JERSEY CITY, N.J. — The U.S. Presidents Cup team entered this week looking good on paper. After two days, they look indestructible.
Justin Thomas — as if he hasn’t done enough this year — ignited the American crowd with back nine pyrotechnics, and the Americans stormed to four-and-a-half of five points Friday to extend its lead to 8-2 on the Internationals and turn this 12th Presidents Cup into a runaway with three sessions still left to play. The lead is so wide that the U.S. could technically put away their opponents on Saturday.
Playing in the day’s second match, Thomas partnered with Rickie Fowler and jarred a bunker shot on the 14th hole, which he punctuated with screams and fist pumps as Liberty National’s largest grandstands fairly shook. He then dropped a seven-footer for birdie on 15 and nearly holed another sand shot on 16 while closing out Branden Grace and Louis Oosthuizen 3 and 2. The South African duo entered the match a perfect 5-0 in Presidents Cup play, but the upstart Fowler-Thomas duo has proven to be nothing short of a buzzsaw.
“I’m a little hoarse — that’s a first for me,” Thomas said. “I haven’t actually lost a little bit of a voice, other than the PGA on Sunday was the only time I had to clear my throat a lot because I yelled so loud.”
“We’re working well together,” Fowler added. “I made a couple good birdies early and I rode my horse on the way in.”
Another seemingly unbeatable American pairing is the last thing the Internationals need, given they still can’t put a dent in the U.S.’s other glamour pairing. In the day’s opening match, Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed rallied from 2 down with four to play against Hideki Matsuyama and Canadian rookie Adam Hadwin to squeeze out a half point. Spieth and Reed alternated birdies on 15 and 16, and on the par-3 18th, Spieth’s 20-foot birdie putt to win the match hit the lip and spun out. Daniel Berger, looking on from the side of the green, somersaulted backward in disappointment when the ball popped out.
“I love that range and I love that kind of putt,” Spieth said. “With about three feet to go, I thought I just needed to see a little bit of straighten in it for it to go right in the middle. It just held on that left side and took a dirty lipout. Unlucky.”
But good fortune continues to follow the Americans. There were no former U.S. presidents on the first box tee Friday, but it was still an electric scene. Fans belted out an impromptu national anthem, and the International legion sang custom tunes in hopes of rattling the U.S. players. (“He’s the best in the world/Why don’t you ask Patrick?/He’s best in the world,” they bellowed at the ever-confident Reed.)
The Internationals led in three matches early but failed to sustain the momentum. The U.S. cumulatively won 13 holes on the back nine, while the Internationals took just three.
The fourth match of the day was the first to conclude, as rookies Charley Hoffman and Kevin Chappell dusted Charl Schwartzel and Anirban Lahiri 6 and 5. Lahiri endured a nightmare start, yanking his first tee shot into the pond and incurring a little-seen penalty on No. 2 for practicing a bunker shot after completing the hole. He was forced to sit out the 3rd hole, which Schwartzel gamely halved with a par, but the U.S. went 5 up through nine behind three birdies from Chappell. The rout was on.
With one U.S. point securely on the board, Thomas and Fowler quickly followed, while Reed and Spieth rallied. With two matches left and the Internationals desperate, Dustin Johnson buried back-to-back birdies to finish Jhonattan Vegas and Adam Scott 3 and 2.
Phil Mickelson capped the star-spangled afternoon by pouring in a 12-footer on 18, and awkwardly dancing with his partner Kevin Kisner, to steal a point from Jason Day and Marc Leishman.
“I’m the worst Three Amigos dancer, but I can putt,” Mickelson said with a laugh. “It only matters how the match stands at the end of the day after 18. We had to fight hard. It feels incredible to finish this match like this.”
The International team is now hanging by a thread, and even its biggest fans are flummoxed. A small group of devotees clad in full-body Canadian-maple-leaf spandex suits were out tailing Hadwin as things slowly turned grim.
“The U.S. team is big dog after big dog,” said a 29-year-old fan named “Mox,” who is here with three buddies from Winnipeg. “But Cinderella stories happen all the time, right?”
They do. But after another dominant display of American golf, that fairytale seems unlikely to be written.