It was a race to 15 1/2 points, and the Americans — after a slow start, player controversy and even unsavory caddie headlines — got there first.
Matt Kuchar rolled in a short birdie putt on the 17th hole to go 1 up over Louis Oosthuizen in singles play at the Presidents Cup on Sunday at Royal Melbourne, and that was the clinching moment that ensured the Americans would win for the 11th time in 13 years.
“We did it together, we came here as a team, my teammates and my boys all played well and the captains did an amazing job just being there for every little detail,” said U.S. playing-captain Tiger Woods, who finished the week 3-0 and led the Americans to a 16-14 victory. “I couldn’t have done it without all their help. All my boys — they did it.”
Trailing 10-8 to start the 12 singles matches, the U.S. needed 7 1/2 points while the Internationals needed just 5 1/2. Much was at stake for both teams’ captains. It was Woods’ debut as a U.S. captain for team events — the first of what could be several — and he didn’t want to start it with a loss to the underdog Internationals.
For Els, it was a chance to be the man behind the Internationals second win in the event’s history — the U.S. led 10-1-1 all-time entering this year — and prove this was much more than just a putt-and-giggle to quench the public’s thirst between Ryder Cup years. It was also a chance for him to beat Woods. Of Tiger Woods’ 82 PGA Tour victories, no player in the world has finished as the runner-up more than Els’ five times.
The first point on Sunday came from Woods himself. He called his name to go off first against International spark plug Abraham Ancer. After trading blows for most of the front nine, Woods won the 9th to go 1 up and never lost his lead. He sealed it with a birdie on 16 for the 3-and-2 victory.
He then put the headset on and headed out to the course to watch the rest of his team finish up.
Dustin Johnson (4 and 3 over Haotong Li) and Patrick Reed (4 and 2 over C.T. Pan) were the next to finish, giving the Americans a 11-10 lead, the first they had since leading 1-0 on the opening day.
Hideki Matsuyama and Tony Finau tied in the next match, and shortly after reigning PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Sungjae Im beat Gary Woodland 4 and 3 to tie it at 11 1/2. The next match to finish was Canadian Adam Hadwin and Bryson DeChambeau, who also tied after both players missed winning birdie putts on 18.
With half the matches in at that point, it was all square at 12, and three of the remaining matches were led by the Americans (matches 7, 8 and 9) and three by the Internationals (matches 10, 11 and 12).
Then the dominoes started to fall. Patrick Cantlay beat Joaquin Niemann (3 and 2) to put the U.S. ahead, and Xander Schauffele (2 and 1) took down Adam Scott to make it 14-12. Not long after, Webb Simpson beat Byeong Hun An on the 17th hole — Simpson’s first point of the week — to assure at least a tie for the U.S.
Three matches were still on the course, and the Internationals (who led two and were tied in the other) needed to win all three for a tie. Cameron Smith closed out one of the hottest U.S. players in Justin Thomas on the 17th hole, which meant it was coming down to Oosthuizen vs. Kuchar and Marc Leishman vs. Rickie Fowler.
And Kuchar came through, making birdie on 17 to seal Team USA victory, and then high-fiving teammates en route to the 18th tee to finish his match.
“I had just the most amazing experience with all of these gentlemen here,” Woods said. “We did this as a team — we did this together.”
PRESIDENTS CUP SUNDAY SINGLES RESULTS
Tiger Woods (USA) def. Abraham Ancer 3 and 2
Tony Finau (USA) and Hideki Matsuyama tied
Patrick Reed (USA) def. C.T. Pan 4 and 2
Dustin Johnson (USA) def. Haotong Li 4 and 3
Bryson DeChambeau (USA) and Adam Hadwin tied
Sungjae Im (INT) def. Gary Woodland 4 and 3
Patrick Cantlay (USA) def. Joaquin Niemann 3 and 2
Xander Schauffele (USA) def. Adam Scott 2 and 1
Webb Simpson (USA) def. Byeong Hun An 2 and 1
Cameron Smith (INT) def. Justin Thomas 2 and 1
Matt Kuchar (USA) and Louis Oosthuizen tied
Rickie Fowler (USA) and Marc Leishman tied
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