MELBOURNE, Australia – “I love me some me.”
Now you know what Justin Thomas kept yelling at Tiger Woods after rolling in a 17-foot birdie putt to win the 18th hole and their Foursomes match Friday against Hideki Matsuyama and Byeong Hun An at Royal Melbourne.
A half-hour earlier, Patrick Cantlay also produced some 18th hole heroics, his birdie from just inside 14 feet giving he and partner Xander Schauffele the win over Adam Hadwin and Byeong Hun An.
Until those two putts dropped, the U.S. Team was headed for its first Foursomes session defeat in 14 years at the Presidents Cup. Even more relative, those putts jolted the Americans into life after a relatively listless afternoon in which they appeared headed for a massive deficit.
At one point, the Internationals led in all five matches. Had Cantlay and Thomas not made their putts – and had Sungjae Im made his birdie putt from 13 feet on the 18th hole in the final match – the U.S. would be trailing 8-2.
Instead, the Americans won two matches and tied the last one, making the deficit a more manageable 6.5-3.5 entering Saturday’s two sessions, followed by Sunday’s Singles.
“I know one thing — if we don’t make those putts, this is a pretty deep deficit,” Thomas said.
And if Thomas didn’t watch a YouTube video — featuring former NFL wide receiver Terrell Owens — on the long bus ride to the course Friday, who knows what he would’ve yelled at Woods after making his putt
Fellow Tour pro and former Alabama teammate Bud Cauley sent the 11-second clip of Owens. Thomas had seen it before, but this time he also showed it to his U.S. teammates.
“When you have an hour-long bus ride, you go into a deep hole on the Internet,” Thomas explained. “They had not seen it. It’s a really funny video. I said, ‘If I make a big putt today, I’m yelling it.’
“Today that was a pretty big putt, so I thought it was the appropriate time to yell it.”
Indeed, when Thomas’ putt fell in, he dropped his putter and started yelling, “I love me some me.” Woods did the same thing before the two shared a huge hug.
“Very familiar with it, yes,” Woods said when asked about the T.O. video. “We were looking at it and we had our moment on the last hole, and we both said it at the same time.”
Thirty minutes earlier, Cantlay rolled in his winning putt to rally past Niemann and Hadwin, who were 1 up through 14. While his celebration wasn’t nearly as exuberant as Thomas, Cantlay’s fist pump was still pretty demonstrative by his standards.
“It was nice to see my boy P. here with some emotion,” Schauffele said. “I think it just shows how much it means to us.”
Said Cantlay: “There’s no place I’d rather be than on the 18th green with a putt to win. There’s nothing like the focus that it brings out and the attention to the moment that it brings out, and that’s exactly why I play the game and I think that’s why we all play. Making those putts on 18 were so big for the momentum shift.”
Despite the Americans’ two wins on 18, the Internationals still had a chance to win the session. Im and partner Cameron Smith were 2 up with three holes to play against Gary Woodland and Rickie Fowler.
But Fowler’s terrific approach at the 16th set up Woodland for an 8-foot birdie putt. Woodland then reciprocated with an approach at the 17th inside 5 feet for a Fowler birdie.
Tied going into the 18th, Im had a birdie opportunity from 13 feet after Woodland rolled his 44-footer well past the pin. But Im missed and Fowler made the 5-footer to save par and secure the half-point.
“Whether it’s for a half-point, or if it’s to win, that’s why we play,” Fowler said. “You know, that little adrenaline rush that you get when you do make those putts, they are confidence-boosters.”
Although the U.S. still trails, Woods and his players are at least feeling better about their chances. And if the Americans rally this weekend to retain the Presidents Cup, they’ll look back at those two winning birdie putts on the 18th hole Friday as the catalyst.
“I felt like all day out there, it was another
beating and we were getting beat up,” Cantlay said. “I looked up on the board
and we were down in almost all the matches all day. Being able to flip the
whole deal; we’re going to go to bed tonight feeling great and we’re going to
have the momentum going into tomorrow. We are still down but there are a lot of
points up on the board for tomorrow, available points.
“I really thought this afternoon was huge and I think it’s going to be a big paradigm shift going forward.”