Presidents Cup: Thomas, Fowler finally cool off Internationals’ hottest duo

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Presidents Cup: Thomas, Fowler finally cool off Internationals’ hottest duo

PGA Tour

Presidents Cup: Thomas, Fowler finally cool off Internationals’ hottest duo

 

JERSEY CITY, N.J. – If you’re International captain Nick Price at the Presidents Cup, you know it’s a rough day when your most powerful tandem doesn’t make it to the 17th tee of a four-ball match.

That’s what happened to the hot South African tandem of Branden Grace and Louis Oosthuizen, who on Friday afternoon at Liberty National were taken down by a new hot duo – World No. 4 Justin Thomas and World No. 8 Rickie Fowler of Team USA.

Grace and Oosthuizen had gone 4-0 as a team in a one-point International loss in South Korea two years ago, and won their opening foursomes match on Thursday at Liberty National.  The Internationals, 1-9-1 all-time in the Presidents Cup, secured only a half-point in five Friday four-ball matches, however, and now head into the weekend in a huge hole, trailing 8-2.

Grace and Oosthuizen had sailed through their matches in South Korea, and were extended beyond the 17th green on only one occasion. But on Friday, Oosthuizen got off to a rough start on the front nine, and Thomas heated up by making birdies on five of his final nine holes.

Thomas missed the green at the par-4 14th, then holed a 30-foot shot from the left bunker for birdie, leaving Oosthuizen to need a 7-foot birdie of his own just for a halve. One hole later, Thomas and Oosthuizen each faced 7-footers for birdie at the dogleg-right 15th. Thomas went first and made his putt; Oosthuizen failed to match him, his putt veering left of the cup. When Oosthuizen missed from 14 feet at the 16th – where Thomas hit the flagstick with another long bunker shot – that was that.

“Every time we thought we had a chance to get something back, they made the impossible happen,” Grace said. “It happened on 14, when Louie knocked it stiff, and a couple of putts just didn’t go in. They played great. They played a little better than us today.”

As good as Thomas’ bunker shot was at 14, he hit another shot he considered even better: an incredible up and down from atop a hill left of the drivable 12th hole, deftly judging and bumping a chip shot up a down a hill and back up through the fringe that finished 14 feet right of the hole.

It was a shot he really didn’t envision until veteran caddie Jimmy Johnson suggested the idea to him.

“I definitely would have bet against me getting that ball up and down,” Thomas said. “(We) probably needed a birdie to tie the hole. He’s like, ‘Why don’t you just hit it up this hill, try to hit to 25, 30 feet, and just try to make a putt?’

“Me, probably being stupid, I never even thought of that. I was like, ‘Yeah, that actually looks like a pretty good idea.’ I took a pitching wedge and hit it perfectly. Rode it up the slope and I hit it way closer than I thought I could. … That was a huge, huge part in the match, I feel like, us making that birdie there and halving the hole.”

Once it built a 2-up lead, Team USA gave its opponent very few openings. Grace had to save par from a bunker to halve the 10th, Oosthuizen scrambled to save par at the 11th, and Grace’s 7-footer for birdie at the 12th only netted a halve once Thomas made his improbable 3.

“The front nine, we played poorly. I played poorly,” Oosthuizen said. “On the back, you can see where the class came through. Justin had an unbelievable up and down on 12, and he holed the bunker shot at 14. Things like that. You need those things to go your way on a good day. I felt the last six or seven holes, we definitely played better and gave it a good shot. I just didn’t make those putts at the end.” 

U.S. captain Steve Stricker knew he had a formidable and tested pairing in Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, and knew there was potential with Thomas and Fowler, two good friends. But they’ve delivered beyond expectations, delivering two points.

Saturday morning, Thomas and Fowler will once again take on Oosthuizen and Grace, this time in foursomes in the fourth (and last) morning match out.

“You know, he may be the best player in the world,” Stricker said of Thomas, who is expected to officially be announced as PGA Tour Player of the Year in a matter of days. “The season he had was probably the best in the world. He continues to impress every one of us in his demeanor, the way he conducts himself on the golf course, and his remarkable ability that he has.

“And Rickie, you know, you could pair Rickie with just about anybody… it’s hard to break these guys up.”

So the captain won’t. Easy decision.

Turning point

With the International team 2-down, Oosthuizen stuffed a second shot in tight at the par-4 14th hole. Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas each missed the green. But Thomas holed a bunker shot from 30 feet, and then birdied the next hole.

Who’s hot?

Thomas and Fowler. Fowler has played very consistently over two days, and on Friday, Thomas headed up, making five birdies over his final nine holes, and nearly holing a second bunker shot at 16 for his sixth.

Top shot

As good as Fowler’s shot was on 14, the bumped chip that led to his up and down for birdie at the short 12th was all-world. Hall of Famer Ernie Els was walking with the group, and on the 13th tee, he turned and said with great admiration, “How good was that?” 

Etc.

Grace went 0-4 in his first Presidents Cup in 2013, but since is 6-1-0. This was his first loss since a singles defeat to Zach Johnson in ’13. Oosthuizen was 6-0-2 since a foursomes loss alongside countryman Charl Schwartzel to Brandt Snedeker and Webb Simpson on Day 3 in 2013.

 

 

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