U.S. clings to one-point lead in Presidents Cup

Doug Ferguson
Associated Press
Jordan Spieth won two matches for the Americans on Saturday.

Incheon, South Korea — Branden Grace delivered two big shots in gathering darkness Saturday that kept the International team within one point of the Americans going into a final day at the Presidents Cup that finally has some drama.

The Americans had a 9.5-8.5 lead with 12 singles matches remaining, the smallest margin going into Sunday in 10 years at this event.

That's what the International team wanted — and needed — in the Presidents Cup. The Americans have won the gold trophy five straight times, and the lone International victory was in 1998 in Australia.

"We need to win," Louis Oosthuizen said. "This is huge for us."

The South Africa duo of Grace and Oosthuizen have been the driving force for captain Nick Price. They became the first International tandem to go 4-0 in team matches. Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker in 2009 are the only U.S. team to do that.

Jordan Spieth also won two matches Saturday, making two clutch putts in morning foursomes, and holing a bunker shot in the afternoon fourballs. Spieth was 8 under on his own ball. The only drama was whether to finish. They played the final hole in the dark, to avoid having to return to complete it Sunday morning.

Phil Mickelson and Zach Johnson never trailed in their fourballs victory at the Jack Nicklaus Golf Club Korea.

Bae Sang-moon and Hideki Matsuyama, who earned a key half-point in the morning, had the shortest match of the week when they beat Jimmy Walker and Chris Kirk, 6 and 5, in fourballs. Bae is playing his final event before his mandatory military service starts in South Korea.

"One of the best matches I ever played," Bae said.

The singles matches were moved up one hour because of rain in the forecast, with Oosthuizen facing Patrick Reed in the opening match. U.S. captain Jay Haas put Spieth in the ninth match against Marc Leishman, passing on a chance to put Spieth against Jason Day.

"I don't know if it was a make-or-break the Presidents Cup if they played or didn't play," Haas said.

Suddenly, finally, the Presidents Cup doesn't need a special match to be compelling. Haas wanted Spieth in the No. 9 slot because historically that's about where it's decided when the matches are close going into the final session.

Day is in the 10th spot against Zach Johnson.

On the longest day of the week — two sessions of four matches — this could have gone either way.

The last three morning matches all went to the 18th hole. Spieth and Dustin Johnson won the last two holes for a 1-up win over Day and Charl Schwartzel, while Matsuyama made birdie on the last hole for a halve, and Bubba Watson missing a 5-foot birdie on the 18th that would have given his side a win.

The teams split both sessions.

The pivotal match belonged to Grace and Oosthuizen, who were all square with the big-hitting American duo of Watson and J.B. Holmes. Grace was left of the green on the 16th when he chipped in, raising his arms before the ball even reached the cup and sharing a bear hug with his longtime South African friend.

Oosthuizen had a chance to end it on the par-3 17th — the first time the South Africans played that hole in competition all week — but he missed a 6-foot putt when it was so dark he couldn't see the line.

The four players could barely see the 18th green because of the darkness. Oosthuizen hit into the water, and it was so dark that Grace didn't even know it. From 263 yards with a chilly wind in his face, he blasted a 3-wood that narrowly cleared a bunker and settled on the edge of the green.

"I haven't seen the shot, so I don't know where it finished or how it got to where it did," Grace said. "Just remarkable to pull a shot off like that."

Holmes and Watson, needing to win the hole to earn a halve, both missed the green and Grace rolled his eagle putt to tap-in range to close it out.

"The chip-in on 16 and the second into 18 showed he's a world-class player," Oosthuizen said. "No moment is too big for him."

Oosthuizen said they went to Price after they won their opening match Thursday and offered to split up, knowing both were playing well and thinking perhaps they could bring another International player along. Price chose to keep them together, and it paid off.

"They've been the stars of our team," Price said.

The Americans still have the lead, though the Presidents Cup has been so lopsided since 2005 that it almost feels like an International lead. History is still against the International team. No team trailing going into the last day has ever won.

Still, the vibe was strong for the International team and the Americans could sense it, too.

"To me, it kind of feels like we're losing just because of what's gone on the last two days," Zach Johnson said. "But our first day was substantial. So yeah, you knew it was going to be tight going into Sunday regardless of what happened."

LPGA

Jessica Korda took a two-stroke lead in the LPGA Malaysia, shooting a bogey-free 6-under 65 in sweltering conditions at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Korda missed a birdie chance on the par-4 18th when her 6-footer slid by on the left side, leaving the 22-year-old American at 12-under 201 at Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club. Fellow American Stacy Lewis and South Korea’s Ha Na Jang were tied for second.

Korda has only one top-10 finish this season, a tie for second in January in Florida in the season-opening event. The three-time LPGA Tour winner is 50th in the world ranking and 56th on the money list.

The third-ranked Lewis has rebounded with rounds of 66 and 65 after opening with a 72.

Jang had a 71 after taking a one-stroke lead into the round. She had a double bogey on the par-3 15th, saved bogey with a 20-footer on the par-5 16th and rebounded with a birdie on the par-3 17th.

Second-ranked Lydia Ko was three strokes back at 9 under along with defending champion Shanshan Feng and Xi Yu Lin. Playing alongside Korda, Ko bogeyed the 18th for 68. The 18-year-old New Zealander is coming off consecutive victories in the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open and Evian Championship, where she became the youngest major champion.

Champions

Kenny Perry shot a 4-under 68 in the rain to take a one-stroke lead after two rounds in the Champions Tour’s SAS Championship at Cary, North Carolina.

Perry had an 8-under 136 total at Prestonwood Country Club. Joe Durant was second after a 68, and first-round leader Bernhard Langer (73) was another stroke back along with Lee Janzen (68).

Perry, the 2011 winner at Prestonwood, won the 3M Championship in August in Minnesota for his eighth victory on the 50-and-over tour.

Europe

England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick shot a 3-under 68 to maintain a share of the lead after the third round of the British Masters at Woburn, England.

Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat had a 67 to match Fitzpatrick at 12-under 201 on Woburn’s Marquess Course. Kiradech has two European Tour victories this season.