The Internationals have retained their three-point Presidents Cup lead over the USA after splitting Friday’s foursomes at Royal Melbourne.
A stirring late fightback from the US kept Tiger Woods’ hot favourites in the contest after the Internationals at one stage held a 6-1 advantage and also led in the remaining three matches.
Adam Scott and Louis Oosthuizen thumped Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar three and two in the opening match before Marc Leishman and Abraham Ancer beat Webb Simpson and Patrick Reed by the same dominant scoreline.
After a 4-1 drubbing in Thursday’s fourballs, the US’s 21-year stranglehold on the cup looked to be slipping as the Internationals appeared on track to win their first foursomes session since 2005.
But Xander Shauffele and Patrick Cantlay sparked the US fightback with a dramatic win over Adam Hadwin and Joaquin Niemann, who had only trailed for two holes all afternoon before Cantlay drained a four-metre birdie putt on the last.
Minutes later, Woods and Justin Thomas – the USA’s only fourball winners on Thursday – again delivered to give the Americans their second win of the day.
Thomas’s birdie at the last delighted his playing captain Woods and reduced the Internationals’ lead to 6-3.
The final match of the day, featuring Cup rookies Sungjae Im and Cameron Smith against US Open champion Gary Woodland and Rickie Fowler, also went down to the wire.
Im missed a four-metre birdie putt at the last before Fowler holed a clutch par putt to halve the match for the USA, leaving the Internationals leading 6.5 to 3.5 entering Saturday’s double session of 10 fourballs and foursomes matches.
Internationals captain Ernie Els was philosophical after watching his side let a potential 9-1 lead slip.
“Yeah, it’s perspective, isn’t it,” Els said.
“I’ve got to look at where we are. It’s easy to just look at where we could have been, because it was looking really unbelievable.
“But we’re in a very good position.”
Scott is lining up for his ninth Presidents Cup, with the Internationals looking to secure their first victory in 25 years.
He and Oosthuizen trailed by two after seven holes but went on a back-nine blitz to secure an emphatic victory as Johnson and Kuchar lamented their work on the greens.
“I felt like we played well. We had two three-putts there, not hitting bad putts. We lipped-out quite a few putts,” Johnson said.
“I felt like we played well, played solid. Obviously they played very well, too.
It was a tough match and we hung in there. We did get off to a nice start but this golf course is difficult, and especially it’s really difficult in alternate-shot.”
Scott and the in-form Oosthuizen kicked off their birdie run on the par-4 11th with the Australian finding the hole from two metres.
They followed that up with birdies on the 13th and 14th, with Oosthuizen taking the final honour on that hole to clinch the point.
Leishman and his Mexican partner Ancer also dominated Simpson and Reed, who came in for plenty more taunts from the bulging galleries at Royal Melbourne.
The crowd took their cue from Leishman and fellow Australian Cameron Smith, who have been openly critical of the American after he was penalised for illegally improving his lie in a bunker at Tiger Woods’ tournament last week in the Bahamas.
Reed gave as good as he got when he sank a birdie putt on the 11th and then put his hand to his ear as if to ask the crowd where his cheers were before motioning shovelling.
The Americans, however, had little answer to Leishman and in particular Ancer, who was lethal with the putter, as the Internationals closed out victory on the 16th.