The announcement of the Sunday singles match-ups was a typically tense affair at Royal Melbourne.
Ernie Els and Tiger Woods both discussed crowd behaviour after emotions ran high on Saturday during the morning four-balls and afternoon foursomes matches.
Woods implored the fans to be respectful of all the players taking part in the event on the final day, having personally experienced what he considered less than ideal behaviour during the first three days of the Presidents Cup.
“Have people said things that have been over the top? Yes. I've heard it,” Woods said.
“I've been in the groups playing when it has happened, and I've been inside the ropes as a captain today witnessing it.
“As I said, all I ask for all the galleries is be excited but be respectful of the players, all 24 of us.”
Els, unprompted by a question, responded later during the press conference.
The South African referenced the behaviour of American fans towards his players at Liberty National in New York in 2017 … Behaviour that inspired Audrey Leishman – wife of Marc – to pen a blog discussing how the International players and families were treated.
“I've played in many Presidents Cups. I've played in the US many times. If you look back at New York and how these players were treated in New York, this crowd is pretty quiet,” Els interjected.
“I mean, we just get treated the same wherever you go as an away game, there's some heckling going on and we all know that, and you prepare for that, and that's just the way it goes.
“We shut up and we get on with things. That's what we did in New York. So it's part of the game. And I'm with Tiger; I absolutely, I'm against heckling. I'm against crowds being disrespectful to the players, but it happens. We as professionals, we move on.”
Set to surely maintain the same intense atmosphere that has descended on the previously one-sided competition this week, Sunday’s singles matches will get under way at Royal Melbourne from 10:02am local time.
Mexico’s Abraham Ancer will lead off the Internationals.
Ancer, who with three and a half points from four matches has been one of Els’ best, will face off with playing Captain Woods.
RIGHT: Playing captain Tiger Woods will take on the undefeated Abraham Ancer in the first singles match tomorrow morning. PHOTO: William West/AFP/Getty Images.
The 15-time major winner surprised no one by sending himself out early with the dual purpose of availing himself for captaincy duties and attempting to put an early point on the board to lessen the 10-8 deficit.
Woods and Ancer have played together already this year, the pair part of the same group for the opening rounds of the WGC-Mexico Championship. However, Ancer will go head-to-head with Tiger for the first time in match play on Sunday. Which is a prospect Els believes he is ready for.
“We figured it would be either Tiger or JT,” Els said of who he thought the American team would send out first on Sunday.
“They have been going with that almost all week – and obviously Tiger we thought was going to play early.
“Abraham has been really playing well. He knows the course well. He likes the conditions.”
Following out the lead match will be Presidents Cup debutant Tony Finau, who has accrued just two half-points so far this week.
Finau offered very little on his own performance, but towed the company line on the team more generally.
“Spirits are definitely high in our team room,” Finau said.
The one-time PGA Tour winner will go up against Japanese superstar Hideki Matsuyama, who has delivered two points from a possible three for Els and the Internationals.
The highly controversial Patrick Reed will go out third for the Americans, the wished-for match with Queenslander Cameron Smith failing to eventuate after Woods chose Reed to play Taiwan’s CT Pan.
Reed will be forced to find a temporary caddie for Sunday’s session after his brother in-law, Kessler Karain, was announced as “not returning to caddie” by the PGA Tour following his incident with a vocal fan after his boss’ four-ball loss on Saturday morning.
RIGHT: Patrick Reed will be without his caddie, Kessler Karain, after an incident with a fan after the Saturday fourballs attracted a PGA Tour suspension. PHOTO: Getty Images.
Although it is hard to imagine it not being an unnecessary distraction, the constant attention surrounding Reed is not an issue according to Woods.
“We came here as a team. We rallied around our teammate and we're excited about tomorrow,” Woods said.
Following what is sure to be one of the most followed groups, will be China’s Haotong Li and Dustin Johnson.
Li finally got a taste of the playing action on Saturday morning when combining with Marc Leishman for a loss, while his opponent managed his first point from three starts on Saturday afternoon when he and Gary Woodland bested Adam Scott and Louis Oosthuizen.
