Americans seize control in Presidents Cup
The Americans are assured of being in the lead going into the final round of the rain-plagued Presidents Cup.
Zach Johnson holed out from the 15th fairway for eagle to complete a swift turnaround in foursomes and give the Americans yet another point toward winning the Presidents Cup for the fifth straight time.
Johnson and Jason Dufner won six of eight holes to go from 2 down to a 4-and-3 win over Richard Sterne and Marc Leishman. That was the only foursomes match that finished before it became too dark to play Saturday at Muirfield Village.
But this much was clear — the Americans are in control and have been the whole way.
Another rain delay kept the matches from finishing for the second straight day, this time because of the work needed to drain the saturated golf course. The four matches were to resume Sunday morning, followed by an early start to the 12 singles matches because of more rain in the forecast.
The win by Johnson and Dufner gave the Americans an 11½-6½ lead, meaning they were assured at least a one-point lead going into singles. Since the Presidents Cup began in 1994, no team has ever trailed going into singles and won outright. The Americans were three points behind in 2003 and rallied for that infamous tie in South Africa.
"The U.S. has really been unrelenting," International captain Nick Price said. "They have just played superbly the last three days. Any slip from us and we find ourselves one or two down very quickly."
The final hour was another example of that.
Early in the foursomes session, the board was filled with blue International scores on the front nine. Steve Stricker and Bill Haas warmed up their putters and went from 1 down to a 2-up lead through 10 holes. Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley, who rallied earlier in a fourballs match to win, were 3 down through seven holes when Mickelson made two big putts that led to them squaring the match through 14 holes.
Tiger Woods and Matt Kuchar, undefeated in all three matches they have played this week, were 2 down against Ernie Els and Brendon de Jonge through nine holes. Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel were 3 up over Webb Simpson and Brandt Snedeker through 12 holes.
"We're still in pretty good shape," Price said. "If we can turn one of these games around tomorrow, it would make our life a lot easier going into singles."
But not that easy. The Americans have a 5-1-3 advantage in the singles session at the Presidents Cup, the only loss coming in 2007 at Royal Montreal when they started the final round with a seven-point lead.
The International team was doing well to stay in range until one session put it in a big hole.
Woods hit an approach into 5 feet for birdie on the 13th, Kuchar finally made a putt with a 7-foot birdie on the 14th and Woods drilled a fairway metal that landed with a splat on the 15th green just 4 feet below the cup. He crouched and extended his arms as he marched along, another signature shot for him at this event. The conceded eagle completed a stretch that took them from 1 down to 2 up with three holes to play. They closed out Adam Scott and Hideki Matsuyama with Kuchar's birdie on the 18th.
Snedeker and Hunter Mahan held on in a tough match against Oosthuizen and Schwartzel, winning 2 up.
"In the morning, we played exceedingly well," U.S. captain Fred Couples said.
The Americans wound up going 4-1 in the fourballs scheduled for Saturday morning. It was the most lopsided session this week, but it was enough to make the International team face another tough climb if it wants to take home the gold cup it has won only one time — 15 years ago.
"We had close games that went the U.S. way," Price said. "We've still got another 17 points left. That's what I keep telling the guys. They're a little down after what happened this morning."
The lone International win in fourballs came from Day and DeLaet, who gave Stricker and 20-year-old Jordan Spieth their first loss. The American tandem of young and old — Stricker at 46 is the oldest player on either team — fell behind for the first time all week. Stricker's birdie on the 15th tied the match, only for DeLaet to stuff his tee shot into 6 feet for birdie on the 16th for a lead they held.
The rain could cause problems with pairings for both captains. Earlier Saturday as they were making the lineup for Saturday afternoon fourballs, both captains were watching video of matches still being completed. Price might need to load the front of his lineup with some of his strongest players, but some of them have the most holes to complete Sunday morning.