MELBOURNE, Australia – Barring an unprecedented comeback in singles on the final day, it will be the moment that defines the 2011 Presidents Cup.
The International team was rallying against the powerhouse Americans, who had largely bullied them through a grueling 36-hole day-three marathon.
Jason Day, desperate to make a stand on his home soil and needing a birdie to stay alive with Aaron Baddeley on the 17th hole, rolled in a bomb from 30 feet. The crowd erupted.
Day instinctively sprung skywards and punched the air, thinking he finally had the whip hand against Hunter Mahan and Bill Haas.
Mahan, steeled against the bedlam by an incident with a fan on day two, calmly stepped up and drilled his 25-foot curling birdie putt to seal the victory and stun the same crowd into disbelieving silence.
The California-born Texan roared and threw his putter down, ecstatic as his teammates mobbed him. It was a moment befitting any grand golfing clash.
"I tell you what, to make that putt on 17, to hear nothing — I mean, to hear a pin drop — was the greatest feeling in the world," Mahan said. "A minute earlier, you heard everyone going crazy when Jason made his putt.
"This has a great feel to it. It's very, very competitive."
Mahan, who has three wins in his four matches and played a key part in putting the visitors up 13-9, compared the atmosphere to the Ryder Cup, so often played in heated combat with extremely vocal crowds.
He said he'd been "warned" about raucous Australian crowds, and he experienced it firsthand on Friday when he withdrew from his approach shot to the 16th and had a verbal spat with an unruly fan who had interrupted his backswing.
"A lot of the players back in '98 said this definitely has a Ryder Cup feel to it, and it definitely felt like a Ryder Cup today with the weather the way it turned on us," Mahan said. "It just turned windy and cold and rainy and felt like we were back in England.
"They were very boisterous today, playing with Aaron and Jason, you knew they were going to be out there today following those guys."
Mahan was genuinely excited, despite having played through one of the wildest weather changes most of his team had witnessed.
"They are not mean spirited in any way," he said of the local fans. "We had a great time today, and I expect the fans will be out full force tomorrow."
Only 24 hours after the greens staggered the Americans with their firmness and speed in 95-degree heat, the temperature fell to the 50s and persistent rain slowed the putting surfaces markedly.
Webb Simpson, slightly bemused by having seen the same piece of real estate play so radically differently on all three days, still loved the challenge.
"I've never played in conditions so extreme within 24 hours," he said. "I can't believe it's the same course. It was very tricky, but the course is beautiful and dry still. It's a special place."
A defiant Adam Scott was adamant that the Cup was still up for grabs and said the greatest comeback in Presidents Cup history was still feasible.
To reverse the deficit, the Internationals must win nine of 12 matches on day four, which has never been done in singles in the eight previous editions of the Cup. The only time a team has ever come from behind on the last day to avoid a loss was the famous 2003 shootout in South Africa, when the visiting Americans rallied from three back to force a tie.
SHOTS OF THE DAY
1) Hunter Mahan's truly magnificent curling putt to seal the victory in his afternoon fourball match with partner Bill Haas. By any normal measure, a 25-foot curling birdie roll is a beauty. But to do it late in a fierce contest, straight on top of a crowd-inspiring 30-foot bomb by the rallying Jason Day, was a memory that won't fade for fans or Mahan.
2) It could easily have been the best shot on any "normal" day, but Haas himself hit a beauty he'll long remember on his second hole of the day in the foursomes, when he was partnered with Matt Kuchar. With a tough pin on the par 5, Haas played a delightful long iron to within two feet, narrowly missing an albatross and forcing the Internationals to concede the eagle.