INCHEON, South Korea (AP) — Branden Grace delivered two big shots in gathering darkness Saturday that kept the International team within one point of the Americans going into a final day at the Presidents Cup that finally has some drama.
The Americans had a 9 1/2-8 1/2 lead with 12 singles matches remaining, the smallest margin going into Sunday in 10 years at this event.
That’s what the International team wanted – and needed – in the Presidents Cup. The Americans have won the gold trophy five straight times, and the lone International victory was in 1998 in Australia.
”We need to win,” Louis Oosthuizen said. ”This is huge for us.”
The South Africa duo of Grace and Oosthuizen have been the driving force for captain Nick Price. They became the first International tandem to go 4-0 in team matches. Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker in 2009 are the only U.S. team to do that.
Jordan Spieth also won two matches Saturday, making two clutch putts in morning foursomes, and holing a bunker shot in the afternoon fourballs. Phil Mickelson and Zach Johnson had the morning off and never trailed in their fourballs victory at the Jack Nicklaus Golf Club Korea.
Bae Sang-moon and Hideki Matsuyama, who earned a key half-point in the morning, had the shortest match of the week when they beat Jimmy Walker and Chris Kirk, 6 and 5, in fourballs. Bae is playing his final event before his mandatory military service starts in South Korea.
”One of the best matches I ever played,” Bae said.
On the longest day of the week – two sessions of four matches – this could have gone either way.
The last three morning matches all went to the 18th hole. Spieth and Dustin Johnson won the last two holes for a 1-up win over Jason Day and Charl Schwartzel, while Matsuyama made birdie on the last hole for a halve, and Bubba Watson missing a 5-foot birdie on the 18th that would have given his side a win.
The teams split both sessions.
The pivotal match belonged to Grace and Oosthuizen, who were all square with the big-hitting American duo of Watson and J.B. Holmes. Grace was left of the green on the 16th when he chipped in, raising his arms before the ball even reached the cup and sharing a bear hug with his longtime South African friend.
Oosthuizen had a chance to end it on the par-3 17th – the first time the South Africans played that hole in competition all week – but he missed a 6-foot putt when it was so dark he couldn’t see the line.
The four players could barely see the 18th green because of the darkness. Oosthuizen hit into the water, and it was so dark that Grace didn’t even know it. From 263 yards with a chilly wind in his face, he blasted a 3-wood that narrowly cleared a bunker and settled on the edge of the green.
Holmes and Watson, needing to win the hole to earn a halve, both missed the green and Grace rolled his eagle putt to tap-in range to close it out.
”The chip-in on 16 and the second into 18 showed he’s a world-class player,” Oosthuizen said. ”No moment is too big for him.”
Oosthuizen said they went to Price after they won their opening match Thursday and offered to split up, knowing both were playing well and thinking perhaps they could bring another International player along. Price chose to keep them together, and it paid off.
The Americans still have the lead, though the Presidents Cup has been so lopsided since 2005 that it almost feels like an International lead. History is still against the International team. No team trailing going into the last day has ever won.