Woods, Johnson help US extend lead
K.T. Kim knocked in the bending 6-footer on the last hole and fist-pumped like he’d won a big one.
And, in a sense, he had.
He and fellow South Korean Y.E. Yang combined to cause one the biggest upsets in Presidents Cup history, downing the United States’ glamour pairing of Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson 1-up on Saturday.
But as the Internationals celebrated at soggy Royal Melbourne, the reality remained that they were losing the war against a very formidable US team.
Despite having lost the Presidents Cup once, the Americans came to Australia — the scene of their only loss, here at Royal Melbourne in 1998 — as underdogs.
But they go into the final day, Sunday’s singles matches, with an imposing 13-9 lead.
Greg Norman’s International squad now needs to replicate the legendary US comeback in Massachusetts at the 1999 Ryder Cup.
“We have to do a Brookline, we have to do a miracle tomorrow,” said Internationals star Ernie Els. “It can be done. It’s going to be a once-in-a-lifetime deal if we pull it off, but it can be done.”
They’ll have to overcome history, too. In the eight previous Cups, the Internationals have won the singles only once, four years ago in Montreal, and that by the slimmest of margins, 7-5.
Jim Furyk was on that American team at Brookline. He warned not to expect complacency from his teammates.
“I remember at Brookline, one of the players on the other team making the comment that, ‘This is over,’ in the press room,” he said. “And that’s actually the wrong attitude to have and maybe it’s one of the reasons it bit them.
“I think we as a team have to realize tonight that we have to come out firing tomorrow and it’s important that each and every one of us go out there and work the hardest we can to get a point.
“You need to keep the pedal down.”
The Americans certainly put the pedal down early on Saturday. Once again, the Internationals’ inability to secure points in the foursomes — or alternate-shot format — has been their downfall.
The US took the third session 4-1 and overall won the two foursomes sessions 8-3.
“This morning, that 4-1, I guess that was surprising,” said US captain Fred Couples. “I mean, 4-1 is a huge boost to any team.”
The US led 11-6 after the morning session after only Els and Ryo Ishikawa won for the Internationals.
Woods got his first point of the competition in the session, teaming with Johnson to down Adam Scott and K.J. Choi, the pairing that handed Woods and Steve Stricker a record 7-and-6 loss on the first day.
Woods played with Johnson again in the afternoon, when the weather turned foul, against the formerly hapless Koreans. Neither Kim nor Yang had earned a point in the competition and were sat down by Norman for the morning session.
But the Koreans found inspiration with their backs to the wall, holding on to win a memorable match. They were helped, it has to be said, by mediocre play from Johnson and the fact that Woods, who was impressive from tee-to-green, carried the coldest of putters.
“It’s all about making putts in match play, and we didn’t do that,” Woods said, “Hit a lot of good ones, though.”
Woods hit 17 of 18 greens in regulation but made only three birdies, one of them a two-putt on a par-5.
“He’s hitting it as good as he’s been in many years,” said Johnny Miller, who’s never been Woods’ biggest fan.
Phil Mickelson asked to be sat out for the afternoon session and Couples agreed; it was a decision that might have come back to haunt him given how the matches unfolded.
“Seems like they’ve warmed up to the cold weather,” Norman said of his men, who fought back and at one point wiped all the American flags off the board in the five better-ball matches.
South Africans Retief Goosen and Charl Schwartzel finally took down the unbeaten American leadoff rookie pair of Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson.
Then Woods and Johnson were beaten, and, in the third match, Geoff Ogilvy and Choi shot 7 under par in atrocious conditions to beat Stricker and Matt Kuchar 1-up.
But, critically, the US held on in the final two matches.
Hunter Mahan drained a 20-footer for birdie on the 17th — dramatically answering a birdie from Jason Day — to give the US a 2-and-1 win while the dogged Jim Furyk, who’s 4-0 at this Presidents Cup, teamed with Nick Watney to hold off Scott and Els 1-up.
“We really need to win a Cup,” Els had said before play began.
“We haven’t won one in 13 years.”
He and Scott had their chances to narrow the margin — notably birdie attempts on the last two holes — but as Woods said, in match play, you’ve got to make the putts.