THE PRESIDENTS CUP
International heartache – where the Cup was lost
December 14, 2019
By Ben Everill, PGATOUR.COM
Highlights from Day 4 of the Presidents Cup
MELBOURNE, Australia – Hindsight is always 20/20.
As Ernie Els and his International team pick apart how they were once again unable to thwart a U.S. juggernaut that improved to 11-1-1 in the Presidents Cup they will of course mull over a multitude of moments.
Sometimes it is a useless exercise. You can second guess every decision you made and go down a very deep rabbit hole. But sometimes it can be cathartic and you can ensure growth in the future.
The dissection of the change of culture amongst the team will later, but there is enough to suggest they are on the right track.
While every loss is critical in the final wash up, right now let’s look at the moments on the golf course that really hurt the International cause as they seemingly could have been flipped the other way.
Having won the opening Thursday Four-Ball session 4-1, Els and his team were in great shape heading to the second day. But they were also somewhat cautious knowing they hadn’t won a Foursomes session since 2005. On Friday, that seemed set to change… and in a big way.
The Internationals were up in all five matches on the back nine and the projected score read 9-1. But projections are just that. When the U.S. side was ripe to be stomped on the neck, the Internationals failed to do so.
First Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele provided 18th hole heroics to beat Joaquin Niemann and Adam Hadwin 1 up before Tiger Woods and Justin Thomas did exactly the same over Hideki Matsuyama and Byeong Hun An.
On the 18th tee of both matches, Els would have been hoping for a full point but probably would have settled for a halve. Instead, his team walked away with nothing. In the final match of the session, Sungjae Im and Cameron Smith were 2 up with three holes to play, but lost the 16th and 17th holes and had to settle for a half. In the end, the session ended 2.5-2.5 to push the score to 6.5-3.5, not the worst result but certainly not 9-1.
“I wouldn't say we totally lost momentum, but it was, to me, I felt it was a bit of a blow,” Els said post-mortem.
“The team didn't react in that way which I was really proud of, but me as captain, and I didn't reveal it to them, but I felt we had them right in the headlock, and we didn't quite finish it off on that particular time.
“There's not many times when you get a team like that under the pump like that. It was great, but it could have been unbelievable. It could have been a knockout blow.
“That was probably the difference. We had so much momentum. We had so much going for us… that’s 2.5 points, and where we are, we are 1.5 points shy. So absolutely, that was something.”
Once again the Internationals won the Four-Ball session, but a critical missed chance at a full point in the anchor match between Byeong Hun An/Adam Scott and Tony Finau/Matt Kuchar was another twist of a knife in an open wound.
Sporting a 1 up lead coming down the final hole, Scott hit his approach to nine-feet. Finau was slightly better at seven-feet. If Scott made the putt it would have secured the win. But he watched it slide by the edge and then Finau took the gift and ran with it. Instead of 3-1 it was 2.5-1.5 and instead of 9.5-4.5 it was 9-5.
The Internationals came out of a 3-1 session loss actually feeling positive after some incredible fighting qualities were shown. Marc Leishman and Abraham Ancer were unbelievable in earning a half after sitting 5 down though 10 holes to Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler.
Joaquin Niemann and Byeong Hun An also overcame a late two-hole deficit to secure a half point and also ensure a lead heading to singles.
But the reality is both matches that were lost had leads at one point and An was given a chance to win a full point from just outside six-feet on the final hole. The putt came up short and low leaving the final tally at 10-8 heading to singles instead of 10.5-7.5.
Hideki Matsuyama was for a long time the only bright star during a tough start to the singles session. While Abraham Ancer was fighting hard but never leading against Tiger Woods ahead of him and C.T. Pan and Haotong Li were getting dominated behind him against Patrick Reed and Dustin Johnson respectively, Matsuyama had bounced out to a 4 up lead through 10 holes over Tony Finau. It was a point the Internationals had basically banked as they scrambled to find other places on the course to try to flip the red tidal wave off the boards. But Finau was having none of it. The American won four straight holes from 11-14 to square things. Despite the collapse, Matsuyama bounced back with a win on the 16th to once again go 1 up but then inexplicably three-putted from 25-feet to lose the 17th and his grasp on a full point. The tied match was like a win to the U.S.
Adam Hadwin produced a gutsy performance against Bryson DeChambeau, clawing back from a two-hole deficit early and finding a way to win the 17th hole when it was clear he had to if the Internationals were to have any chance to still win the Cup. Heading down the 18th all square, Hadwin had to win the final hole to keep the slim winning hopes of his team alive. A brilliant approach to just inside 14-feet set the stage for him to be a hero. But as the putt stayed high and missed the hole, so too did the realistic dreams of winning the Cup for the first time since 1998. At least a shared Cup was still in play.
Louis Oosthuizen looked impressive for most of Sunday and made the turn with a 3 up lead over Matt Kuchar. As the session played out in became apparent, the Internationals had lost their chance to win the Cup but if the final three matches stayed black they could grab themselves a share of it. Cameron Smith was playing his part against Justin Thomas, surging back from three down to be 2 up with four to play. But Oosthuizen was going the wrong way. By the 15th hole he had lost his lead and looked dead when he drove the ball into the trees on the 16th and was forced to punch out. Only a three-putt from Kuchar saved him. But it was only a short reprieve. Despite Smith closing out a 2&1 win over Thomas ahead Oosthuizen’s approach to 17, a hole he could not afford to lose, bounced past the pin and settled some 16-feet above the hole. Kuchar stiffed his approach to five-feet. When the South African left his putt too far out to the left Kuchar sent his to the bottom of the Cup ensuring a 1 up lead with a hole to play and the vital last half point, the U.S. needed to clinch.
The next chance to avenge yet another loss will come in 2021 at Quail Hollow. Given how close they came it can’t come soon enough for the Internationals.