Ancer and Leishman face the press after their magnificent comeback to salvage a half point
The outcome of the 2019 Presidents Cup is delicately poised as the event enters tomorrow’s 12 singles matches following a dramatic third day at the Royal Melbourne Golf Club today.
The overall score is now 10 points to 8 in favour of the Internationals but, given the relative world ranking strength of the Americans, then that lead might well be considered the advantage the Internationals need to hold the Americans at bay.
Whatever the outcome, the final day could hardly contain a more mouth-watering prospect.
The chance for the Internationals to win the Presidents Cup for just the second time in the 13 occasions the event has been held to date and, both of them here at Royal Melbourne, shapes as one of the more thrilling days in Australian golf, at least for some time.
The crowds which have flocked to Royal Melbourne on the opening three days will be back tomorrow to potentially witness a special piece of golfing history, although lets not get ahead of ourselves.
At one stage on Friday, the Internationals held a projected 9 -1 lead but the Americans closed fast on day two to be just three points behind heading into the Saturday morning fourballs. Although they lost further ground on Saturday morning, the USA side clawed back some of the deficit in the afternoon foursomes although it might have been even better for them.
Just as the Americans had staged a magnificent comeback on Friday to keep their hopes alive, this afternoon it was the International’s turn to fight back late in the day after, at one stage, looking to be the victims of a whitewash.
The Americans appeared as if they might well draw level in overall points when they led all four of their afternoon encounters but magnificent recoveries by Marc Leishman and Abraham Ancer, who were at one stage 5 down to Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler, along with the pairing of Ben An and Joaquin Niemann to square their matches, after both pairings had been behind ensured the momentum is now evenly balanced.
“Well, it was a big last hour for us today,” said Leishman. “Certainly feel like it showed our intentions as a team. There’s a lot of heart sitting here next to me (referring to Abraham Ancer). That was huge for us, and also Ben and Joaquin Niemann digging deep and finding a halve.
“It goes a long, long way, the half-points. The score line is really good for us, considering what it was looking like with a couple hours to go, you know, but tomorrow is another day. We’re in the middle of a fight and we’re all going to be up for it.
“That’s probably as good as I’ve felt on a golf course, and I only halved the match. We’ve all won up here; we’ve won tournaments, but we don’t get chances to play with a teammate very often.”
Admittedly, the Internationals have the numerical advantage given they begin the final round two points to the good, but the Americans appear to be finding their feet after a slow start to the week and given their overall strength in terms of world ranking, then tomorrow shapes as a real battle to determine the fate of the 13th Presidents Cup.
The surprise of the afternoon was that Tiger Woods declared himself a non-starter and at one point it appeared to be a genius decision given the dominant position his team found themselves in midway through the afternoon foursomes. Whether his decision will play a role in the final outcome remains to be seen but it was one that surprised many, especially given the manner in which he had been playing.
Woods therefore had yet another opportunity to observe and there were some aspects of the crowd that he was not happy with. “There’s obviously some yelling. There’s people who have had a lot to drink and have gone over the top. Bipartisanship is part of playing in team matches, whether you’re home or on the road; it’s part of the deal. As long as, you know, the fans are respectful, and that’s all we ask is for them to be respectful, and hopefully they will be excited tomorrow and into the matches and be very respectful of all the players.
“Have people said things that have been over the top? Yes. I’ve heard it. I’ve been in the groups playing when it has happened, and I’ve been inside the ropes as a captain today witnessing it. As I said, all I ask for all the galleries is be excited but be respectful of the players, all 24 of us.”
Ernie Els supported Woods’ comments but he was also keen to defend what he felt had been an overall respectful Melbourne crowd.
“I just want to say one thing about the crowd. I’ve played in many Presidents Cups. I’ve played in the U.S. many times. If you look back at New York and how these players were treated in New York, this crowd is pretty quiet. I mean, we just get treated the same wherever you go as an away game, there’s some heckling going on and we all know that, and you prepare for that, and that’s just the way it goes.
“We shut up and we get on with things. That’s what we did in New York. So it’s part of the game. And I’m with Tiger; I absolutely, I’m against heckling. I’m against crowds being disrespectful to the players, but it happens. We as professionals, we move on.
“I think Tiger is one of the ultimate professionals that’s ever played the game. I’ve played with him where he’s been heckled in U.S. Opens and a lot of other places. He’s taken it on the chin and he’s moved forward. He’s been an example. Same has happened to me. It’s happened to a lot of players. But I must say, this Aussie crowd, okay, they got a little bit boisterous this afternoon with a couple of beers, but we move on.”
An incident during the course of the afternoon perhaps brought this conversation to a head. Patrick Reed began the week as a likely target of crowd but it would be his caddie who would be the victim to a large extent.
His caddie Kessler Karain was involved in an altercation with a spectator as both were out watching the matches in the afternoon. The altercation turned ugly as Karain defended his boss from verbal abuse involving Reed’s rules indiscretion in the Bahamas last week.
A statement was released late in the day by the PGA Tour indication that Karain will not return to the event for the Sunday singles.
Reed himself in what was a carefully prepared statement that he respected the Tour’s decision and that he and his team are focused on winning the Presidents Cup.
The momentum changes in this type of contest is a source of fascination in itself. Nothing is over until it is over and tomorrow there will likely be many swings and roundabouts before the winner is finally decided.