MELBOURNE, Australia – Two years ago at Liberty National, the Sunday Singles in the Presidents Cup was a mere formality. The Americans’ commanding lead had drained much of the drama out of the final day.
No worries this time at Royal Melbourne. Get ready for what could be an epic day Down Under.
For the first time since 2003, the International Team enters the Singles session with the lead. It’s not an 11-point lead like the U.S. Team had in 2017, but Ernie Els and his squad will gladly take the two-point advantage (10-8) after the first three days.
Winning the Cup requires 15.5 points, meaning the Internationals could lose the session and still claim victory. It’s a slim margin, with little room for error, but at least it’s the lead.
“What a four sessions it’s been,” Els said. “It’s been really exciting. You know, it’s been a lot of work, it seems like. I normally sleep quite a few hours a night but I’ haven’t slept too many hours.”
It’s doubtful he slept many more on Saturday night after his team escaped what loomed as a shutout in Saturday’s Foursomes session. The Americans had two wins in the books and were headed for two more until some late heroics – especially by the duo of Marc Leishman and Abraham Ancer, who rallied from 5 down through 10 holes — produced a pair of ties that might just be the difference when this event concludes.
It may take more heroics Sunday in front of a sold-out group of golf fans hoping to witness the first International Team win since its only victory 21 years ago at this same venue.
The Internationals actually have a decent showing in Singles. They haven’t loss this session in the last four Presidents Cups. But it hasn’t really mattered, since the Americans have had significant leads going into the final day.
That’s not the case this week.
“We’re in the middle of a fight and we’re all going to be up for it,” said International veteran Adam Scott, hoping for his first-ever Presidents Cup win in his ninth appearance. “… If we go out there and play the way we’ve been playing, we can do this tomorrow.”
It won’t be easy. The first match out Sunday pits arguably the two best players this week: Tiger Woods versus Abraham Ancer.
Woods, the playing captain for the U.S., sat out both sessions Saturday to give himself plenty of rest. It was a risky move, given that Woods had won each of his two matches with partner Justin Thomas. But his players rose to the occasion, cutting the Internationals’ lead from three points to two.
Woods was always going to be the first one out in Singles so that he could finish his match and assume his captaincy duties. He probably didn’t expect to match up against Ancer, the Presidents Cup rookie from Mexico.
But Ancer’s produced the most points of any International player this week, winning 3.5 out of a possible 4 and joining Leishman in that spirited rally against Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler. It’s why he’s been dubbed Aussie Abe.
“People here have been absolutely phenomenal with me, and I think with the whole team,” Ancer said. “It’s been a lot of fun.”
Woods, of course, hopes to end that fun in the opening match.
“At one point it looked like we were going to be down 1-9, and for the International Team only to get one point from that point on, for us to fight back and get eight points, was a huge, huge win for us today,” Woods said. “We’re looking forward to going into Singles tomorrow.”
Els chuckled as Tiger described the Americans’ rally. It wasn’t quite that dire for the Americans, and Els wasn’t falling for Woods’ mind tricks. “You’re the absolute optimist, aren’t you?,” Els said to Woods while they held their joint press conference, “My God.”
The U.S. Team will need 7.5 points to win the Presidents Cup, a total the Americans have produced in just four of the 12 Singles sessions in Presidents Cup history. The last time they reached that total was 14 years ago.
Each team can argue it has momentum – the Americans by reducing the deficit built early by the Internationals; and the Internationals who avoided the sweep to maintain the advantage.
But maybe it doesn’t matter.
“Momentum means nothing because we’re all going to go to bed and wake up tomorrow and everybody is going to play differently,” said American Gary Woodland, who faces Sungjae Im in a battle of Presidents Cup first-timers. “ … It’s going to be 0-0 when we tee it up in the morning, and we’ve got to go out and win matches.”
Given what we’ve seen the first three days at Royal Melbourne, winning this Presidents Cup won’t be easy. But at least the potential for drama is incredibly high. It’s a nice alternative to two years ago.