It was the expected result, but it was much, much more difficult than nearly everyone thought it would be.
The United States team, led by first-time captain Tiger Woods, crawled back from an enormous 4-1 deficit on the opening day of the Presidents Cup, completing their comeback in Day 4 singles to win a highly-dramatic team event 16-14 at Royal Melbourne Golf Club in Melbourne, Australia.
Beginning the final day still down 10-8, the Americans found their best in the singles round. No team in Presidents Cup history had ever come from behind on the final day, but the Americans won six of the 12 matches outright, tying four others, and losing just two.
The Americans were heavily favored to begin the week, as they had dominated the tournament history, and boasted a squad that dwarfed the Internationals in the Official World Golf Rankings, the latter well-illustrated by the fact that the Americans had only two players who ranked lower than world No. 18 Adam Scott, the Internationals’ HIGHEST ranked player.
The Americans’ lowest ranked player was 23rd, while the lowest on the International side was 65.
Still, perhaps a huge testament to the work of International captain Ernie Els, that putative talent gap was seemingly non-existent most of the week. Playing in front of a jubilant home crowd, the Internationals got the tournament off to a torrid start, winning the first session 4-1. That phenomenal play continued into Day 2 foursomes, and at one point, the Internationals looked on the verge of taking what would have been a commanding 9-1 lead.
Some gritty play from the Americans down the stretch prevented it from getting out of hand, but the Internationals still led 6.5-3.5. The U.S. got the slightly-better of the marathon Day 3, closing the gap to just two points going into what was Sunday in Australia.
An event that began in 1994, the Americans are now 11-1-1 in the 14 editions of the Presidents Cup. With that one International win coming in 1998, Team U.S. has now won eight straight cups, much, much better than how they have fared in the Ryder Cup, which takes place years opposite the Presidents Cup, in that same span.
Tiger was successful in his first stint as an American team-play captain, but was downright brilliant as a player. Tiger, amid minor controversy, had named himself as one of his four Captain’s Picks for the event, something that had not been done since Hale Irwin made the same decision in the inaugural event.
Of the 3.5 points the Americans nabbed over the first two days, 2 of those came in the two matches featured Tiger. After surprisingly sitting both sessions on the third day, which he repeatedly said was a decision made to benefit the team, he put himself out in the first singles match.
Prior to the week, Tiger in singles against a Presidents Cup rookie would have been considered an absurd mismatch, but the man he faced was no average rookie. Mexico’s Abraham Ancer was a star over the first three days for the International squad, going 3-0-1 over the first four sessions, and that tie came in a team match where he and Marc Leishman came back from being 5-down through 10 holes against U.S. heavyweights Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler.
Ancer held in admirably early against Tiger, but the 43-year-old (oldest on either team) with 15 career majors on his resume was too much, winning 3&2. Tiger finished 3-0-0 for the week, the only player on either team to win every match he played. Only one other player did not lose a match (Fowler: 1-0-3). His three points earned was just a half-point behind Thomas for the team lead.
The Americans largely followed Tiger’s lead, with only two of the 12 players not at least tying their singles match. Down the stretch, the results were still in doubt, that is, until Webb Simpson knocked off Byeong Hun An 2&1 in match 9 to guarantee the Americans would tie at worst. With just three matches left, things got dicey, and that tie was looking like a legitimate possibility (there are no tiebreakers at the Presidents Cup) for a time.
The championship ended up getting clinched by the U.S. in a surprising spot. In Match 11, the only match where the International player was higher in the world rankings than the American player, Matt Kuchar overcame a 3-hole deficit to tie International team vet Louis Oosthuizen, who came into the week as the only player on his team with a winning individual record in the event.
After an incredible approach shot into the 17th green, Kuchar sunk a putt to clinch the half-point in his match, which clinched the win for the U.S. The 41-year-old Kuchar was playing in his fifth Presidents Cup, but had never won a singles match. He still has not, but his tie is what began the American celebration.
In the end, Tiger ended up getting the best of long-time rival Els, but the reigning Masters champion made it clear repeatedly that this was nothing resembling an individual win. Tiger was ebullient over the team effort, and made it known repeatedly that this was something they all accomplished together.
The Presidents Cup remains in possession of the United States, as it has for nearly the entire history of the event, but in a way, it felt like a duel victory. The International Team, widely expected to lose in blowout fashion, gave an incredible effort and very nearly pulled off a shocking upset that would have gone down with the greatest in the history of the sport. They showcased a great deal of young talent, and proved themselves as a bonafide threat in the long-term. The Internationals will not be considered a potential pushover when the next one comes around.
