MELBOURNE, Australia – It’s not over; Ben Crenshaw and his “feeling” proved that truth a dozen years ago at Brookline. Not that Greg Norman was doing any finger wagging after a blustery day on Port Phillip Bay.
No team has ever rallied on Presidents Cup Sunday when trailing after four frames in the abbreviated history of this tilt, but then no one would have thought Phil Mickelson would have been benched Saturday afternoon after a 3-0 start, or that the American banner would have been carried this week by an eclectic mix of rookies, or that Tiger Woods would ever have to find another partner after he ran the tables two years ago at Harding Park.
Rarely, in fact, do these biennial grudge matches go to script.
So Norman’s crew will start Sunday’s shootout trailing the visiting team 13-9 and in need of a Brookline-like comeback. But as Jim Carrey’s character Lloyd in the cult classic “Dumb and Dumber” would say, “So, you’re saying there’s a chance.”
However slim, however unlikely, however unprecedented it might be, the International captain sounded like a man with a vision when asked his team’s chances to remain undefeated in the Southern Hemisphere.
“We have got our backs against the wall, no question about it, and you've got to believe that you can come back, win nine matches out of 12 to win this,” he said. “I believe the guys can.”
What else would Norman say? But this was more than just a brave face for crew and country.
The Internationals have won the Sunday singles just once in eight of the Presidents Cups (2007), and on that occasion the U.S. began the final turn seven points clear and cruising. They won’t have the touchdown head start on Sunday thanks to an International rally that defied a cold rain and a turning wind. Or maybe it was because of it.
For the third consecutive day Woods hit the ball like it was 2006 and putted like it was 2010. The captain’s pick missed a 6-footer for birdie at No. 11, three-putted from 66 feet at the par-5 15th hole and under-read a 16-footer at the last to drop his third match in as many days to assure his worst Presidents Cup showing since his rookie start in 1998 regardless of Sunday’s outcome.
For Woods this Presidents Cup is a microcosm of his current competitive plight – solid from tee to green but still a half step off his former self on the putting surfaces. Woods used to make every putt that mattered. Now it’s a matter of hitting and hoping.
Seemingly unable to adjust to Royal Melbourne’s slower putting surfaces, Woods and Dustin Johnson dropped a 1-up decision to Y.E. Yang and K.T. Kim. The South Koreans, who sat out the morning session after going 0-2 to start the week, never trailed and scored what turned out to be the game-winner when Kim walked in a 25-footer for birdie at the 15th hole.
It was on the diabolical and decisive par-4 11th hole, however, where Kim and Yang’s, along with the Internationals', fortunes turned.
In order. Retief Goosen and Charl Schwartzel made birdie to move 4 up on previously unbeaten rookies Webb Simpson and Bubba Watson, Kim and Yang birdied to go to 1 up on Woods and Johnson, Geoff Ogilvy and K.J. Choi followed in the next group to go 1 up on Steve Stricker and Matt Kuchar, and Jason Day’s birdie pushed him and Aaron Baddeley to even with Hunter Mahan and Bill Haas.
It added up to an International sweep of the afternoon’s first three games. Norman’s troop could have run the tables if not for Mahan’s 23-foot walk-off for birdie at the 17th and missed attempts by Scott at Nos. 17 and 18.
“I knew there would be a little bit of drama there and it turned out to be that way,” said Norman, in danger of dropping his Presidents Cup record to 0-for-2. “So, you know, at the stage, if you can get a little bit of momentum on the 11th hole, you can actually carry it through to the next couple of holes.”
But history strongly suggests the Internationals' 3-2 fourball session win simply delayed the inevitable. Crenshaw’s ’99 dream team was the last to pull off golf’s version of the Hail Mary and Norman may not have enough firepower to reach the 17 ½ points needed to win.
Even if Sunday’s pairings go to plan Norman will need help from the Americans, who sent out the week’s most consistent players in the middle of Sunday’s lineup, presumably, to short circuit any potential rally. Thanks to Saturday’s 4-1 advantage in the morning foursome frame, even halved matches will go in the Americans' favor in a format they have largely dominated in Presidents and Ryder Cup play.
Still, Norman felt the momentum had swung in the Internationals' favor and even normally soft-spoken Scott was doing his best Crenshaw impersonation as the rains finally began to abate late Saturday.
“We have got a shot,” Scott said. “It’s going to have to be a remarkable day tomorrow but we have a shot at it. That’s all we ask for. It’s not over.”
No, it’s not over. But it’s sneaking up on over.
Watch wall-to-wall coverage of the Presidents Cup live on Golf Channel. Tournament air times: Golf Channel Saturday 6:30PM-12:30AM. NBC coverage Saturday at 8AM and Sunday at noon. (Note: all times are ET)