American Captain Steve Stricker and his team have a successful defence of the Presidents Cup firmly in their sights after dominating the International line-up in the second day Fourball matches at Liberty National.
Phil Mickelson’s 12-foot birdie putt at the final hole, to complete a 1-up victory for he and Kevin Kisner over Marc Leishman and Jason Day, put the exclamation point on a 4 ½ to ½ romp that blew their overall lead out to a commanding 8 -2 at the halfway mark in the event.
“We had to fight hard. They birdied the first four holes on us.” an elated Mickelson said after the epic clash with Day and Leishman.
“We were fighting to stay in it all the way through. This guy (Kisner) made three birdies the first eight holes to keep us in it, and it feels incredible to finish this match like this.”
The US need just 7.5 points from the remaining Saturday Foursomes and Fourball matches and Sunday’s 12 singles matches to win the Cup for the seventh-consecutive time, and 10th victory overall.
Stricker front loaded his line up for Day 2 with the power pairings of Patrick Reed/Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler/Justin Thomas in a concerted bid to blow the opposition out of the water early.
However, the first point of the day for the Americans came courtesy of Cup rookies Charley Hoffman and Kevin Chappell, who responded to Stricker’s call up by combining brilliantly to dispose of Anirban Lahiri and Charl Schwartzel 6&5.
“It was a lot of fun out there.” Hoffman said. “Our first time around, I mean, getting a good victory like that feels good.”
The shellacking compounded Schwartzel’s horror start to the 2017 campaign after he and Hideki Matsuyama were pummeled 6&4 by Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas on Day 1.
Schwartzel has yet to be part of a winning Foursomes combination in seven career matches, while Lahiri must wait at least another day for the chance to improve on his 0-0-4 career Presidents Cup record and justify a little of Nick Price’s faith in making him a captain’s pick.
Lahiri was at the centre of a bizarre rules infraction early in the match when he took a practice shot from a bunker on the 2nd hole, after his first attempt failed to reach the green.
This proved to be in violation of Rule 7-2, which states that in match-play situations, players can only practice between holes on the putting green of the previous hole.
Lahiri was only informed of the infraction after teeing off at the 4th and was not permitted to finish that hole. Playing his own ball against the two Americans, Schwartzel lost the hole with a bogey to Chappell’s par.
Fowler and Thomas were next on the board with a 3&2 victory over Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace, breaking Grace’s streak of six points in succession dating back to the 2015 matches in Korea.
After a squared front nine, World No.1 Dustin Johnson turned the screws on the pairing of Adam Scott and Jhonattan Vegas with unanswered birdies at the 12th, 15th and 16th to claim a 3&2 victory alongside US Open champion and great mate, Brooks Koepka.
“It was huge.” Johnson said of closing out the match with two birdies. “We had a tough match today, I thought it was playing difficult today. The wind picked up a little bit. Pins were tucked.”
“(But) we both played pretty well, especially on the back nine.”
The Internationals troubled the scoreboard when Matsuyama and Adam Hadwin secured a half point by squaring their match with the powerful Reed/Spieth combination, but that’s where it ended for the International side who will return to their Manhattan hotel in a state of shock, their tails wedged firmly between their legs and with the sound of overjoyed American crowds ringing in their ears.
Day tried his best to put a positive spin on the situation, not that anyone in the press area were buying too much into his optimism.
“We need to kind of regroup here because obviously, it's no good to be in this position. But I think if we get some good rest tomorrow, we'll be fine.”
“We've got to just keep our heads up and try to inch our way at points. That's all we can do. Hopefully we get ourselves into contention by Sunday and see what happens.”
Matsuyama echoed the sentiment: “The Captain, Nick, will say, you never know in golf; keep grinding.”
“That's kind of how I feel about it, too. You just have to keep trying your best and that tide will turn sometime.”
Sadly though, the ship might have already sailed on the tide as the equation for an International team victory is now an unlikely 13.5 points from a possible 20.
It’s sad to say that barring an utter miracle and a complete turnaround in form from some of his players, Nick Price’s men are staring down the barrel of another losing Presidents Cup campaign.