MELBOURNE, Australia - After losing four of five foursome matches in the morning, International captain Greg Norman told his squad to go out and play loose. It appears his players took the advice to heart, staging a stirring comeback in the afternoon four ball competition at the Presidents Cup on Saturday, setting up a potentially dramatic singles finale on Sunday.
Webb Simpson and Bubba Watson, who had gone out and put up points for the Americans in each of the first three sessions, tasted defeat at the hands of South African pair Retief Goosen and Charl Schwartzel in the opening four ball match.
The match featured one of the strangest incidents witnessed in golf as Schwartzel’s tee shot at the 17th hole landed in the flatbed of a moving golf cart. He was able to drop back where the ball actually entered the cart and put his second shot on the green. Goosen’s long birdie putt then stopped on the edge, but the par was good enough for the victory.
The loss means Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker remain the only U.S. team to go undefeated in four matches at the Presidents Cup.
The Korean duo of Y.E. Yang and K.T. Kim - who both sat out the morning foursome matches - returned to hand Woods his third defeat in four matches, 1-up, to cut the International deficit to 11-8.
Yang and Kim never trailed in the match although the deficit for the Americans was never greater than one hole. Woods had birdies on Nos. 10 and 12 to square the match but his 18-footer on No. 17 refused to fall and he missed a 16-footer on the final hole which would have halved the match while Kim sank a 6-footer to clinch the victory.
K.J. Choi and Geoff Ogilvy picked up the third point for the Internationals with a 1-up win over Steve Stricker and Matt Kuchar, bringing the deficit down to 11-9. After Kuchar's tee shot on 18 found the right rough, it was essentially up to Stricker to keep the Americans in the match. Stricker found the right greenside bunker with his second shot while both Choi and Ogilvy were on the green in two. While Stricker managed to blast out of the bunker to within four feet, Choi two-putted for par to win the match.
The American duo of Hunter Mahan and Bill Haas stemmed the International momentum by winning their match against the Australian pair of Jason Day and Aaron Baddeley, 2 and 1. Day thrilled the partisan crowd at Royal Melbourne by sinking a 30-foot putt on No. 17 to try and extend the match to a final hole. But Mahan stepped up and, with the crowd still buzzing, sank a 23-footer to clinch the victory.
In the final match of the day, Jim Furyk and Nick Watney hung on for a 1-up victory over Adam Scott and Ernie Els. The win was the fourth for Furyk this week - the other three coming with Phil Mickelson, who sat out the afternoon matches on Saturday.
Scott missed a nine-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole which would have squared the match. But he had a chance to pick up a half point on the final hole after Els found the rough with his tee shot on 18 to take himself out of mix. The Aussie missed a 26-footer to give the United States a 13-9 edge heading into Sunday's final matches.
The first team to 17 1/2 points on Sunday will win the Cup and you have to think the Americans are feeling comfortable with their four point advantage. No team trailing going into the final day's 12 singles matches has ever come back to win the Presidents Cup.
As well, the U.S. has lost just one singles session in the last eigth Cup competitions, that coming at Royal Montreal in 2007.
The United States struck a decisive blow in their Presidents Cup defence early on Saturday, making light of wet conditions at Royal Melbourne Golf Club to win four of the final five foursomes matches against the Internationals.
Leading 7-5 overnight, the U.S. charged to 11-6 in persistent rain to take a stranglehold of the biennial trophy with the final four-ball matches still to be played on Saturday.
Tiger Woods won his first point while Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson continued their perfect play.
Playing again with Dustin Johnson in the morning foursomes match, Woods finished off their 3-and-2 win with a 20-foot birdie putt on the 16th hole to beat Adam Scott and K.J. Choi. It was small payback from losing to that International team - along with ex-caddie Steve Williams, now working for Scott - in the Thursday match.
Once again, the rookie duo of Watson and Simpson got things going for the Americans, leading off the foursome matches and securing the first points for the third straight day. They had their toughest match yet in disposing Melbourne natives Geoff Ogilvy and Robert Allenby on the 16th hole, 3 and 2. They have a chance to match Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker's record 4-0 partnership from the 2009 Cup in San Francisco.
Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk joined Watson and Simpson as the only other undefeated team, overcoming some early putting woes to erase a two-hole deficit and win four of the next five on their way to a 2 and 1 win over Jason Day and Aaron Baddeley. Mickelson clinching the match on the 17th hole with a 50-foot birdie putt after Baddeley sank a 40-footer of his own to try and extend the match.
Hunter Mahan and David Toms fought back from an early deficit to win six of the next 10 holes for a 5 and 4 win over the South African duo of Retief Goosen and Charl Schwartzel.
Ryo Ishikawa provided a rare bright patch on a gloomy morning for the Internationals with some brilliant clutch putting late in his match with Ernie Els to salvage a point against Bill Haas and Matt Kuchar. The 20-year-old Japanese calmly rolled in a four-foot par putt on the 16th to put he and Els one-up, then sparked raucous cheers from spectators as he drained a 14-footer to protect the lead on the 17th. He finished off nervelessly sinking a five-footer to seal the win and give he and Els' a breakthrough victory after two straight losses to Watson and Simpson in their opening matches.
Despite finding some form, Ishikawa's reward will be to sit out the final four-ball matches after the pairings were decided by captain Greg Norman and his assistants before his hot putting streak. Robert Allenby, who has also struggled through the first three matches also sat for the Internationals while Mickelson and Toms sat out for the Americans.
Files from Reuters and the Associated Press were used in this report