There are two days left in the Presidents Cup, but the U.S. is already so far in front.
The Americans followed a strong first day in foursomes with an even better one in four-ball, taking 4.5 of 5 points in Friday’s session to open up an 8-2 cushion at Liberty National Golf Club.
Yes, the home squad is already six points ahead in Jersey City, N.J., and the Internationals will have to dig especially deep if they want to pull off a stunning comeback and take back this Cup for the first time since 1998.
The action in Friday four-ball was pretty mellow for most of the day, but it did ramp up late.
Charley Hoffman and Kevin Chappell, a pair of rookies in their first Presidents Cup match, sealed the penultimate match first with a birdie at 13 for a 6-and-5 win.
The pair won the first two holes, capturing the second with a conceded eagle after Hoffman stuffed his second shot to 3 feet, and went off from there. Charl Schwartzel and Anirban Lahiri were actually lucky to halve the third after Lahiri was disqualified from playing the hole after breaching Rule 7-2 by practicing a bunker shot following the conclusion of the second hole. Schwartzel parred to halve the hole.
But Chappell birdied the fourth to move the team 3 up, and birdies from him on Nos. 8 and 9 moved the team 5 up.
Lahiri and Schwartzel both made birdie at 10 to move 4 down, but it was their sole bright moment. The U.S. pair won the 12th and then the 13th to seal it when Hoffman made his 4-footer.
In the opening match, Justin Thomas nearly went hole-out bunker birdie, birdie, hole-out bunker birdie to close out this one.
Regardless, the Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace monster (5-0 as a team in the Presidents Cup entering this match) was slain as they fell, 3 and 2, to Thomas and Rickie Fowler.
The American pair never trailed in this match. They won the third with a Fowler birdie from 16 feet to move 1 up. The pair won the fifth to move 2 up, lost the sixth and then won the eighth.
The pair was still 2 up on the 12th, and that’s when Thomas took over. The PGA champion made an incredible up-and-down, burying a 14-footer for birdie for a crucial halve. Two holes later, he holed a greenside bunker shot for birdie to eventually halve that hole, too, and stay 2 up.
His birdie at 15, after rolling in a 7-footer, put the team dormie when Oosthuzen missed his own 7-footer for birdie. Then it all ended at 16.
Thomas nearly jarred his greenside bunker shot for birdie as the ball hit the flag square but didn’t drop. It was a par, though, and when Oosthuizen missed another good birdie look, the hole was halved, the match was over and the U.S. was now 2-0 in the session and up 5.5-1.5 overall.
Thomas and Fowler are now 2-0 this week with 6-and-4 and 3-and-2 wins. They are a long way from matching the Jordan Spieth/Patrick Reed golden duo, but they are well on their way.
Speaking of Spieth and Reed, what a show they put on in Friday’s first match off.
Reed made a 23-footer for eagle at the second to quickly put he and Spieth 1 up, but Hadwin and Matsuyama won the fourth and then the sixth and eighth with birdies (the latter a 25-footer from Matsuyama) to move 2 up.
The star American duo tried to fight but were still 2 down through 14 … and that’s when they put on the afterburners.
Reed buried a 16-footer for birdie to win the 15th and halve the deficit. Spieth followed by stuffing his tee shot at 16 and draining a 7-footer for birdie to win the hole and square the match.
Spieth actually had an 8-footer to win the 17th and move the team 1 up but surprisingly couldn’t get it to drop. It all came down to the closing par 3, where Spieth had his 19-foot birdie look for a 1-up victory right on line before the ball viciously caught the left lip and spun out.
Still, a big halve (the only points of the day for the Internationals) that moved the young pair to 6-1-3 as a team in Ryder and Presidents cups and gave the U.S. a 6-2 cushion.
Next up was the all-power pairing of Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson.
Jhonattan Vegas made an 18-footer for birdie at No. 1 to have him and Adam Scott quickly go 1 up in this final match to go off, but little went right from there.
The Americans won No. 2 and fell back to 1 down after losing the fifth. But they never trailed again after squaring the match at the seventh.
A win at the 10th moved them in front and they were 2 up after a birdie at 12. Vegas made a 34-footer for birdie from off the green at 13 to cut the deficit to 1 down, but Johnson’s 20-footer for birdie to win the 15th essentially sealed the match.
Now 2 up, Johnson and Koepka peppered the flagstick at No. 16 and Johnson closed things out by rolling in his 5-footer for birdie to win the hole and match.
Koepka redeems himself after he was part of a 3-and-1 loss on Thursday with this triumph in Friday’s final match.
It was already going so well for the U.S., now up 7-2, but it wasn’t over.
The third match, Phil Mickelson and Kevin Kisner vs. Jason Day and Marc Leishman, produced even more drama and an epic Friday conclusion for the U.S.
Day and Leishman took an early 2-up lead after birdies won them the first and third holes against Mickelson and Kisner. They were still 2 up until Kisner won the 11th with a birdie.
Now 1 down, Kisner nearly jarred a 67-foot putt from off the green at No. 14, but the ball hit the flagstick and scurried inches away. He simply came back the next hole and birdied to square the match.
It was still All Square on 18 when Mickelson buried a clutch 12-footer for birdie. Leishman had an 11-footer to halve the match, but it missed low and to the right.
With that, the final match saw Mickelson and Kisner sneak out a 1-up win and move the U.S. to an 8-2 lead.
With the U.S, needing 15.5 points for victory and eight points up for grabs Saturday, it’s possible the home team could clinch a day early – but that would mean winning seven matches and halving the other.
Still, it’s possible!
Even for this competition, this is an onslaught early. The U.S. is 9-1-1 in the Presidents Cup series and if you thought the Internationals might break a 19-year win drought in this event … well they’ll have to pull off something incredible this weekend.