U.S. on cusp of Presidents Cup victory entering final day at Liberty National

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U.S. on cusp of Presidents Cup victory entering final day at Liberty National

PGA Tour

U.S. on cusp of Presidents Cup victory entering final day at Liberty National

JERSEY CITY, N.J. – The sun was well into its descent late Saturday afternoon at Liberty National. Several of the American players were well into their (potentially celebratory) mixed drinks as they followed the final couple of four-ball matches.

And the 12th Presidents Cup was well on its way to being over a day early.

But thanks to Anirban Lahiri and Si Woo Kim, the Internationals held on to their very slim chances of victory. The Americans will take a 14.5-3.5 lead into Sunday’s 12-match singles session – and will likely win the Cup for a 10th time needing just a single point – but at least this Sunday finish won’t be meaningless.

 

After winning 3.5 of the possible four points in Saturday morning’s foursomes session, the Americans needed to sweep the afternoon matches to clinch the Cup. The U.S. got three points on the board and needed just rookies Charley Hoffman and Kevin Chappell to close out Lahiri and Kim for the champagne to start popping.

The Internationals’ last hope, Lahiri and Kim, had just taken a 1-up lead after winning Nos. 15 and 16 with birdie – Kim on 15 from 7 feet and Lahiri on 16 from 16 feet. After missing the green short with his approach at the par-4 17th, Hoffman had the honors of hitting his second shot first. And from 25 yards, he holed his pitch shot for birdie, sending the American crowd into a frenzy.

It also sparked Lahiri, who then calmly stepped up and drained his 19-footer for birdie to halve the hole. A crucial counter-punch, followed by a big fist pump from Lahiri, who was playing just his second session after he and Charl Schwartzel lost to Hoffman and Chappell, 6 and 5, in Friday’s four-ball session.

“It was one of those days, you just had to keep fighting,” Lahiri said.

The fight ended in class with handshakes at the par-3 18th hole, as Chappell conceded Lahiri a 4-footer for par, which earned the Internationals just their second full point of the week.

“As hard as this week has been, as well as the Americans have played, we haven’t had enough blue on the board,” Lahiri said. “We wanted to try our heart out and try to bring a point home, and we are happy we managed to do that in the end.”

Unfortunately, it is likely too little, too late for the International side, which has struggled to close out matches all week. Saturday afternoon was no different, as the Americans, once trailing in three matches early, rallied to take complete control yet again.

Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, already 2-0-1 together this week, earned the U.S. its first point of the afternoon with a 2-and-1 victory over Jason Day and Louis Oosthuizen, who had led 1 up through 14 holes. But Spieth birdied 15, Reed birdied 16 and Spieth added another birdie at 17 to complete the comeback.

Less than a minute later, Justin Thomas and Daniel Berger followed with a point of their own, rallying from 3-down through four holes to beat Hideki Matsuyama and Jhonattan Vegas, 3 and 2. Berger, who had sat twice entering the match, sparked the rally with birdies at Nos. 9-11 to swing the match from 1 down to 1 up in favor of the red, white and blue.

And Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka, in the last match out, added a 3-and-2 win of their own, beating Marc Leishman and Branden Grace, though the powerful U.S. duo never trailed in that one.

“As a team, we’ve played 12 to 18 extremely well this week, something that we’ve struggled to do, especially in the Ryder Cup,” Spieth said. “I think we’ve had a lot of matches flip at that point in time historically. This has been a phenomenal confidence booster for us to be able to close matches and flip matches in those late holes where we can really ride this momentum with the crowd.”

Said U.S. captain Steve Stricker: “Another great day. Again these guys played unbelievable golf.”

Just how dominate has the U.S. been at Liberty National? Johnson can go 5-0 with a singles victory on Sunday while Spieth, Reed and Thomas can improve to 4-0-1. The Americans could also lose 11 matches Sunday and still not lose the competition.

But don’t think the U.S. side doesn’t want to come out and dominate yet again.

“Strick has been very, very adamant about: I want to win every single session this week. And I think that’s a really good goal for our team tomorrow, is to try and win the session,” Spieth said. “It’s easy to get complacent with the way things are right now, and it’s easy to come out tomorrow lazy. If we set a goal to win each session; if that’s our goal, then each individual is going to be very focused on their own match and trying to be one of the people that does help win that session for us.

“And if it gets closed out early, it gets closed out early and maybe that’s not so good for the tournament, but it is what it is. But the point is, we will all still have that goal to win the session and I think that’s most important for us.”

 

The American players know the Cup is all but theirs. All they have to do Sunday is bring the icing.

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