It is difficult to see an International team claiming the Presidents Cup again anytime soon after the 2019 squad squandered a golden opportunity to end its 21-year drought in the biennial teams competition.
Ahead since the beginning of the week and still two points in front of the American side with just the 12 singles matches remaining, the visitors re-wrote the script with an emphatic comeback performance today at Royal Melbourne Golf Club. With a final scoreline of 16-14, the Americans reclaimed the Presidents Cup for the eighth consecutive time by winning the singles matches for the first time in a decade.
Led by playing captain Tiger Woods, who defeated the Internationals’ hottest player Abraham Ancer in the first match out, the American surge could not be contained.
Behind 10-8 overnight, they erased the deficit quickly. Dustin Johnson comfortably took care of Haotong Li and Patrick Reed finally found his matchplay mojo, building a big lead early against CT Pan before winning 4&2, giving the US side the first three points of the day. It took until the fifth completed singles match before the home side registered a full point, that coming when Sungjae Im ousted US Open champion Gary Woodland.
Momentum ebbed and matches swung – usually in the wrong direction for the International side. Yet every time a key putt fell on Sunday, it was an American wielding the flatstick.
The Internationals had looked so unified for the better part of three days in the two pairs formats but collectively appeared listless when playing on their own on Sunday. To win, they required five-and-a-half of the 12 available points today and delivered four, with only Im and Cameron Smith winning full points. That the Internationals appeared on the verge of a 9-1 lead on Friday afternoon seems like an eternity ago.
And even the bright spots today turned dark. Hideki Matsuyama earned then spent a 4-up lead against Tony Finau, turning a likely victory into only half a point. Finau doesn’t win a lot on tour, but he demonstrated more closing acumen than his résumé shows.
Late in the proceedings, and with the US wave still rising, there appeared a faint hope of a 15-all tie, but Matt Kuchar winning the 17th hole to go ahead of Louis Oosthuizen for the first time all day secured the final half-point the Americans needed.
The International team today had a chance to complete the treble by which American golf would be simultaneously relieved of each of the Ryder, Solheim and Presidents Cups. Captain Ernie Els made inroads this week, giving the International side hope for the future, but it is near-impossible to foresee a victory on US soil, so the 2023 matches – wherever they are to be held, possibly in Japan – seem like the next legitimate opportunity.
The good news? Im, like Ancer, looks like a potential Internationals stalwart. The South Korean tied the record for the most points earned by a captain’s pick with three-and-a-half. More than just the points these two delivered, however, they also revelled in the cauldron while banking vital experience. The Internationals are soon facing an era without the likes of Adam Scott and co. so young players feeling the heat of team competition now will be crucial for their future.
Cameron Smith closing out his match in style. 💯pic.twitter.com/vUnNSAh0Qo
— Golf Digest (@GolfDigest) December 15, 2019
And place Smith in that same group. Setting aside any local bias, it was astonishing Els didn’t call on the Queenslander sooner in the pairs matches, just as curious as it was that he didn’t reunite Smith with Marc Leishman at any stage after their excellent performance on the Sandbelt at last year’s World Cup of Golf.
Smith looked up for the fight in all the matches he played, his youthful looks and quiet demeanour belying a fiery, competitive side that gels perfectly with his bulletproof game. His interaction with the crowd – and resounding comeback against Justin Thomas – was a genuine highlight.
The other highlight from a week of outstanding action was the venue. Royal Melbourne shone even if the weather remained overcast, mild and mostly tranquil all four days. Sadly, with other nations bidding to host the Presidents Cup, the grand old dame of Australian golf probably won’t see these matches return until the 2030s.
— Presidents Cup (@PresidentsCup) December 15, 2019
Sunday’s Singles matches:
Tiger Woods (USA) def. Abraham Ancer (INT) 3&2
Hideki Matsuyama (INT) halved Tony Finau (USA)
Patrick Reed (USA) def. CT Pan (INT) 4&2
Dustin Johnson (USA) def. Haotong Li (INT) 4&3
Adam Hadwin (INT) halved Bryson DeChambeau (USA)
Sungjae Im (INT) def. Gary Woodland (USA) 4&3
Patrick Cantlay (USA) def. Joaquin Niemann (INT) 3&2
Xander Schauffele (USA) def. Adam Scott (INT) 2&1
Webb Simpson (USA) def. Byeong Hun An (INT) 2&1
Cameron Smith (INT) def. Justin Thomas (USA) 2&1
Louis Oosthuizen (INT) halved Matt Kuchar (USA)
Marc Leishman (INT) halved Rickie Fowler (USA)
USA 16, Internationals 14