INCHEON, South Korea (AP) The final hour when both teams thought they had it won. The clutch putt that turned a rookie into the hero. The stubbed chip that made the local star cover his face with both hands as if he wanted to hide.
The Presidents Cup, packed with raw emotion and endless nerves, was unlike any other over the last 10 years.
Except for the outcome.
The Americans won for the sixth straight time Sunday when Chris Kirk made a 15-foot birdie putt to win his match in a stunning turnaround on the final hole, and Bill Haas provided a storybook ending with the winning point for his team and for his father.
”A moment I’ll never forget,” U.S. captain Jay Haas said, so choked up when it ended that he couldn’t speak.
Haas used a captain’s pick on his son, sent him off in the 12th and final singles match at the Jack Nicklaus Golf Club Korea and then saw Bill Haas hit all the right shots to hold off Bae Sang-moon for a 2-up victory.
The 15 1/2-14 1/2 margin was the slimmest since the famous tie in South Africa in 2003. Not since 2005 has the Presidents Cup been decided by the final match.
That’s what the International team wanted when it demanded the number of matches be reduced (from 34 to 30). It almost got something even better – the shiny gold trophy that again stays with the Americans.
”Irrelevant of the outcome – we obviously would have loved to have won – we put on a show of golf this week,” captain Nick Price said.
The final session was not without its share of heartbreak.
Anirban Lahiri, the first player from India to make the International team, battled Kirk shot-for-shot over the final hour holes and looked like a winner when he played a delicate pitch to perfection on the par-5 18th and had 4 feet for birdie. Kirk’s chip ran 15 feet by.
Based on the status of other matches still on the course, it looked like the International team would finally emerge a winner.
And then Kirk made his putt on the final turn, and one of the most stoic players on the PGA Tour unleashed a fist pump. Moments later, Lahiri missed.
His putt caught the right edge of the cup and spun out, and he dropped his putter over his back in disbelief.
”I have to give credit to Chris for making that putt,” Lahiri said. ”These things are scripted, I guess, and I wasn’t in the script this time.”
Neither was Bae, the only player under the Korean flag who was playing for the final time before he starts mandatory military service. When it became evident the Presidents Cup would be decided by his match with Haas, the American was 1 up and not giving away any shots. Bae holed a 10-foot putt on the 16th to halve the hole. He came within inches of holing a bunker shot on the 17th to halve the hole, which assured the Americans would do no worse than tie.
Facing that tough chip below the 18th green, Bae hit it heavy and the gallery groaned as it rolled back to his feet. He crouched over that covered his face as his caddie, Matt Minister, placed a hand on Bae’s shoulder to console him. Bae chipped about 12 feet by the hole, and when Haas blasted out of a bunker to 8 feet, Bae conceded the putt.
”I wanted to make the winning point for the team, but at the end of the day, our team lost,” Bae said. ”So I was very sad and disappointed about it.”
The Americans had a one-point lead going into the decisive singles session, and for the longest time, appeared to be in control all day. They had early leads in nine matches. The International side had to have all the close matches go their way, and that’s what happened.
Marc Leishman took his first lead against Jordan Spieth on the 15th hole and made a 7-foot putt on the 18th for a 1-up victory. Hideki Matsuyama won the 18th hole with a birdie to beat J.B. Holmes.
Two halves were just as critical. Louis Oosthuizen hit a splendid second shot to 12 feet for eagle on the 18th and tied Patrick Reed, and Thongchai Jaidee escaped with a half-point against Bubba Watson in the most unlikely scenario. Thongchai drove into the water and saved par, while Watson missed a 5-foot birdie putt.
Phil Mickelson had an unbeaten record (3-0-1) for the third time in the Presidents Cup, trouncing Charl Schwartzel. Zach Johnson also went unbeaten in easily beating Jason Day, the PGA champion and No. 2 player in the world who failed to win a match this week.
The shortest match belonged to Adam Scott, who won six straight holes against Rickie Fowler and ended it on the 13th green.
Ultimately, though, the Americans were posing with the gold cup, just like always. The series now is 9-1-1 since the Presidents Cup began in 1994, though the International team headed home with belief they are getting closer.
It might have found a stalwart in Branden Grace, who went 5-0 to join Shigeki Maruyama as the only International player to win all five matches.
Scott now has played on more teams (7) of any player to have never won a Presidents Cup. He looked down the row at Grace, Matsuyama, Lahiri and Day and described them as the ”future of this event.”
”They are the ones who are going to take it forward,” Scott said. ”I’m tipping that every one of them is going to be excited to make the 2017 team after getting a taste of how close this was today.”
COMPLETE SUNDAY SINGLES CAPSULES
Patrick Reed, United States, halved with Louis Oosthuizen, International.
Oosthuizen delivered a clutch moment, but only after missing two putts that could have changed the outcome. Oosthuizen missed an 8-foot birdie putt on the 15th for a chance to take the lead. The match was all square when both players came up short on the 16th and chipped to about 4 feet. Oosthuizen missed, then Reed made to go 1 up. On the par-5 18th, however, Oosthuizen hit his second shot to 12 feet and made eagle to earn a half-point.
Adam Scott, International, def. Rickie Fowler, United States, 6 and 5.