United States Team: 16
International Team: 14
Niemann/Leishman 4 & 3 Woods/Thomas
Im/Hadwin 1 up Cantlay/Schauffele
An/Scott 2 & 1 Finau/DeChambeau
Pan/Matsuyama 1 up Reed/Simpson
Oosthuizen/Ancer 4 & 3 Woodland/Johnson
Int 4, U.S. 1
Int 4, U.S. 1
Scott/Oosthuizen 3 & 2 Kuchar/Johnson
Niemann/Hadwin 1 up Cantlay/Schauffele
Ancer/Leishman 3 & 2 Reed/Simpson
Matsuyama/An 1 up Woods/Thomas
Smith/Im tied Fowler/Woodland
Int 2.5, U.S. 2.5
Int 6.5, U.S. 3.5
Saturday’s AM Fourball
Li/Leishman 3 & 2 Fowler/Thomas
Ancer/Im 3 & 2 Cantlay/Schauffele
Pan/Matsuyama 5 & 3 Simpson/Reed
An/Scott tied Finau/Kuchar
Int 2.5, U.S. 1.5
Int 9, U.S. 5
Saturday’s PM Foursomes
Scott/Oosthuizen 2 & 1 Woodland/Johnson
Ancer/Leishman tied Fowler/Thomas
Im/Smith 2 & 1 Cantlay/Schauffele
Niemann/An tied Finau/Kuchar
Int 1, U.S. 3
Int 10, U.S. 8
Sunday’s Singles Results
Tiger Woods WINS 3&2
Int 10, U.S. 9
It made sense for Tiger to go out first and set the tone for his team. In addition to being in tremendous form and being well-rested, after having sat out the entire third day, it allowed him to play his match, and then get back to his captain duties, and being able to provide exceptionally relevant information on how the course was playing.
At the beginning of the week, it would have been shocking to see the 28-year-old Ancer in the first singles match for the International side, Tiger or not, but he unquestionably earned Els’ confidence after his near-impeccable play over the first three days.
While Ancer never led the match, on three occasions over the first seven holes, Tiger won a hole, only to have Ancer tie it back up on the very next hole. Ancer was still just 1-down after 13 holes, but seemed to run out of gas from there, as Tiger took 14 and 15.
Tiger then ended the match on 16, taking off his hat before the winning putt even dropped.
Ancer had a 3-1-1 record for the week, unbelievable for a rookie on the International side, and his 3.5 points tied fellow rookie Sungjae Im for the most on the team. Ancer has yet to win on the PGA Tour, although has contended at a few FedExCup events, and it will be interesting to see if this week catalyzes his career going forward.
In addition to the previously-mentioned accomplishments for Tiger this week, his third win of the week got him to 27 in his Presidents Cup career, which passed Phil Mickelson for the most all-time.
Tony Finau TIES
Int 10.5, U.S. 9.5
This match ended up being the American response to the Thomas/Fowler vs Ancer/Leishman foursomes match in the afternoon session the day prior, where the Internationals forced the tie after being down five through 10 holes.
Finau, a Presidents Cup rookie, got off to a disastrous start in this match against the 27-year-old Japan native Matsuyama, who had played in three previous editions.
Matsuyama held a commanding 4-up lead through 10, but Finau then exploded over the next four holes, carding birdies on each to tie up the match. Matsuyama got the lead back on the 16th hole, but gave it away immediately when he missed a short putt on 17 that likely made the difference between winning and tying.
For the week, Matsuyama went 2-1-1 while Finau was 0-1-3. Despite a pedestrian record, however, Finau was consistently clutch down the stretch in his matches, and proved to be an asset as a captain’s pick.
Patrick Reed WINS 3&2
Int 10.5, U.S. 10.5
Reed put it well after his match when he said, “When you make birdies, you don’t hear much”. Up until this match, Reed could not have had a worse week. He was target No. 1 for International fan heckling, something that was made worse after cheating allegations stemming from an incident in an event a week ago. He lost all three of his matches coming into the final day, his reputation as a team-play extraordinaire had been obliterated, and he lost his caddy for singles, after his had been suspended following an incident with a fan.
However, despite all the distractions, Reed came out of the gates on fire. With birdies on six of his first seven holes, while his opponent parred each in the same stretch, Reed took an early 6-up lead in his match.
To Pan’s credit, he re-focused and seemingly could not miss with his putter mid-round, cutting the deficit to two with just four holes remaining. Reed was able to flip the match back from there, going birdie-birdie and ending the match on the 16th green.
Reed was happy to be part of the winning effort, but for the week, he was just 1-3-0, and combined with his dreadful Ryder Cup a year ago, his “Captain America” moniker will likely not be used any time soon, other than sarcastically.
