THE PRESIDENTS CUP
Anatomy of a comeback: How Leishman and Ancer rallied
Duo comes back from the dead to help give International Team cushion at Presidents Cup
December 14, 2019
By Ben Everill, PGATOUR.COM
Leishman and Ancer battle back over Thomas and Fowler, Tiger sits both sessions
MELBOURNE, Australia – At the end of it, Marc Leishman said he was ready to run through a wall. He reckoned it might be as good as he’d ever felt on a golf course.
International Team Captain Ernie Els arrived at the green soon after it ended, and after embracing the big Australian, started yelling, “Where’s Abe? Where is he! Get him here!”
He was referring to Abraham Ancer, and the diminutive Mexican popped out amongst the huge throng of International Team players, caddies, staff, better halves and media where Els engulfed him in a bear hug that resembled more of a headlock thanks to the height difference.
Els was grinning from ear to ear after the duo had turned around an American tidal wave – fighting back from 5 down through 10 holes to secure a vital tie against Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler in the afternoon Foursomes session.
After starting the session with a commanding four-point lead, it appeared the Internationals would give it all away until the heroics ensured they would start Sunday singles with some form of edge. In the end it would be two points (10-8) after Byeong Hun An and Joaquin Niemann also came back for a late tie.
But it was the Leishman/Ancer miracle that had the crowd, and the Internationals, juiced. For a few reasons.
First, the aforementioned critical lead heading to Sunday. The International Team hasn’t led at this point since 2003.
Second – it dealt a blow to Thomas, the U.S. spearhead, who was 3-0 leading into the session and had earned the ire of a few of his combatants thanks to his impressive performances and out and out killer instinct.
Thomas had drained an incredible putt on the 18th green Friday to flip a match into a win and celebrated in dramatic fashion with his captain and partner Tiger Woods. It added a target on his back the Internationals wanted to take down, knowing he had been the star player.Fans cheer on local favorite Marc Leishman during Day 3. (David Cannon/Getty Images)
Come Saturday morning Thomas, now paired with Fowler in Four-Ball, added some fuel to the fire by calling out Haotong Li for playing out of turn. Li had blocked his tee shot on the par-5 second hole into dense trees and didn’t realize he’d have to wait to just punch out.
But as match play rules allow, should you play out of turn your opponent has the option to make you replay the shot. Fowler had seemingly indicated it was no big deal, but Thomas insisted on the replay – as is his absolute right. When Li returned the ball back to its original spot he was unable to replicate his earlier punch out, in fact taking three shots to escape.
It was a shrewd move on the Americans part that paid off as they won the hole when Leishman couldn’t match their birdie.
Later in the match, the Americans refused to concede Li an 1-foot, 9-inch putt on the 10th green, which he promptly made. However, a hole later when Thomas was required to make a 3-foot, 3-inch putt, he gestured to his opponents by laying his putter down on the ground, suggesting it should have been conceded.
After the U.S. side closed out a 3-and-2 win to see Thomas remain undefeated, the want to win against him grew even further.
So when Leishman was given Ancer as a partner for the afternoon Foursomes, who was also 3-0 at the time, and they drew the Thomas/Fowler combo, expectations were high.
Until the match got underway.
After the first seven holes, the U.S. side was 5 up and had a chance to be even further ahead. They’d maintained that lead through 10 holes before Leishman pulled one back by converting from 5 feet on the 11th. Ancer did the same from just inside 10 feet on the 12th. Now they were down three holes down with six to play.
“I spoke to Ernie going down 12, and he was just saying, get as far as you can. Take it as for as you can,” Leishman said.
“I'm like, ‘Hang on. Let's not talk about losing this yet. We're going to fight this out.’”
And fight they did. But by the time they reached the 15th green they were still three down. Ancer had 20 feet just to take it another hole. He drilled it home.
“I just believed. We kept believing. We told ourselves that we were going to keep going at it and we were going to fight until the end. We were not just going to give up,” Ancer said.
On the 16th green once again it appeared over when Leishman was staring at a 17-foot par putt and Fowler had just over 6 feet. The crowd erupted when Leishman made his putt and did again when Fowler missed. Two down, two to play.
“The crowd were part of it. Me and Abe were talking when we were 5 down, "Let's keep fighting and see what happens." That's a good thing; neither of us say die,” Leishman said.
“It would have been easy to I guess lay down today and take it easy, but we're not like that. We're fighters.”
The Americans could feel it slipping away but couldn’t halt the wave.
“They made some great putts, and we unfortunately weren't able to convert a couple of the chances that we had,” Fowler would later say.
On the 17th, Thomas had a par putt from 9 feet to win the match. Once again it failed to drop and now the freefall was in full affect as the enormous crowd swarmed. One down, one to play.
“It was pretty amazing. Walking to that 18th tee there felt like the Tour de France, everyone screaming, it was awesome,” Leishman said.
“We did it for the crowd. Walking to that 18th tee, that's something I'll remember forever, just people basically screaming and high-fiving and we were still 1-down. I felt like we were about 4-up.”
Ancer stepped up on the 18th and smashed his driver into the fairway. Thomas pulled his into the trees and the scene erupted again. Fowler could do nothing but pitch out and Leishman smelled blood in the water. From 152 yards out, he stiffed his approach to 6 feet and delirium ensued up around the green.
“To do it under pressure and in front of the Aussie crowd was unbelievable,” Ancer would say of his partner.Abraham Ancer and International Team Captain Ernie Els after Day 3 at Royal Melbourne. (Stan Badz/PGA TOUR)
When Thomas put their third on the back of the green some 54 feet away and Fowler couldn’t hole the par putt, the hats came off and the epic comeback was complete. The pair was mobbed by their team.
“It felt like a lot more than a half-point,” Leishman said.
“That's probably as good as I've felt on a golf course, and I only halved the match. It's going to be a big momentum gainer for the Internationals.”
Thomas stood stunned after it was over, standing there trying to figure out what buzz saw they ran into.
“Speechless. It's unacceptable for us to get a half a point,” he said.
“They made a couple long putts there on 15 and 16 to keep it going. We had our chances, and I mean, flat honest, just didn't execute. I'm just disappointed in myself for burning that for us on 18. We've got to put it behind us and go get a point tomorrow.”
Leishman also made sure to bring his focus back to the long term goal – winning the Presidents Cup for the first time since 1998.
“We've all won up here; we've won tournaments, but we don't get chances to play with a teammate very often,” he added.
“To be successful with a teammate would be pretty cool. We had a taste of that today, but I think if we can play well and do our jobs tomorrow, what we felt today is going to probably be pushed aside for what we may feel tomorrow.”
Adam Scott, the veteran leader on the course for the team, confirmed the result was huge for the Internationals as they sleep on their first lead heading to Sunday in 16 years.
“It was a big last hour for us today. Certainly feel like it showed our intentions as a team. There's a lot of heart sitting here next to me,” Scott said.
“That was huge for us, and also Ben and Joaquin Niemann digging deep and finding a halve. It goes a long, long way, the half-points. The score line is really good for us, considering what it was looking like with a couple hours to go.
“We're in the middle of a fight and we're all going to be up for it.”