Rude: Internationals trail, but do so with hope

Jason Day buried a birdie bomb on No. 18 to win his match on Thursday.

Jason Day buried a birdie bomb on No. 18 to win his match on Thursday.

Presidents Cup - Day 4
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— The dark, ominous clouds hanging over Presidents Cup opening day weren’t just in the sky. For a while early on, the heavily favored United States team led in all six four-ball matches. Here we go again, some thought, what with the Internationals’ nemesis of foursomes ahead Friday. The specter of another foregone conclusion was upon us, so suddenly.

This, of course, was a worst-case scenario not only for the visitors but for a Presidents Cup already plagued by a competitive imbalance. The Americans weren’t just on a roll, they were riding a wave a confidence that also came from a 7-1-1 series lead that included blowouts in the last three meetings.

But, seemingly aided by a well-timed timeout by Mother Nature, the Internationals fought back and pumped life back into the biennial affair. Riding a momentum shift after a 1-hour, 22-minute weather delay, they rallied and ended the day down but a point, 3.5 to 2.5.

“It was a good timeout,” said Jason Day, one of the day’s 11th-hour stars. “It changed some of the games around.”

They might be trailing, but the Internationals came away with more than hope. They came away with a spirited energy and the happy faces that coincide. They proved yet again that anything can happen in 18-hole match play and often does.

At the break, when his team trailed in five matches and were tied in the other, International captain Nick Price talked to each of his players individually and told them to be patient and persevere. They not only listened, they executed.

“What a great comeback they made,” a delighted Price said. “We made a great effort coming back.”

It was actually almost better. Had Steve Stricker not gotten up and down for par from a plugged bunker lie at the last, the scoreboard would have read 3-all.

The Internationals should hope the surge carries over to the six alternate-shot matches Friday. That format has been as kind to them as a quadruple bogey is to any golfer. In winning the past three Cups by at least four points, the Americans trounced their counterparts by a remarkable 25.5-7.5 in foursomes.

That makes Friday about as important as Thursday’s post-delay period. If the trend means anything, the Internationals need to stay busy if they are to stay within reach. And the Americans might want to treat the slide late Thursday afternoon as a wakeup call.

“Generally it’s very hard for us in foursomes,” Price said. “The two guys just have to get with each other and spur each other on. There’s only so much I can do. We have 12 wonderful ball-strikers here, so I’m not going to lose faith in those teams. They’re ready to take their games to the next level.”

Well, four of his teams did elevate after the delay. So, sensibly Price kept his lineup the same, for sake of chemistry and familiarity.

The grit shown by an outmanned International side in the first four matches is worth revisiting. The display came on a Muirfield Village course that yielded a birdiefest because of soft turf, low rough and talented individuals.

“As we chipped away on the back nine, you could feel the momentum shift,” said Graeme DeLaet, the Cup rookie from Canada.

Birdies flew so wildly that Hunter Mahan and Brandt Snedeker made nine birdies and still lost, 1 down, to Day and DeLaet in the first match. The winners, 3 down through six holes, also combined for nine birdies, the last on Day’s 20-foot putt that broke two feet.

“It’s exciting,” said Day, who oddly has won one PGA Tour title but regularly contends in major championships. “Ever since I was a little kid, I always wanted to hit the big, clutch putts and it was great to have that chance.”

It was also nice to have a partner whose six birdies included three consecutive at Nos. 14-16.

“Graeme played out of his mind,” said Day, a Muirfield Village member. “And we needed it.”

Consider it a mutual-admiration society. After watching Day’s clutch putt disappear at 18, DeLaet beamed, “I have a new favorite golfer.”

Match 2 was more of the same. Adam Scott and young sidekick Hideki Matsuyama were 2 down through 14 holes but managed a half. The Masters champion from Australia kept his team in it with six birdies and an eagle, then marveled as Matsuyama stiffed an approach for a birdie that won 18.

“I’m sure he has big dreams, and he has a lot of game to get to the top of the game,” Scott said of his partner.

In going from 2 down after seven holes to a 2-up victory over Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley in Match 3, South African major champions Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel combined for nine birdies. By contrast, Mickelson made but one birdie after No. 5.

“After the rain I ended up having a bad practice session before I went out,” Mickelson said. “I played terribly on the back nine and left Keegan alone on a lot of holes.”

Drama also gripped Match 4. Stricker and whiz kid Jordan Spieth led Ernie Els and Brendon de Jonge 2 up with two left. De Jonge carried his Hall of Fame partner with eight birdies, but then Els made his first birdie of the day at 17. The International duo looked as if they might square the match and even the overall score at 3-3, but Stricker halted the charge with the brilliant bunker blast.

But it didn’t dent the bright International mood.

“It’s nice to see the boys rolling,” Scott said, beaming.

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