Behind its young stars — and superstars — the United States nearly ended the 2017 Presidents Cup a day early on Saturday at Liberty National. With a 14.5 to 3.5 lead going into Day 4, the Sunday singles matches will be a formality for posterity. The U.S. will clinch early, and a tidal wave of scoring should follow. The record for most points scored in a Presidents Cup is 21.5, and the U.S. has a chance of easily surpassing that.
After taking 3.5 points from the international team in the morning foursomes matches, the U.S. knew it would have the tournament on the table in the afternoon. Sweep it all, and you get to celebrate on Saturday night. They almost did just that.
It started in the afternoon, as it so often does at these events, with Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed. They took down Jason Day and Louis Oosthuizen behind eight birdies in 17 holes and were actually arguing over who got to shut it down at the end. It’s been one of those weeks for Steve Stricker’s squad.
Despite a rules incident on the 12th hole in which Spieth picked up a still-moving ball of Oosthuizen, Spieth and Reed were able to come back down the stretch for the win. The international team was already in for birdie, and Oosthuizen’s eagle putt was well past the hole when Spieth touched it. He and Reed had to concede the hole, though, and it gave the international team a 1-up lead.
Assistant captain Tiger Woods got involved, and Spieth was beside himself, but the pair birdied three of the next five to clinch the first point of the afternoon four-ball matches. A few minutes later, Justin Thomas and Daniel Berger did the same over Jhonattan Vegas and Hideki Matsuyama. Berger was the last U.S. team member to win a match, and he did so emphatically, pouring in birdie after birdie on the front nine.
“I thought we were going to have to get another captain out here to carry [Berger’s] stones around at the end of that front nine,” Thomas told NBC after the match. Thomas got in the mix on the back nine as well. He lit up the New York crowd with this birdie on No. 14 and moved to 3-0-1 on the week.
Dustin Johnson moved to 4-0-0 on the week as he and Brooks Koepka beat Marc Leishman and Branden Grace 3 and 2. That win for the U.S. pushed the lead to 14.5 to 2.5 with one match left on the course. Charley Hoffman and Kevin Chappell were up against Anirban Lahiri and Si Woo Kim. If the Americans won that match, the Cup would before before Sunday. Kim and Lahiri took a slim 1-up lead to the 17th when Hoffman chipped in for birdie to presumably square the match. It was the most dramatic moment of the event so far.
But Lahiri poured in a lengthy birdie putt, and the international team squeaked out its second win of the week. That leaves the U.S. on the precipice of its seventh-consecutive victory at this event.
“Another great day,” said U.S. captain Steve Stricker. “These guys have played unbelievable golf. It wasn’t a good start for us this afternoon … these guys just, you know, they get in that position where they are down and they keep fighting and scratching. They hit some great shots coming down the end. They made some clutch putts. A long day but another good one. We’ll get out of here, get some good rest and look forward to tomorrow.”
Sunday should be much shorter.
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