MELBOURNE, Australia – So much about this Presidents Cup resembles the last time it was played at Royal Melbourne 13 years ago, from the sudden drop in temperatures to Tiger Woods winning only one point to a final day that holds so little drama.
The difference is the team on the verge of hoisting the gold trophy.
The Americans built a big lead Saturday morning in the foursomes matches, with Woods finally rewarded with a point, then turned back a rally from the International team in the worst of the weather in the afternoon by capturing the final two matches.
“We needed those two points really bad,” U.S. captain Fred Couples said. “And they got them for us.”
Hunter Mahan delivered the most emotional moment of the week, holing a 20-foot birdie putt on the 17th right after Jason Day charged up the Australian crowd with an even longer birdie putt which he celebrated as if the match would be extended. Instead, Mahan and Bill Haas had a 2-and-1 win.
Moments later, Jim Furyk finished off the wild day with a clutch bunker shot on the 16th hole, and Nick Watney secured a par on the final hole for a 1-up decision over Adam Scott and Ernie Els that changed everything.
Those last two wins gave the Americans a 13-9 lead going into the 12 singles matches Sunday, a deficit from which no team has recovered in the 17-year history of this tournament.
The largest rally in any team event was when the Americans came from four points down to win the 1999 Ryder Cup. International captain Greg Norman didn’t wag his finger and say he had a good feeling about this, as Ben Crenshaw did at Brookline.
He wasn’t giving up, either, nor was his team.
“It’s going to have to be a remarkable day tomorrow,” Scott said. “But we have a shot. That’s all we can ask for. It’s not over.”
The only time the International side has won this event was at Royal Melbourne in 1998, when it had a nine-point lead going into the Sunday singles and the Cup was won as breakfast was still being served.
Woods was 1-3 that year going into the final day, only he wasn’t alone. None of the Americans played well, leading to their worst loss ever in any team competition.
Woods finally put up a point Saturday morning in foursomes with Dustin Johnson. It wasn’t pretty, but they forged ahead with a few pars and Woods ended the match by rolling in a 25-foot birdie putt. In the afternoon, Woods couldn’t buy a putt. Despite putting for birdie on every hole – only one of those from off the green – he missed nine putts from about 15 feet and closer.
That included the 18th hole, when he missed a putt for a halve, and K.T. Kim knocked in a 6-foot par to give him and Y.E. Yang their first win of the week.
“It’s all about making putts in match play, and we didn’t do that,” Woods said. “It just one of those things where that’s how it all turns out. But hey, right now we’ve got a nice lead. And hopefully, tomorrow we can get the four-and-a-half points we need.”
The International team, which has won the Presidents Cup only once since it began in 1994, was hopeful that being in Australia would lead to another win, just like in 1998. Back then, it got plenty of help from its local players. With five Australians on this year’s team, it hasn’t worked out that way.
Robert Allenby, a captain’s pick, is the only player on either side to not win a point. Scott is 1-3, while Baddeley and Day have faltered on the back nine throughout the week. Geoff Ogilvy is the only Australian with a winning record, as he and K.J. Choi won a tight match Saturday afternoon against Matt Kuchar and Steve Stricker.
The Americans continue to dominate the foursomes matches, as they have the last three years with a combined 25 ½ - 7 ½ margin. Most peculiar about this day, however, was the weather.
It started with a warm breeze and occasional rain. It ended in a steady rain, temperatures that plunged and a wind out of the opposite direction from when the day started.
“I’ve been coming to Melbourne for quite a few years,” said Els, who teamed with Ryo Ishikawa for the International’s only point in the morning foursomes. “I’ve played the north breeze and the southwesterly. But today was quite amazing. It blew from the north, and then it turned around and came from the south. We’ve had it all this week.
“Yesterday it was rock hard … and today it was almost blowing like in Scotland.”
The stars of the American team have been Furyk and Phil Mickelson, who have yet to lose a match. They were 3-0 as a team until Couples sat Mickelson out Saturday afternoon, ending his streak of 32 consecutive matches played in this event, dating to the first session in 1998.
Furyk teamed with Watney and watched the Presidents Cup rookie hole one big putt after another.
“I felt like we went through about three different seasons today,” Furyk said. “It was a tough day and a long day for those who played 36, and this morning was big for us to go 4-1 in five matches. And we hung on this afternoon, getting a point in those last two matches. We put ourselves in good position and have to come out firing tomorrow.”
Retief Goosen and Charl Schwartzel handed Simpson and Bubba Watson their first loss of the week in the opening foursomes match in the afternoon. Even though the Americans rallied, it was the first time they had lost a session since singles in 2007 at Royal Montreal.
It still wasn’t enough for them to lose control. In wild weather, the Americans kept their big lead.
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)