The stage is set for a grandstand finish to the 2019 Presidents Cup after an afternoon of high drama at Royal Melbourne Golf Club.
Team USA finally won a session to reduce a four-point deficit to just two, but it was an extraordinary collapse from American superstars Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler which left golf fans gobsmacked and put the Internationals in sight of a shock first triumph since 1998.
Thomas and Fowler squandered a five-hole advantage with eight to play to square their match with Marc Leishman and Abraham Ancer. The Mexican remains unbeaten on debut after the extraordinary comeback.
“Speechless. It’s unacceptable for us to get a half a point,” Thomas said before cursing himself especially for hooking his drive on the 18th under a tree, from which Fowler could only punch back out on to the fairway.
“They made a couple long putts there on 15 and 16 to keep it going (but) we had our chances and, I mean (being) flat honest, I just didn’t execute. I’m just disappointed in myself for burning that, I felt like, for us on 18.”
The priceless half point ensured the Internationals will carry the lead into Sunday’s deciding singles for the first time since last winning the cup 21 years ago, also at Royal Melbourne.
Lieshman was extatic with the half point he and Ancer had managed to escape with.
“That momentum switch, that’s definitely going to help,” Leishman said.
“To have a lead going into Sunday, we haven’t done that for a long time.
“Hopefully we can bring this energy tomorrow, play some good golf, get the crowds into it, and be nice to win.”
The Internationals’ 10-8 advantage leaves the heavily favoured and star-studded US outfit needing at least 7.5 points from the 12 possible in Sunday’s singles session to win the Cup for the eighth time in a row.
After seeing his team lose the morning fourball session 2.5 to 1.5 to trail 9-5 overall, US playing captain Tiger Woods was questioned for not picking himself in the afternoon session.
When Dustin Johnson and Gary Woodland beat Adam Scott and Louis Oosthuizen two and one, and Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay downed Cameron Smith and Sungjae Im by the same scoreline, Woods was looking like a genius.
But in a fitting end to a drama-packed day, the Internationals clawed their way off the canvas, courtesy of a gutsy half point from Joaquin Niemann and Byeong Hun An, who fought back from two down with five to play, and will now ride a wave of momentum into tomorrow’s singles.
Scott, the Internationals’ spiritual leader, said the side’s late stand couldn’t be overstated.
“It showed our intentions as a team. There’s a lot of heart sitting here next to me,” he said.
“That was huge for us, and also Ben (An) and Joaquin Niemann digging deep and finding a half. It goes a long, long way, the half-points.
“The scoreline is really good for us, considering what it was looking like with a couple hours to go.
“But tomorrow is another day. We’re in the middle of a fight and we’re all going to be up for it.”