MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Justin Thomas drained a 17-foot putt at the last to give the United States a precious Presidents Cup point on Friday and it was a measure of the challenge presented by the Internationals that he and Tiger Woods celebrated it like they had won a major.
An Byeong-hun and Hideki Matsuyama had looked like a pair of sacrificial lambs when they were sent out in the foursomes to take on former world number one Thomas and U.S. captain Woods at Royal Melbourne.
Despite going down early, however, the Asian duo were far from overawed and battled back to lead twice before going toe-to-toe with their rivals over the last five holes until Thomas’s nerveless birdie putt gave the Americans the match.
Thomas let out a huge roar and pumped his fists while 43-year-old Woods danced around him like a teenager as they celebrated a win that helped the Americans rally from 6-1 down to a 6.5-3.5 deficit at the end of day two.
“We were both screaming,” said Woods. “It was a phenomenal moment, and it was priceless.
“We were just competing, we were fighting,” the 15-times major winner added. “JT and I got in our own little bubble doing our own little thing. We got up early then they flipped it on us.
“Then we clawed our way back and JT steps up there and pours this thing in at the last hole and it gives me absolute chills man. Absolute chills.”
South Korean An was a late call-up to the International team after former world number one Jason Day withdrew with a back complaint, while Japan’s Matsuyama had a patchy record over his three previous appearances.
The Americans had to bring some of their best game just to stay in the match at some points, however, as Matsuyama and An showed off no inconsiderable skills of their own.
Woods’s partnership with Thomas also brought the United States their only point on day one but the skipper has decided to sit out the Saturday fourballs.
2017 PGA Championship winner Thomas has instead been paired with Rickie Fowler.
On Thursday, Matsuyama had teamed up with Taiwan’s CT Pan and An with Adam Scott for wins as Asians had a hand in three of the four points scored by the Internationals on the way to a 4-1 lead.
They will revert to their original pairings for day three and An said Friday’s defeat would not have an enduring effect.
“It wasn’t an easy battle out there and they played amazing golf, and so did we I think,” he said.
“I know we lost but we’re still leading the tournament. Our confidence is high, and this definitely is not going to let us down, that’s for sure.”
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney in Sydney, editing by Peter Rutherford)