Melbourne: Tiger Woods’ US team staged a stirring late comeback to stay in the hunt at the Presidents Cup on Friday after the tournament appeared to be slipping away.
The US went into the alternate shot or foursomes format on day two trailing 4-1, after Ernie Els’ Internationals enjoyed their best start to the biennial matchplay event since 2005.
They ended it 6.5-3.5 behind after clawing their way back against from Els’ young unit, who had looked to be closing on the Internationals’ first victory since 1998.
At one point the Internationals were ahead in all five matches, but Justin Thomas and Patrick Cantlay both drilled huge putts on the 18th to clinch narrow victories for a US team that desperately needed points, with playing-captain Woods leading wild celebrations.
Els, who has been meticulous in his planning, played in the Internationals’ lone triumph 21 years ago and showed his team video highlights to instill how much it means to win.
They again responded admirably, winning two, losing two and halving one on a pulsating day.
With 30 points at stake over the week, they need another nine from Saturday’s eight matches and the 12 singles on Sunday for a famous victory.
The omens looked good for the Internationals in a heavyweight opening clash that pitted former world number one Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar against the experienced Louis Oosthuizen and Adam Scott.
They started well, clinching the opening hole with Johnson driving off the tee then draining a birdie putt.
Oosthuizen then missed a simple putt to hand the US a two-up lead by the fifth, before the International pair began clicking to win the sixth and eighth.
They turned the screws as the crowd roared them on to win at the 11th, 13th and 14th and whip the dejected Americans 3 and 2.
– Reed digs in –
Behind them Canada’s Adam Hadwin gave his team a lead on the first hole after a beautiful approach shot from young Chilean Joaquin Niemann against Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay.
In a see-sawing tie, the advantage kept changing hands before Cantlay stepped up to sink a massive pressure putt on the last to get the US team on the scoreboard.
Inspired, Woods and Justin Thomas, the only US pair to win on Thursday, matched the exploits.
Woods missed a birdie putt on the first but found his range and he and Thomas raced two-up through five against Hideki Matsuyama and An Byeong-hun, before the Internationals incredibly won three in a row to be one-up by the eighth.
In a close match, it went to the wire where Thomas held his nerve to drain a long and difficult putt to secure the match, with Woods fist-pumping and hugging his teammate.
Patrick Reed was met with boos again on his opening hole after his penalty for improving his lie in the Bahamas last week.
He appeared unfazed, making a birdie on the first with partner Webb Simpson before Australia’s Marc Leishman and impressive Mexican Abraham Ancer hit straight back on the second.
The Internationals then took control, hitting the lead at the fifth and never relinquishing it to win 3 and 2, with Reed finally responding to barracking from fans, cupping a hand to his ear and making a digging motion with his putter at the 11th.
Australian debutant Cameron Smith was rested on Thursday after calling Reed a cheat over the incident in the Bahamas, and he was greeted with cheers by the partisan crowd.
He sunk a monster birdie putt to put himself and partner Im Sung-jae one-up at the first against Gary Woodland and Rickie Fowler.
They also claimed the second hole and hung on until the 17th when the Americans levelled to claim a valuable half-point.