By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – The United States clawed back into contention at the Presidents Cup on Saturday by dominating the afternoon foursomes, but late scrambling by the Internationals secured a 10-8 lead heading into the final day at Royal Melbourne.
There were angry scenes earlier when Patrick Reed’s caddie clashed with a spectator after the U.S. golfer, heckled for three straight days for his waste bunker penalty in the Bahamas, was beaten in the morning fourballs with Webb Simpson, their third successive defeat in the Cup.
U.S. captain Tiger Woods asked the crowd to be “respectful” of his team, saying some fans had drunk too much alcohol and gone too far in their taunting.
“Have people said things that have been over the top? Yes. I’ve heard it,” he told reporters. “I’ve been in the groups playing when it has happened, and I’ve been inside the ropes as a captain today witnessing it.”
Internationals captain Ernie Els, however, said the International team had suffered worse from the galleries at Liberty National, New Jersey, two years ago.
“We shut up and we get on with things. That’s what we did in New York,” the South African said with a touch of defiance. “This Aussie crowd, OK, they got a little bit boisterous this afternoon with a couple of beers, but which crowd doesn’t? You take it and you move on.”
Reed’s caddie Kessler Karain, also the golfer’s brother-in-law, will not return for the Sunday singles, the PGA Tour said, meaning someone else will carry the American’s bag when he faces Taiwanese debutant C.T. Pan in the third match on Sunday.
With 12 singles matches remaining on day four, the first team to reach 15.5 points will raise the trophy.
No team has ever won when trailing after the third day but the U.S. tied the 2003 tournament 17-17 after going into the final Sunday three points behind.
Woods sat out both the morning fourball and afternoon foursomes on Saturday but will play against the impressive Mexican debutant Abraham Ancer on Sunday as he looks to seize early momentum for the Americans.
The Internationals stretched their lead to 9-5 after winning the early fourballs 2.5-1.5, before Woods’s team dug deep to claim the afternoon foursomes 3-1, defying huge crowds that grew increasingly hostile as the day wore on.
Dustin Johnson and Gary Woodland led the way with a 2&1 victory over the Internationals’ most senior pairing of Louis Oosthuizen and Adam Scott in the first foursomes match.
Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay then reduced the U.S. deficit to two points with another 2&1 win over Cameron Smith and Im Sung-jae.
The margin would have been shaved to a single point but for a dramatic collapse by Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler, who blew a five-hole lead after the 10th against Marc Leishman and Ancer.
Under pressure after bogeys at 16 and 17, Thomas pulled his tee-shot on the last deep into trees and Leishman pounced with a fine approach that landed within seven feet of the pin to deny the Americans a full point.
“It’s unacceptable for us to get a half a point,” said a crestfallen Thomas, who had held a perfect record until that match.
“We had our chances, and I mean, flat honest, just didn’t execute. I’m just disappointed in myself for burning that for us on 18.”
International rookies Joaquin Niemann and An Byeong-hun fought back from two holes down in the tense final match to share a point with Matt Kuchar and Tony Finau.
Chilean Niemann produced a brilliant recovery from the rough on 18 to give An a birdie chance from within seven feet to claim a full point.
A massive greenside gallery groaned as An’s putt burned the rim of the cup.
Beaten in all three of his matches, Reed will again be under huge scrutiny on Sunday.
The Internationals’ Adam Hadwin, meanwhile, will play after suffering from stomach flu and missing Saturday’s sessions.
Els indicated he expects the event to go down to the wire, putting Adam Scott and his most senior players down for the late matches on Sunday.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford and Gerry Doyle)