Finally arriving Saturday when they won three of four points in the afternoon foursomes session, then taking full flight in Sunday’s singles action, the heavily favored Americans climbed out of a cavernous hole in the Australian Sandbelt to win the Presidents Cup.
Down 6-1 at one point on Friday and trailing 10-8 to the underdog Internationals heading into the final day at Royal Melbourne Golf Club, the Americans won eight of 12 points in singles to pull out a 16-14 victory.
In winning the singles session for the first time since 2009, the comeback victory increased the USA’s record to 11-1-1 in the series.
Playing captain Tiger Woods led by example, putting himself in the leadoff position and then delivering with a 3-and-2 victory over spirited, pesky Abraham Ancer. Then his red, white and blue charges followed suit.
Embattled Patrick Reed won in the third match out, Dustin Johnson the fourth match out. Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele and Webb Simpson provided consecutive victories. Providing key half-points were Tony Finau, Bryson DeChambeau, Matt Kuchar and Rickie Fowler.
“We did it together,” Woods said. “We came here as a team. The (assistant) captains did an amazing job of just being there for every little detail. I couldn’t have done it without all their help and all my boys. They did it.
“I trust all my 11 guys. They went out there and got the points we needed. We fought. Even the points we lost, we were making them earn every one of them, and this Cup wasn’t going to be given to us. We had to go earn it, and we did.”
They did it without world No. 1 Brooks Koepka, who was out rehabbing a knee injury. They did it after a 26-hour trek across the globe. They did it on a quirky course that challenged them on every shot.
Meanwhile, the Internationals, the youngest team in the history of the event with seven rookies, needed 5½ points Sunday to win for the first time this century. They mustered just four. They only got wins from Sungjae Im (4 and 3 over Gary Woodland) and Cameron Smith (2 and 1 over Justin Thomas) and halves from Marc Leishman, Adam Hadwin, Louis Oosthuizen and Hideki Matsuyama, who couldn’t hold on despite leading Finau 4 up at the turn.
“We’re just gutted,” Oosthuizen said.
“I can only give them my love,” captain Ernie Els said. “They played so hard for each other and the team. I really have to take my hat off to every one of them. There are a lot of young, young players, a lot of players that the world has never seen or heard but you will see them a lot in the future.
“We’re getting closer. Our team is not as deep as the U.S. team. All credit to the U.S. team. They have an absolute stacked team.”
Starting with Woods, who deflated Ancer and the Internationals in the leadoff match. In November, Ancer said he wanted to play Woods in singles at the Presidents Cup. Cue the saying, be careful what you wish for.
“Abe wanted it and he got it,” Woods said.
In setting the tone, Woods never looked to be in danger of losing, a picture of control from his opening tee shot through his final birdie putt on the 16th hole.
“I’m familiar with being out front and having to lead the team from there,” said Woods, who sat out both of Saturday’s sessions but ended the week 3-0-0. With his three wins, Woods became the all-time leader in matches won inthe event with 26, one more than Phil Mickelson.
A few minutes after Woods enjoyed a rambunctious celebration with nearby fans, Johnson and Reed followed the captain’s lead.
Johnson never trailed against Haotong Li and won three holes in a row and four of five starting at the third en route to a 4-and-3 win.
Reed had a new caddie, his coach, Kevin Kirk, on the bag after his regular caddie, Kessler Karain, was not allowed to work after he got into an altercation with a fan the day before.
Despite hearing disparaging remarks from fans, who referenced Reed’s penalty violation in the sand at the Hero World Challenge, Reed made birdies on his first three holes and five of his first seven to assume a 6-up lead. Pan fought back to get within 2 down, but Reed won the last two holes for a 4-and-2 win.
“The past couple days were tough, and you know, today still wasn’t easy,” Reed said. “The big thing was to go out and try to get up early and try to get this thing on the right side of the board. And we did that.”
Cantlay put another full red flag on the scoreboard by dominating the back nine in a 3-and-2 victory against Joaquin Niemann. Schauffele, who won twice with Cantlay, took a 4-up lead and eventually took down the Internationals’ lion, Adam Scott, in a 2-and-1 triumph.
Then Simpson, who was 0-3-0 when teamed with Reed, guaranteed a tie for the Americans with his 2-and-1 win over Ben An.
In the second-to-last match, Kuchar provided the critical half-point by winning two of the last five holes against Oosthuizen. Fowler capped the comeback by winning two of the last four holes against Leishman.
“It was pretty awesome to play for the greatest player ever,” Kuchar said. “To have a chance to make a team captained by the greatest player ever that is also a player on the team. I can’t tell you how unique, how cool of a thing that is.
“For us, you know, to be in a hole, to come back and win this thing was such a thrill. One, to win it as a team, but to do it with Tiger Woods as our captain was just a huge thrill.”