Pan may have been slaughtered, but it was still an excellent team-play debut for him, as he went 2-1-0. Reed was on the opposing end of all three of his matches.
Dustin Johnson WINS 4&3
Int 10.5, U.S. 11.5
Dustin Johnson really needed this one. Going through an awful slump by his lofty standards, the 20-time Tour winner played mostly uninspired golf over the first three days of the event, but absolutely obliterated the International rookie Li, in a matchup that proved to be every bit the mismatch that it looked on paper.
Johnson, the world No. 5, birdied early holes to take a 4-up lead through seven holes on Li, the lowest ranked player at Royal Melbourne (No. 65), that he was never able to challenge. He did birdie 12 and 14 to cut the deficit to 3, but that was as close as it got.
Li, a 24-year-old from China looked like the future crown jewel of international golf two years ago, but has been terrible as of late, and was probably the worst player on his side this week. He was 0-2-0, and the only player on either team to post zero points, although being sat for the first two days by Els did not help. Johnson was not great for his side this week, but 2-2-0 coming off knee surgery is far from terrible.
Bryson DeChambeau TIES
Int 11, U.S. 12
DeChambeau did not seem to have the confidence of his captain, who played him in the first session, anloss, but then sat him until singles. The 26-year-old five-time PGA Tour winner was a Presidents Cup rookie, but did play in last year’s Ryder Cup where he went 0-4-0 for the losing American side. Early on, it appears he is not a great fit for the format.
Still, DeChambeau, whose highlight to that point in the week was singing with the American fans in the crowd, led most of the front nine. It was not a terribly exciting match from there, as DeChambeau and Hadwin, a 32-year-old Canadian, were tied for nine of the final 10 holes.
DeChambeau ended up missing a putt on the final hole that would have won the match.
For the week, DeChambeau was the low-scorer for the American side, scoring just 0.5 points with a 0-1-1 record. Hadwin went 1-1-1 for the Internationals, with all three of his matches reaching the final hole.
Sungjae Im WINS 4&3
Int 12, U.S. 12
The biggest International victory of the final day came from arguably its most impressive player of the week. Im, a 21-year-old prodigy from South Korea, birdied five of his final seven holes to land a 4&3 whomping on reigning U.S. Open Champion Woodland.
It was the finishing piece on a phenomenal week for Im, which is certain to precipitously increase his profile. He was already good, as evidenced by his rookie of the year season on the PGA Tour, where he posted a number of high finishes and reached the Tour Championship, but this week really put him on the map.
With a 3-1-1 record, Im scored 3.5 points, tying Ancer and Thomas for the highest for either side. Woodland did score a big point for the U.S. on Day 3 while teamed with Dustin Johnson, playing against the Internationals’ two most experienced players, but was madly inconsistent for the most part. He earned 1.5 points with a 1-2-1 record. At 35, he was the oldest rookie in the field by five years.
Patrick Cantlay WINS 3&2
Int 12, U.S. 13
Perhaps the biggest match of “the future” for both sides, both Cantlay and Niemann are Presidents Cup rookies who are in the top three all-time in most weeks spent atop the World Amateur Rankings.
However, at least for this day, the 27-year-old Cantlay, who has two PGA Tour victories in his two-plus seasons and contended at last year’s Masters got the better of the 21-year-old Chilean Niemann, who was the youngest player for either side.
The match was back-and-forth early, with Niemann getting hot mid-round and acquiring his last lead after a birdie on the 10th hole. Cantlay took over from there, with birdies on four of his next fives holes while Niemann parred out. Cantlay was especially intense and animated late, even prompting an apology from the Golf Channel for airing curse words.
Cantlay was heavily used during the week, playing in all five sessions, and was teamed with Xander Schauffele for all four of his team matches. He was 3-2-0 for the week, and his three points tied him Schauffele and Tiger for the second-most on the American side.
Niemann showed flashes, but overall, was not great, scoring just 0.5 points with an 0-3-1 record and negatively struggling with his emotions at times.
Xander Schauffele WINS 2&1
Int 12, U.S. 14
This match featured an American Presidents Cup rookie against the Internationals’ most experienced and highest-ranked player (No. 18). Yet, it was not considered a mismatch given that the 26-year-old Schauffele has a higher world ranking (No. 9), and has been tremendous in his young PGA Tour career, having already won four events and frequently getting into contention in big events.
Still, more was expected from Scott, a former Masters champion. Scott did not lead a single hole the entire match and was only tied after the first. He was able to extend the match to 17 holes, which was impressive given that Schauffele was 4-up as late as the 14th hole, but this match was not much in question.