Scott struggled with the short putter all week, until Sunday. He went 1 up with a 7-foot birdie putt on the par-5 seventh, and when he poured in a 20-foot birdie putt on the next hole, the former Masters champion was on his way. He won six straight holes, making three birdies on his own (the other was conceded). Fowler didn’t make a birdie and was 4 over when it ended on the 13th.
Dustin Johnson, United States, def. Danny Lee, International, 2 and 1.
Johnson was 3 up after three holes and it looked as though it might end early. Lee battled back and squared the match with a birdie on the 11th. He took his first lead when Johnson tried to drive the 14th green and found the water, and it was shaping up as the biggest surprise of singles. Lee, however, made bogey on the par-5 15th, chunked a wedge to make another bogey on the 16th and made bogey on the 17th to end it.
Hideki Matsuyama, International, def. J.B. Holmes, United States, 1 up.
Matsuyama leveled the match on the 14th when Holmes drove into the water. Matsuyama appeared to seize control with a shot into 12 feet for a birdie on the 16th, only for Holmes to answer by stuffing his tee shot on the 17th for a birdie to square the match. Both players came up just short of the green in two on the 18th, and it was chipping contest from there. Matsuyama judged the distance perfect to 3 feet. Holmes came up to 15 feet and missed the birdie putt to lose the match.
Bubba Watson, United States, halved with Thongchai Jaidee, International.
Watson never trailed and led 3 up after 10 holes, but Thongchai pecked away with birdies at the 11th and 12th holes to stay in range. He caught up to Watson when the two-time Masters champion three-putted from long range on the 17th. Watson had a big advantage with his length on the 18th, even more when Thongchai hit his tee shot into the water. Thongchai took a drop and ripped fairway metal just through the green and nearly holed his birdie putt. Watson chipped beautifully to 4 feet. But for the second straight day, Watson missed a short putt and had to settle for a halve.
Steven Bowditch, International, def. Jimmy Walker, United States, 2 up.
In a sloppy match that featured no birdies by either player on the front nine, Bowditch won three straight holes with two pars and a conceded birdie, and he pulled ahead with a birdie at the 14th. But the Australian conceded the 15th hole and made bogey on the 17th hole to send the match to No. 18. Walker missed a birdie putt from the fringe and conceded.
Phil Mickelson, United States, def. Charl Schwartzel, International, 5 and 4.
Mickelson completed an unbeaten week at the Presidents Cup for the third time, and the first time as a captain’s pick. He never had an easier match. Mickelson didn’t make his first birdie until he chipped in on the 11th hole, and by then he already was 5 up. Schwartzel gave away six holes by failing to make par. Mickelson closed it out on the 14th hole with a short birdie putt to go 3-0-1. He also was unbeaten in 2005 and 2009.
Chris Kirk, United States, def. Anirban Lahiri, International, 1 up.
Who would have guess this match between a pair of Presidents Cup rookies would effectively determine the outcome? Kirk never trailed, but Lahiri rolled in a birdie on the 14th to square the match and they halved the next three holes with pars. And on the par-5 18th, they matched tee shots and second shots short of the green. Lahiri hit a great pitch to 4 feet, and Kirk’s was too strong, 15 feet away. Kirk made his birdie putt, and Lahiri’s putt caught the right lip and spun out.
Marc Leishman, International, def. Jordan Spieth, United States, 1 up.
Spieth won the first two holes, and Leishman fought back with birdies on Nos. 4 and 9 to square the match. They were all square when Spieth got in trouble on the par-5 15th and pulled a shot into the water, conceding the hole. He never caught up. On the final hole, Spieth hit a pitch to tap-in range for a birdie, and Leishman had to make a 7-foot putt to assure the win. He poured it in the middle of the cup.
Zach Johnson, United States, def. Jason Day, International, 3 and 2.
Day completed a forgettable week by going 0-4-1, and this one wasn’t even close. The No. 2 player in the world gave away two holes with bogeys, and then hooked his approach into the water on No. 7 trying to lay up. Johnson was 5 up through 11 holes when Day tried to rally. He was 2 down with three to play when Johnson closed him out with a par on the 16th hole.
Branden Grace, International, def. Matt Kuchar, United States, 2 and 1.
Kuchar told U.S. captain Jay Haas that he wanted to go late so he could sleep in. The American never woke up. Grace didn’t make his first birdie until the ninth hole, and that gave him a 5-up advantage. From there, it was a matter of time. Kuchar started winning holes late in the match, but Grace closed him out on the 17th. Grace went 5-0 for the week, the first International player to do that since Shigeki Maruyama in 1998.
Bill Haas, United States, def. Sang-moon Bae, International, 2 up.
The son of the U.S. captain against the only player carrying the South Korean flag for the International team. The final match. And it was deciding match. Haas never trailed and regained a 1-up lead with a birdie on the 14th hole. It stayed that way the rest of the match, with Bae holding on with a 10-foot par putt on the 16th and nearly holing a bunker shot on the 17th. Needing to win the 18th for the teams to share the cup, Bae stubbed a chip on the 18th, chipped on to 12 feet and conceded the match to Haas, who had blasted out of a greenside bunker to 6 feet.