Having both sat out for the action on Saturday, Bryson DeChambeau and Adam Hadwin will be the fourth match on course at 10:46am.
The Canadian suffered from food poisoning on Saturday, however was well enough to spend time at Royal Melbourne supporting his teammates.
DeChambeau, meanwhile, spent time amongst the American fans during the long third session after being benched for the third straight time, having underperformed and lost his Thursday four-ball match alongside Finau.
The all-important middle matches get under way with breakout International star Sungjae Im of Korea and US Open Champion Gary Woodland facing off.
Im has accumulated two and a half points in his Presidents Cup debut, playing all four matches so far. His tied match came against Woodland on Friday, when the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year and Smith shared the honours with Woodland and Rickie Fowler in foursomes.
Woodland has shown an increasing level of comfort when faced with the unique tests of Royal Melbourne – and he has received a boost in confidence this week after being trusted by Woods in key positions in the line-up.
“It gave me a lot of confidence that he put me again there (the final match) with Rickie yesterday, and then today, you know, sitting this morning, he came to DJ and I early in the day and told us we were going to be first out. So he instilled the confidence,” Woodland said.
Presidents Cup rookies Joaquin Niemann and Patrick Cantlay will go toe-to-toe in the seventh match of singles tomorrow morning.
Chilean Niemann recorded his first half-point of the tournament this afternoon after helping to rescue the final match of foursomes against Finau and Kuchar. The 21-year-old sank an important putt at the 16th hole, before playing an exceptional approach shot from the trees at the final hole to avoid defeat.
“I think there is nothing like this. It was unbelievable. It was a grind out there. We fight until the last hole and we got the half-point. That's big,” Niemann said.
Cantlay, meanwhile, has earnt two points from his four matches so far. The World No.7 was inseparable from Xander Schauffele across the first three days and defeated Niemann and Hadwin on the 18th hole on Friday evening.
Debutant Schauffele, who will play all five sessions this week, has been assigned the difficult task of Adam Scott tomorrow.
The Californian has earnt two points in his maiden Presidents Cup campaign.
“I'm going to miss my boy over here,” Schauffele said of Cantlay.
“Solo golf is what we're used to doing and we're looking forward to it.”
Presidents Cup veteran Scott hasn’t lost a Sunday singles match since 2009, when Stewart Cink got the better of him.
The former World No.1 played 35 holes today – earning half a point – but insists he will come out firing tomorrow.
“I'll be rested. I've played a lot of golf. I've played a lot of these five-match things, and you know, I can come out and leave everything I've got out here tomorrow for 18 holes,” Scott said.
Presidents Cup first-timer Byeong Hun An had the final putt of the day today, missing the chance to defeat Finau and Kuchar alongside Niemann. Nevertheless, the late replacement for the injured Jason Day has been impressive so far, playing four matches and earning two points for the Internationals.
The South Korean will take on former US Open champion Webb Simpson tomorrow at 11:30am.
Simpson, who partnered Reed for the opening three sessions before being benched for the second round of foursomes, is one of three American players yet to record a point this week.
Conversely, Thomas is yet to be defeated so far this week, bagging 3.5 points from his four matches.
He has been paired against Presidents Cup rookie Smith in the 10th singles match tomorrow.
Internationals Captain Els has chosen his compatriot Oosthuizen to play the penultimate match tomorrow.
Oosthuizen, playing his fourth Presidents Cup, has never been defeated in singles matches and will face American veteran Matt Kuchar at 11:52am.
“It will be all on the singles tomorrow,” Oosthuizen said after he and Scott lost 2 & 1 to Woodland and Johnson in the foursomes this afternoon.
The final match of the 13th instalment of the Presidents Cup will be between local favourite Leishman and World No.22 Fowler.
Leishman was instrumental in the comeback against Fowler and Thomas this afternoon – and he is undefeated from his three previous singles matches.
Fowler, on the other hand, was defeated 6 & 4 in his last Sunday match against Argentine Emiliano Grillo in 2017. The replacement for the injured World No.1 Brooks Koepka has earnt the Americans two points from his three matches so far.
“It's something that we can take care of,” Fowler said of the two-point deficit the United States faces tomorrow.