The United States has held on to win the Presidents Cup for a record ninth time, beating the Internationals by one point after a dramatic final day.
BY BRENDAN JAMES
Less than two months ago, International Presidents Cup Captain Nick Price met with PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem in last ditch attempt to change the format of event to ensure his team had a fighting chance and the matches would be exciting.
Change was needed to ensure the future of the Presidents Cup, Price said, because his men were sick of being beaten year-in, year-out by a format that favoured the Americans. No one wants to see the American team win easily all the time, Price told Finchem. “They want to see the Cup hinge on the last few matches on Sunday, not the first few,” Price said later.
They were prophetic words from the Zimbabwean, given the 15½ to 14½ result in favour of the Americans at the Jack Nicklaus Golf Club Korea. While the US keeps the Cup, the Internationals have taken a big stride toward breaking their domination, which now extends to nine wins, one loss and one tie.
Bill Haas, the first captain’s pick and son of US Captain Jay Haas, grabbed the final point the Americans required to win the Presidents Cup for the sixth consecutive time. Playing in the 12th and last singles match, Haas was conceded his birdie putt on the 18th green by South Korea’s Sang-moon Bae, who had chunked his chip shot moments earlier. The concession gave Haas a 2-up win and the last remaining point for the US in the closest Presidents Cup matches since the 17-all tie in South Africa in 2003.
It brought to a close an intriguing final afternoon, where the momentum ebbed and flowed between the two teams several times. At one stage it appeared likely that this day would become known as Bloody Sunday as a sea of red US markers on the scoreboard threatened to derail Price’s prediction of a close finish. Not long after the 10th singles match between Jason Day and Zach Johnson teed off, the Americans led in seven matches, the Internationals in one and three were all-square. It would have been a brave man at that stage to back the Internationals getting within a point of the US. But Price’s largely inexperienced team fought hard and pushed the Americans all the way … in most cases all the way to the 18th hole.
The par-5 18th hole of the Jack Nicklaus-designed course proved to be the perfect stage for risk-and-reward golf and the huge gallery was treated to some heroics and heartbreak moments to close out the 2015 matches.
The Haas and Bae match was the seventh to reach the final hole, which was easily reachable in two shots but was proving to be the perfect foil in separating the nervous from the nerveless … as Bae will testify at some stage after he finishes his mandatory two-year military service starting next week.
Bae needed to win the final hole to halve the match and tie the Americans. But his ‘fat’ third shot finished short of the green and rolled back down the slope. From there, he pitched way past the hole and to his credit, conceded Haas his birdie putt.
Earlier, the 18th offered up a rare eagle, when the Internationals’ Louis Oosthuizen chased down Patrick Reed and snatched the point from under his nose. Likewise, Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama made birdie on the hole to grab a point against J.B. Holmes.
Then, with the Internationals closing in and matches getting closer, Bubba Watson missed a 4-foot par saver to lose the 18th hole and turn a full point into a half with Thongchai Jaidee.
That’s not crazy… this is crazy.
India’s Anirban Lahiri and Chris Kirk were all-square playing the 18th and it seemed like Lahiri would steal the point after third shot finished just three feet from the cup, while Kirk’s ball lay nearly 16 feet away leaving a tricky downhill putt. When Kirk made his putt and Lahiri missed his, giving away a full point, you could have heard a pin drop beside the 18th green.
One player who didn’t make it all the way to the 18th was Branden Grace, who became the fifth player in the history of the Presidents Cup to make a 5-0 clean sweep, thanks to a one-way steet victory 2 & 1 over Matt Kuchar.
Marc Leishman and Steve Bowditch grabbed their first points of this Presidents Cup with wins, with Leishman’s upset victory over World No.1 Jordan Spieth coming at a crucial time late in the afternoon. Adam Scott was the best of the Aussie contingent, winning two points in Seoul, with his 6 & 5 demolition of Rickie Fowler a definite highlight.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment for the Internationals was the performance of Day, who failed to win a point over the four days of competition. At times during his match with Johnson, he looked flat, tired and disinterested.
For the Americans, Phil Mickelson was outstanding … again.
The 45-year-old has played every Presidents Cup since 1994 is likely to have played his last and, if that is the case, he’s going out a winner. He was brilliant with the wedge in hand over the past four days, chipping-in three times and holing out from a fairway bunker. There was never in doubt in his 5 & 4 win against Charl Schwartzel, which rounded out his record in Seoul to three wins and one half.
Mickelson, one of the favourites for the Captain’s job at the next Presidents Cup in New York in 2017, will be missed by the American team as a player because of his experience and leadership qualities.
“It was an emotional week for me, because I haven't played my best the past couple years. The last few months, I could feel it starting to turn, and the fact that the guys on the team went to Jay and wanted me on the team was an emotional thing,” Mickelson said.
“Jay kind of gave me the freedom to just be me and sometimes I say and do some dumb stuff, and sometimes I can help some guys lighten the tension because we all feel pressure.
“Even though we have done very well in this event for a number of years, we still feel pressure. We're representing our country and we're representing our teammates and we feel responsible when we don't play our best, we feel accountable to others, not just ourselves.”
Price, although disappointed at having come so close, said his team had made great inroads over the four days in Korea and would be even better prepared in New York in two years’ time.
“You can’t get much more exciting than that,” Price said. “Save for a couple of shots and may be a little bit of inexperience on our side it could have been different.
“As a Captain, you question where you placed your guys but I think we did a pretty good job of doing our line-up today. I had a feeling it was going to come down to one of the last two games … I’m just so proud of that team.
“I can’t tell you what it’s like to bring eight countries together, individuals that speak six different languages and different cultures … they bonded and I’m so proud of what they have achieved, irrelevant of the outcome. Obviously, we would have loved to have won but we put on a show of golf this week that … golf is the victor this week.”
Price added that the success of the Presidents Cup had been furthered this week because the International team now believe they can be competitive with the Americans, thanks to the format changes implemented for these matches.
“It’s about the players. It’s not about me, it’s not about the Cup it about the guys that play, it’s those guys that make this … you take the players out and there’s nothing left,” he said.
“These guys have now got an impetuous to go on from here. They’ve got some fire to go on because it got so close. I know when Seve (Ballesteros) lost the Ryder Cup be went back in the locker room, might have been ’81 or ’83, and all the guys were down and he said ‘No, this is only one point we lost by, this, we should be excited about’, and I think that’s where we, the Internationals, and the Presidents Cup is right now.”