It was imperative for captain Nick Price’s International team to get off to a good start in today’s four-ball matches at the Presidents Cup, and they did just that. Early on, they led in three matches, and it looked as though they may flip the momentum in their favour. Things changed very quickly, and had it not been for a lipped out birdie putt on the 18th from Jordan Spieth, it would have been a clean sweep for Steve Stricker’s American team, who take a commanding 8-2 lead into the weekend at Liberty National.
After a shaky start for Hideki Matsuyama and Adam Hadwin, they righted the ship thanks to a strong showing from the No.3 golfer in the world. Matsuyama made birdies at the sixth and eighth holes to give he and Hadwin a 2-up lead, which they regained at the 14th hole after Spieth and Reed had just cut the deficit to 1 down. The Americans won the next two holes, and nearly won the last, stealing a half a point.
Before that happened, Presidents Cup rookies Charley Hoffman and Kevin Chappell had already disposed of Anirban Lahiri and Charl Schwartzel on the 13th hole, winning the match, 6&5. It was a dominating performance, one that saw the Internationals win just one hole the entire match. South Africa’s Schwartzel is now 0-2 this week and has yet to reach the 15th hole.
Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler had arguably the toughest opponents of the day, the undefeated Presidents Cup pair of Branden Grace and Louis Oosthuizen. While the South African super team played well, Fowler and Thomas proved to be too much, never trailing in the match and closing it out on the 16th hole to win 3&2. Thomas, like he did all season, put on a show, holing a bunker shot for birdie at the 14th, draining a seven-footer for another birdie at the 15th, and nearly holing out another bunker shot at the par-3 16th. Fowler and Thomas, who are now 2-0 as a team, gave the US a 6-2 lead with two matches remaining.
As Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka began seeing the red flags cover the scoreboard, they took over their match on the back nine against Jhonattan Vegas and Adam Scott. Birdies at 15 and 16 from Johnson closed out the match 3&2, making Jason Day and Marc Leishman’s match against Phil Mickelson and Kevin Kisner a must-win.
Unfortunately for the Aussies, Mickelson and Kisner fed off the energy, coming back from a 2-down deficit after 10 holes to square the match at the par-4 15th. All square on the 18th green, Leishman and Mickelson each faced birdie putts to win the match, and Mickelson’s found the cup first. Leishman’s slid by, giving the US the full point and a six-point lead heading into the weekend. It’s the largest lead the US has had after two sessions in Presidents Cup history.
The question facing the two Presidents Cup captains as they made their selections for Saturday morning’s foursomes pairings were uniquely opposite. For Steve Stricker, he had to shake his head, think hard and wonder who do I sit out from the American lineup. For the Internationals’ Nick Price, he had to shake his head, think hard and wonder who do I actually play.
Not surprisingly then, the four matches will consist of some familiar duos on both sides. The US will lead with Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth, who’ll try to make up for grabbing only a half-point on Friday afternoon. And in the anchor match, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler will see if they can continue the Baker’s Bay bromance and run off another blowout win. Mix in flat-liners Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar and the Batman and Robin combo of Phil Mickelson and Kevin Kisner, and well, Stricker’s work couldn’t have been easier.
For Price, it’s come to this: Despite having the No.3-ranked player in the world, Hideki Matsuyama, the reigning Players Championship winner, Si Woo Kim, and a former Major champion, Charl Schwartzel, two days of play at Liberty National suggests he can’t trust any of them if he wants to somehow rally and make the overall match a competition rather than an exhibition come Sunday. His hands tied, Price thus logically brought back the Aussie duo of Jason Day and Marc Leishman (who salvaged a half point together in foursomes on day one) and Branden Grace and Louis Oosthuizen, who saw their five-match winning streak come to an end today, but remain the most reliable twosome Price has.
As for teaming Adam Scott and Adam Hadwin and rookies Jhonattan Vegas and Emiliano Grillo in the other two groups, should anyone question the decision, we’ve got to think Price would have just one response: got any better ideas?
9:02pm (AEST): Jordan Spieth/Patrick Reed vs Jason Day/Marc Leishman
9:13pm (AEST): Matt Kuchar/Dustin Johnson vs Adam Scott/Adam Hadwin
9:24pm (AEST): Kevin Kisner/Phil Mickelson vs Jhonattan Vegas/Emiliano Grillo
9:35pm (AEST): Rickie Fowler/Justin Thomas vs Branden Grace/Louis Oosthuizen