Mickelson brain fart sets U.S. back in Presidents Cup
Bae Sang-moon delivered the biggest moment of his career. Phil Mickelson made a rookie mistake. All that really mattered Friday in the Presidents Cup was that the International team was back in business.
Bae made a dynamic debut at home in his first Presidents Cup by making a 12-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to win a crucial fourballs match that helped the International team win its first team session in four years and pull within one point of the United States.
"I knew it was a really, really big putt," Bae said, playing for the last time before he starts his mandatory military service.
Branden Grace and Louis Oosthuizen set the tone with a big win over Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson, while Charl Schwartzel and Thongchai Jaidee picked up another win in the anchor match. The International team picked a half-point in another match and cut the American lead to 5-4 going into a double session of eight matches Saturday.
"I think the U.S. team after yesterday, they probably thought it was going to be a walk-off," Grace said. "We put our chests out and we went full heart. We’re in a good position now. We’re just one point back, and you know, a lot can happen."
That half-point involved Mickelson, and it led to confusion and a pair of mistakes at the Jack Nicklaus Golf Club Korea.
Mickelson and Zach Johnson were all square with Jason Day and Adam Scott through six holes when Mickelson switched to a firmer golf ball for a better chance of reaching the green in two on the par-5 seventh.
Only when he saw U.S. captain Jay Haas did he start to think about the one-ball condition — players have to use the same model of golf ball for the entire match.
The penalty for a fourballs match is called a one-hole adjustment in the match.
The second mistake was from the rules committee. Mickelson was told he was disqualified from the hole, so he picked up his ball from the fairway. In fact, he should have been allowed to finish the hole because the one-hole adjustment was already in effect. Day won the hole with a birdie, so along with the adjustment, the International team went from all square to 2 up.
Both sides took the blame.
"It’s the job of the player to know the rules," Mickelson said. "I know they made a mistake and it’s disappointing, but they should not have been put in that situation."
Mickelson rallied by holing another bunker shot, this time with a full pitching wedge from a fairway bunker on No. 12, and making big putts. Even so, his mistake ultimately cost his team a win. Day made an 8-foot birdie putt on the final hole for a halve.
For the International team, every point matters.
The lone American victory came from J.B. Holmes and Bubba Watson, the big-hitting duo who has not lost this week. The Americans never led by more than 1 up over 14 consecutive holes in a well-played match that ended when the Steven Bowditch and Marc Leishman of Australia could only make par on the 18th.
The International team had not won a team session since the Saturday afternoon fourballs at Royal Melbourne in 2011. It was never more critical to end that drought than Friday, especially with the Americans up 4-1.
"The only thing that I had control of last night was to go to those guys and say, `Relax, try and play golf, and just go out there and do what you did so well throughout the year to get you to this situation,’" International captain Nick Price said. "Today was a big turnaround."
It started with the South Africans, who are undefeated this week. Oosthuizen holed a 70-foot putt across the eighth green, Grace followed with a 15-foot birdie putt on No. 9 to regain the lead, and then Grace made another from 20 feet on No. 10 and they were on their way.
Spieth and Johnson made it easy by not making a birdie over their last eight holes, and making only two in their match.
"We both played very poor rounds of golf and we didn’t have many chances," Spieth said. "So it was `Merry Christmas’ to the other guys."
The big moment belonged to Bae, who was shaky with his putter until it mattered.
Bae three-putted from about 8 feet on the 14th hole with a chance to take the lead. Bae and Lee missed chances on the par-5 15th. Lee got so frustrated at one point that he slapped the end of his putter and it bounced off the green.
With a large gallery watching their every move, Bae delivered with the putt of his life on the 18th and heard the loudest cheer of the day.
"The highlight of the last two days for us," Price said.
It gave the International team high spirits and strong hope that it can at least be a contest. The Americans have lost only one time since this competition began in 1994, and they have won the last five times.