par-5 15th holed his third shot from about 50 feet right of the green, the eagle not only cut the deficit to one, it reinforced the notion that he was carrying his 21-year-old teammate.
Maybe the Americans felt that way, but the Aussie did not.
True, Matsuyama hadn’t made a birdie since the par-3 fourth, but he had been in a lot of holes and never seemed out of place. Scott from the outset had told International captain Nick Price that he’d take the young man from Japan.
“It wasn’t hard on me,” Scott said. “I was the only one who had played practice rounds with him (this year). Hey, he’s the only guy on our team who has won three times this year. I’ll take that.”
Scott’s faith in Matsuyama, the two-time Pacific Amateur champion and two-time Masters participant, was rewarded at the 190-yard, par-3 16th when the kid cooly buried a 10-footer for birdie to square the match. It elicited a brilliant smile from Scott and an even wider and more brilliant one from Matsuyama, who was serenaded by The Fanatics, a group of fun-loving, sports-loving, travel-happy fans from Australia who are helping to breathe a festive atmosphere into these proceedings all by themselves.
Changing the words – and creatively, too – to the Boy George hit “Karma Chameleon,” The Fanatics ushered Matsuyama to the 17th tee.
It was at the 17th green, however, where Scott learned you can sometimes take this leadership role too far. Haas had made a clutch 20-footer for birdie and Scott, having missed his from 22 feet, voiced his opinion on what Matsuyama’s 15-footer would do.
“I butted in,” Scott said. “He had it right. I had it wrong.”
Matsuyma missed on the left and Scott shook his head.
“I’ll butt out and leave him on his own,” said the Aussie, who decided to fall back on what he had told Matsuyama from the outset. “I just told him to play golf the way he knows how to play. I don’t know him well enough and I don’t want to get in his way.”
At 18, nothing got in Matsuyama’s way as his brilliance shined through. All four players found the fairway, but after Simpson missed the green weekly in the bunker in front and Haas was a bit long and left, some 25 feet from the hole, Matsuyama stepped on an 8-iron from about 160 yards.
“A massive 8-iron,” Scott said, shaking his head. “I couldn’t get my (8-iron) there.”
Of course, by the time he got to his 160-yard approach, Scott didn’t need to do much. That’s because Matsuyama had stuffed his approach to kick-in range. The conceded birdie, his third of the round and second in two holes, enabled the Internationals to salvage a half-point from match they had twice trailed by two, most recently after 14.
“Fantastic. Unbelieveable,” Scott said of Matsuyama’s shot into 18. “It’s nice we rallied hard.”
Ever the diplomat, Scott, who shot 64 on his own ball, acknowledged that Simpson had played well early, that Haas had made four birdies on the back, that the Americans had a best-ball 63, and that a half-point for each team was perhaps the fair way to end the festivities.
“It’s some of the best golf I’ve ever seen in any match I’ve ever played.”
Scott shrugged off his driving of the green at 14. Mandated by being 2-down, he said. He didn’t even dwell on the hole-out for eagle at 15. “Look, we weren’t going to win if something special didn’t happen. I tried to summons every ounce of magic I had.”
And why? Scott smiled and glanced over at Matsuyama, surrounded by members of the Japanese media.
“I really wanted the kid to get a win in his first match. I got one in real nail-biter with Ernie (Els) in my first match and I still remember it today. So I wanted something good to happen for him and I think (while) we didn’t win, he got an incredible way to finish out a match.”