Jersey City, N.J. — The International team lost just about everything but its sense of humor.
A long and demoralizing day at the Presidents Cup ended with Anirban Lahiri making two clutch birdies in a fourballs match that spared his team the indignity of watching the Americans celebrate another victory — on Saturday, no less.
From the sun rising over the Manhattan skyline until the chill of twilight at Liberty National, the Americans poured it on with such frightening force that they were one match away from clinching the cup one day early. The International team went 13 straight matches without winning until Lahiri and Kim won on the 18th hole.
“They got a standing ovation when they walked in our team room tonight,” International captain Nick Price said with a smile. “First time we had seen a match go our way for a long time.”
And that means it will be a short Sunday.
The Americans had a 14.5-3.5 lead and need only one point from the 12 singles matches on Sunday.
This is a powerful U.S. team playing to its full potential, and the result is the biggest blowout since the Presidents Cup began in 1994.
Phil Mickelson set a Presidents Cup record with his 25th victory, breaking the record set by Tiger Woods. Mickelson hit two wedges into birdie range in the morning foursomes session with Kevin Kisner, when the Americans won three matches and halved the other.
Jordan Spieth’s best intentions cost him a hole in a ruling rarely seen in match play, though that didn’t matter. All that did was inspire Spieth and Patrick Reed to win yet another match. They are 8-1-3 as a partnership in the Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup.
Justin Thomas made another big birdie on the 14th hole and cupped his hand to his ear, covered by a beanie in the chill, to fire up a crowd that didn’t need much help. Even in the lone loss of the day, the Americans made it hard on them. Charley Hoffman chipped in from short of the 17th green and body-slammed partner Kevin Chappell, a celebration that lasted only long enough for Lahiri to match his birdie with a 20-foot putt and keep a 1-up lead.
Lahiri and Kim were 1 up playing the par-3 18th, and when Lahiri chipped to 3 feet and both Americans were in the bunker, they chose not to concede Lahiri’s putt until after Chappell had made par.
It was meaningless in the big picture, yet it illustrated clearly — along with all the celebrations — that no victory is too big for this U.S. team.
“Our goal coming in was to try to win every session, and we’ve done that up till now,” Daniel Berger said after teaming with Thomas for his first point of the week. “Tomorrow, we’re going to go out and try to do the exact same thing.”
The 11-point margin is the largest going into the 12 singles matches, breaking the International record of nine points set in 1998 at Royal Melbourne, the only time it has ever won the Presidents Cup.
While the outcome was inevitable, this day still had its moment, none more peculiar than the 12th hole .
Jason Day was already down for a birdie. Spieth had 12 feet for his birdie, while Louis Oosthuizen hit his drive behind the green on the reachable par 4 and had a shot at eagle. The ball raced by the hole and was headed down the slope with water on the other side, and the partisan American crowd was urging it to keep going.
Spieth had heard enough and reached over and scooped away the moving ball with his putter.
Match referee Andy McFee, a top rules chief on the European Tour, stepped in and informed Spieth that it was a violation of the first rule in golf (Rule 1-2): “A player must not take an action with the intent to influence the movement of a ball in play.”
No player would ever do that in stroke play (though John Daly and Kirk Triplett did it to their golf balls on U.S. Open greens). Spieth figured the International team already had its birdie. Even so, the rule meant Spieth was disqualified from the hole, even as Oosthuizen and Day protested.
“I’m sorry for trying to do the right thing,” Spieth said to McFee, a mixture of sarcasm and frustration.
That gave Day and Oosthuizen a 1-up lead that lasted only three holes. Spieth birdied the 15th to square the match, Reed hit a tee shot into the wind and along a ridge to 5 feet for birdie on the 16th, and Spieth birdied the 17th to close them out.
Day went 0-4-1 in the Presidents Cup two years ago. He heads into singles with a 0-3-1 mark at Liberty National. Hideki Matsuyama has failed to win a match. Adam Scott is 0-3 and sat out the Saturday afternoon session.
Dustin Johnson extended his record to 4-0 this week, teaming with Matt Kuchar for an easy victory in foursomes and riding U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka and his hot putter for a 3-and-2 victory that put the Americans on the cusp of victory.
The celebration will have to wait.
Lahiri missed a 3 1/2-foot putt on the 18th hole that cost the International team a rare victory in South Korea two years ago.
This time he saved his team, if only for a day.
At Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, Rory McIlroy moved into contention at the British Masters by shooting a 6-under 64 in the third round, leaving the No. 6-ranked golfer two strokes off the lead held by Robert Karlsson.
Karlsson shot 67 and was one stroke clear of five players, including overnight leader Tyrrell Hatton, who bogeyed the last for a 71.
Hatton was one of only three players in the top 24 to fail to break par on a day of low scoring at Close House in northern England.
McIlroy made the weekend only after a back-nine rally in the second round, and now has a good chance of winning for the first time in 2017, in what is his next-to-last event of the season.
“You get yourself into contention and you start to think about things and it would be nice to get a win,” said McIlroy, who chipped in for a birdie on the fifth hole and carded three more birdies in a front nine of 31.
“The last couple of tournaments, I’ve been off pretty early on the weekends and had 50 people following me, where there’s thousands out there. So it’s nice to get into that sort of environment again. I haven’t shot a low score like that in a while.”
McIlroy is looking to avoid just the second winless season of his career.
At Auckland, New Zealand, Spain’s Belen Mozo will take a one-shot lead into the final round of the New Zealand Women’s Open after a 1-under 71 helped her hold off challenges from Brooke Henderson of Canada and American Brittany Lincicome.
Mozo, who led by five strokes after the second round, had a three-round total of 15-under 201 on the newly-established Windross Farm course.
Henderson had a 67 to move into second place. The biggest mover on the day was Lincicome, who had a 66 to be tied for third, four strokes behind. Also four back was China’s Jing Yan, who shot 69.
Local favorite Lydia Ko shot 70 and was seven strokes behind Mozo.
At Atlantic Beach, Florida, five-time PGA Tour winner Jonathan Byrd shot a 7-under 64 in rainy, windy conditions to take the third-round lead in the Web.com Tour Championship.
Needing a high finish to regain his PGA Tour card, Byrd had a 20-under 193 total at Atlantic Beach Country Club for a two-stroke lead over Sam Saunders in the last of four Web.com Tour Finals events.
Byrd finished 55th on the Web.com Tour’s regular-season money list and 170th in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings. He entered the week 66th in the race for 25 cards with $5,480.