For the week, both players did well for their respective teams. Schauffele was 3-2-0 in his Presidents Cup debut, earning three points. Scott, a 39-year-old Aussie who had played in this event eight previous times, was 2-2-1, and his 2.5 points was bettered by only two players on his team. Scott was an important part of the Internationals jumping to an early lead after he won matches on the first two days.
Webb Simpson WINS 2&1
Byeong Hun An
Int 12, U.S. 15
Tiger’s experiment of pairing Simpson with Patrick Reed worked out poorly, as the duo went 0-3-0 and was not terrible competitive over the first three days. However, like Reed, Simpson did well on his own, notching a singles victory over a Presidents Cup rookie.
The 34-year-old Simpson, who has a U.S. Open and a PLAYERS Championship on his resume, never trailed in his match against An, a 28-year-old from South Korea, although An did make things interesting with two late birdies. When Simpson clinched this match, it assured that the U.S. Team would not lose the Cup.
For the week, Simpson was 0-3-1, which was especially disappointing since he came into the week with top 25 finishes in his last eight events. An, still looking for his maiden tour victory, did well for his team this week, scoring 2 points off a 1-2-2 record.
Cameron Smith WINS 2&1
Int 13, U.S. 15
A lot of people were disappointed that Smith did not draw Reed in singles, given that he was especially critical of Reed’s actions in last week’s Hero World Challenge, calling him a cheater several times in an interview, but this pairing worked out extremely well for the Internationals, as it was not only one of just two outright victories for their side, but the 26-year-old Aussie was able to take down a big dog of the American side in Thomas.
Thomas went 3-up through four holes and led the entire front nine, but Smith did not allow himself to be intimidated by the American’s highest-ranked player. Smith flipped the match on the back, and with one clutch shot after another on the back, gave his team a great deal of hope late. It was a very inspiring effort from the local, who had prodigious crowd support.
For the week, Smith, another Cup rookie, earned 1.5 points with a 1-1-1 record. Thomas produced an incredible partnership with Tiger over the first two days, but was less stellar without the player captain. Still, his 3.5 points of a 3-1-1 record was his team’s high.
Matt Kuchar TIES
Int 13.5, U.S. 15.5
It is a great sign that a Cup was competitive when the clinching putt does not come until the 11th match. That was the case this year, as Kuchar’s match-winning putt on the 17th hole was the one that secured the Presidents Cup in American hands.
As mentioned earlier, the 41-year-old Kuchar battled back from a 3-down deficit at the turn to knock off arguably the Internationals’ best player in Oosthuizen.
Despite scoring a critical half, Kuchar’s team-play single record is puzzling. Despite playing in many President and Ryder Cups, Kuchar has never won a singles match, despite a tremendous record in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, a yearly match-play event on the PGA Tour. He has a win, and three other finishes inside the top three in that event.
For the week, Kuchar was one of just two players to not win a match for the American side, but did manage a respectable 1.5 points of a 0-1-3 record. Oosthuizen, who has an Open Championship win on his resume and has finished in the top 2 of all four majors, was excellent for the most part at Royal Melbourne, finishing with a 2-1-1 record and scoring 2.5 points for his side.
Rickie Fowler TIES
Int 14, U.S. 16
For a while, it appeared that the Presidents Cup might come down to the anchor match, which would have been amazing television, but the final score ended up being irrelevant after the Cup was clinched for the Americans in the prior match.
Still, with both players knowing their match COULD be extremely important for nearly its entirety, both players appeared exceptionally motivated. Fowler nabbed his first lead on the ninth hole, but immediately gave it up. After a number of late birdies, amid a stretch where he also missed some clutch putts, Fowler re-took the lead on 17, but Leishman won the last hole for the tie.
For the week, Fowler was the only player other than Tiger to not lose a match, but only one of his four matches yielded a win, and of his three ties was as part of that massive collapse on Day 3 while paired up with Thomas. He scored 2.5 points for his side.
Leishman, a 36-year-old Aussie who had the most qualifying points on the International team standings, finished with 2 points of a disappointing 1-2-1 record.
“We did it together. We came here as a team… my teammates, my boys all played well, the captains did an amazing job of just being there for every little detail. I couldn’t have done it with all their help… all my boys, they did it!… I trust all my 11 guys. I trust them implicitly; I told them that from the very getgo, and they went out there and got the points we needed.
“We fought; even the points we lost, we were making them earn every one of them, and this cup wasn’t going to be given to us, we had to go earn it. And we did!”
– Tiger Woods