In the aftermath of a seemingly inevitable comeback from the United States on Friday afternoon, Tiger Woods, the best player on his team so far, surprisingly chose to sit out the Saturday morning four-ball matches.
The 15-time major winner also made another curious announcement, sending Patrick Reed, who baited the parochial Melbourne crowd on Friday, and Webb Simpson out together again despite two losses already this week.
Woods and his Internationals counterpart Ernie Els once again entered the press room flanked by their assistant captains to unveil their pairings for the four matches that will be followed by the same number of foursomes match-ups on Saturday afternoon.
Woods and Els have both utilsed two new pairings and two previous combinations from earlier in the week.
Having won their opening two matches, Woods’ partner on Thursday and Friday, Justin Thomas, will join up with close friend Rickie Fowler to lead off the Americans at 7:02am AEDT, the duo taking on local hero Marc Leishman and his third different partner of the week in the form of China’s Haotong Li.
Li has yet to get a taste of the on-course action at Royal Melbourne and will face a difficult task of earning his team and Captain a point alongside the Victorian, even with the break up, albeit likely to be temporary, of the Woods/Thomas pairing.
RIGHT: Aussie Adam Scott has won two points from two matches and will reunite with Byeong Hun An on Saturday morning. PHOTO: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images.
“That was kind of the game plan. It would be hard for me to go all the sessions,” Woods said of the decision to have a rest on Saturday morning.
“I've been fortunate enough to go out there with J.T. and we've gotten two points. J.T. played great and Rickie played awesome this afternoon. They have been looking forward to playing with one another. They have had success before, and send them back out.”
The second match tomorrow morning will be an all-rookie affair, as Abraham Ancer and Sungjae Im join forces against Americans Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele 14 minutes later.
Ancer – undefeated from his two matches this campaign – plays with grace and composure, which should combine well with the attacking nature of Im, who made the most eagles on the PGA Tour last season.
“I feel like I hit a lot of fairways and just play very simple golf,” said Ancer after he and Leishman defeated Patrick Reed and Webb Simpson 3 & 2 today.
“The putter has been working nicely, so that's been helping a lot and making some good putts that count a lot and keep the momentum going. That's been key this week.”
Cantlay and Schauffele, meanwhile, will keep their partnership rolling after defeating Joaquin Niemann and Adam Hadwin on the final hole today.
“I think it was nice to see my boy ‘P’ here with some emotion. I think it just shows how much it means to us,” Schauffele said of Cantlay.
“We understand each other's games, and I just fed off of him. At no point were we down on each other.”
The penultimate match will get under way at 7:30am – and will see C.T. Pan and Hideki Matsuyama take on the seemingly inseparable Simpson and Reed.
Playing captain Woods adamant the pairing will click sooner or later – and he believes they have stood up well to hostile Royal Melbourne crowds.
“They have paired up well and they have played well. Unfortunately they just haven't won points,” Woods said.
“They are excited about being with one another, and they have handled everything extremely well.”
The final match tomorrow morning will be between Byeong Hun An and Adam Scott – who remains undefeated so far this week – against Americans Tony Finau and Matt Kuchar.
That means Woods will be joined by Gary Woodland, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau on the bench, while Cameron Smith will sit out a second session having made his Cup debut on Friday. Queenslander Smith will be joined by Louis Oosthuizen, Adam Hadwin and Joaquin Niemann as Els' reserves for Saturday morninng.
Scott and An played together in the first round of four-ball and defeated Finau and DeChambeau 2 & 1.
An was the late replacement of the injured Jason Day – but the South Korean has been a solid performer for Captain Els so far.
The PGA Tour Rookie of the Year admirably went toe-to-toe with Woods and Thomas until the last hole on Friday, only to go down after Thomas managed to find the bottom of the cup with a long-range birdie putt.
“He helped me a lot … Calming me down so I don't get too hyped up,” An said of being paired with Scott yesterday.
“I was able to play my golf. I'm really glad that I was paired with him.”
Scott, the unquestioned on-course leader for Els’ team, paid tribute to his good friend and Captain for the new mantra of the Internationals after capturing his second point alongside another South African, Oosthuizen on Friday.
“Behind the scenes, Ernie, everyone, internal team staff, has worked incredibly hard to start growing a culture inside our team. We really lacked that. We always talked about how difficult it is, this and that, and we've had to shelve that and do something about it, and that's what I like about what's happened this last year or two since the new team has taken shape,” Scott said.
Playing his ninth Presidents Cup – and second in his homeland – Scott also acknowledged the already vocal crowd to continue in the same way over the weekend.
“They can get as loud as they would like as far as I'm concerned,” said Scott of the crowds, who added more atmosphere on the second day.
“I would like everyone to have a good time. You, of course, have to be respectful of everybody out here, but have the best time of their lives this week. That's what this thing is all about.”
If the Internationals continue to stand up to the more experienced and higher ranking Americans, it is fair to say Scott and co. might just have the time of their lives, too.