Melbourne, Australia — The International team has the lead going into the final day of the Presidents Cup for the first time in 16 years, and it has a trio of rookies to thank for that.
Marc Leishman and unbeaten rookie Abraham Ancer staged a remarkable rally Saturday afternoon in foursomes, going from 5 down with eight holes to play to earn a most unlikely halve against Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler.
Byeong Hun An and Joaquin Niemann never led in the final match and scratched out another half-point against Matt Kuchar and Tony Finau.
That gave the Internationals a 10-8 lead going into Sunday singles, and a real chance to win the Presidents Cup for only the second time in its 25-year history.
"We've given ourselves ... a great shot to win the session tomorrow and win this cup," said Adam Scott, who has been part of one tie and seven straight losses. "I think we've got to be pretty happy about that. Come out tomorrow, leave it all on the golf course."
Nothing inspired the Internationals more than to watch the final two teams on the course scratch out a half-point despite never leading at any point in the match.
"For us to scratch and scramble for one point, the guys were very excited about that," Els said.
It looked as though it could have been even larger, when the Internationals built a 9-5 lead after the morning session.
The Americans finally showed some fight, even with captain Tiger Woods sitting out for both sessions. And the caddie of Patrick Reed might have shown too much fight. He confirmed in a statement to the Barstool Sports podcast "Foul Play" that he shoved a spectator who he felt got too close to Reed while cursing him.
Kessler Karrain, who is also Reed's brother-in-law, will not be on his bag for the final session. Reed said in a statement he respects the tour's decision and that everyone was focused on winning the cup.
It was the second straight week of scrutiny for the Reed camp, following his rules violation of scooping sand out of the way in the Bahamas that led to a two-shot penalty.
There was plenty of drama Saturday, and all that did was set the stage for 12 singles matches.
Woods put himself out first against Abraham Ancer, who got his first taste of a big stage when he was grouped with Woods at the World Golf Championship in Mexico City in February.
Reed, a target of the fans all week, will play C.T. Pan in the third match. The International team needs six points from the 12 matches to claim the cup for the first time in 21 years.
Reed and Webb Simpson lost matches each of the first two days. Woods sent them out again Saturday morning, and they delivered a dud by making only one birdie in fourballs and losing, 5 and 3, to Hideki Matsuyama and Pan.
Even more curious was Woods, who won matches each of the first two days with Thomas, benching himself in the morning and the afternoon, and saying it was best for his team.
"I trust the guys," Woods said.
Dustin Johnson finally got the board when he and Gary Woodland took down Adam Scott and Louis Oosthuizen in the lead match in foursomes. California rookies Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantly rallied from 3 down through 5 holes by winning three straight holes and pulling away at the end over Cameron Smith and Sungjae Im.
It was only the third time in 13 events that the International team had the lead after team matches. It had a three-point lead in South Africa in 2003, the year the matches ended in a tie. And they had a nine-point lead at Royal Melbourne in 1998, the only team to beat the Americans.
The Americans trailed in all four matches Friday and kept it close. The Internationals trailed in all four matches Saturday afternoon and returned the favor.
Both captains appeared to use that as motivation in their press conference. Woods noted that his team could have been trailing 9-1, "and for the International team only to get one point from that point on, for us to fight back and get eight points, was a huge, huge win."
Els couldn't stifle a laugh, for the International team was never leading 9-1 — they were only leading matches.
"You're the absolutely optimist, aren't you?" Els said with a laugh. "My God."
The shocker of the day was Thomas and Fowler losing a big lead.
They were dormie with three holes to go when Leishman made an 18-foot par putt and Fowler missed his 6-foot par attempt. Then, Thomas missed a 10-foot par putt to end it on 17. On the final hole, Thomas sent his tee shot well to the left and under a tree, leaving the team no chance to get closer than 150 yards from the green. It might not have mattered. Leishman dropped his approach to within 6 feet, a birdie that was conceded.
"Speechless," said Thomas, the star of this American team. "It's unacceptable for us to get a half a point. They made a couple long putts there on 15 and 16 to keep it going. We had our chances, and flat honest, just didn't execute."
Woods watched it all unfold from the sidelines, sticking to his job as captain. Even after losing the morning fourballs session, he kept himself out of the lineup in a decision that surprised International captain Ernie Els.
Woods and everyone else will be playing Sunday, including Bryson DeChambeau, who has not played since Thursday.
Long thought to be a strength, the Americans have not won the singles session in the Presidents Cup since 2009. They haven't had to. Now they do.
►Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler, United States, def. Marc Leishman and Haotong Li, International, 3 and 2.
►Sungjae Im and Abraham Ancer, International, def. Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay, United States, 3 and 2.
►Hideki Matsuyama and C.T. Pan, International, def. Patrick Reed and Webb Simpson, United States, 5 and 3.
►Matt Kuchar and Tony Finau, United States, halved with Adam Scott and Byeong Hun An.
►Dustin Johnson and Gary Woodland, United States, def. Louis Oosthuizen and Adam Scott, International, 2 and 1.
►Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler, United States, halved with Marc Leishman and Abraham Ancer.
►Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay, United States, def. Cameron Smith and Sungjae Im, International, 2 and 1.
►Matt Kuchar and Tony Finau, United States, halved with Byeong Hun An and Joaquin Niemann, International.
Tiger Woods vs. Abraham Ancer
Tony Finau vs. Hideki Matsuyama
Patrick Reed vs. C.T. Pan
Dustin Johnson vs. Haotong Li
Bryson DeChambeau vs. Adam Hadwin
Gary Woodland vs. Sungjae Im
Patrick Cantlay vs. Joaquin Niemann
Xander Schauffele vs. Adam Scott
Webb Simpson vs. Byeong Hun An
Justin Thomas vs. Cameron Smith
Matt Kuchar vs. Louis Oosthuizen
Rickie Fowler vs. Marc Leishman
Brendon Todd and Billy Horschel shot a 6-under 66 in modified alternate shot Saturday for a share of the second round lead on the QBE Shootout at Naples, Florida.
Rory Sabbatini-Kevin Tway (67), Harold Varner III-Ryan Palmer (70), Jason Kokrak-J.T. Poston (68) and Charles Howell III-Bubba Watson (66) also were 19 under. Ian Poulter and Graeme McDowell (65) were a stroke back. The tournament will close Sunday with a best-ball round.
Todd, the FedEx Cup points leader after victories this season at Bermuda and Mayakoba, ended up with Horschel when Brandt Snedeker withdrew because of an injured left ring finger.
“I knew when Brendon was going to be my partner when Sneds had to withdraw I got a better partner,” Horshell said. Sorry, Sneds”, but Brendon’s been playing really well, two wins, fourth-place finish. I was probably the happiest guy in the world at that point. I’ve known Brendon since college days, he’s a great putter.
They had six birdies in windy conditions after morning rain at Tiburon Golf Club.
“Billy’s hitting the ball really well, we’re both putting two shots in the fairway,”Todd said. The tricky part is you’re not putting every hole, so to get the speed of the greens down is just tough out there, but I think we ham-and-egged it pretty good.”
Lexi Thompson and Sean O’Hair were last in the 12-team field at 6 under after a 74.