INCHEON, South Korea (Reuters) - The Internationals produced a stirring fightback on day two of the Presidents Cup, cutting the United States’ lead to a single point, with South Korean Bae Sang-moon grabbing a crucial win for his team by holing a pressure-packed putt on the last.
Trailing 4-1 from the opening day’s foursomes, International skipper Nick Price needed a strong start in Friday’s four-balls and got just that from Branden Grace and Louis Oosthuizen, who beat world number one Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson 4&3.
More blue went on the board when Thongchai Jaidee and Charl Schwartzel beat Bill Haas and Chris Kirk 2&1, while Bae and New Zealander Danny Lee scored a thrilling victory over Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker on the 18th hole.
J.B. Holmes and Bubba Watson got the Americans’ only win of the day, beating Marc Leishman and Steven Bowditch 2 up, while Phil Mickelson and Zach Johnson settled for a half point against Jason Day and Adam Scott.
The main talking point from that match, however, was the penalties imposed on the Americans on the seventh hole after Mickelson changed the type of ball he was playing.
Officials disqualified Mickelson from the hole, a decision they later conceded was incorrect, but then added insult to injury by hitting the United States with a one-hole penalty.
With Day winning that hole to put the Internationals one up in the match, they suddenly found themselves two ahead after the penalty was imposed on the Americans before the eighth.
Mickelson was reluctant to cast blame on the rules officials and said the responsibility lay with himself.
“It’s the job of the player to know the rules,” he said.
“It’s not the committee’s fault, they made a mistake. It’s disappointing but they shouldn’t have been put in that position.”
The incident seemed to fire up the 45-year-old, who needed a captain’s pick this year for the first time since 1994, and he delivered the shot-of-the-day at the 12th, his fairway bunker shot from 136 yards dropping near the pin and spinning sideways into the hole.
After winning just one of the 10 previous Presidents Cups, the Internationals have their best chance in years in Korea, the first Asian country to host the event, after the PGA Tour agreed to reduce the points on offer to 30 from 34.
Internationals skipper Price, who played in five Cups, said he had been on tenterhooks throughout the day.
“I‘m so proud of those guys, my nerves are shot,” he added. “We still have three rounds of golf to go. It’s nerve-wracking being back there powerless.”
The captain’s decision to put Grace and Oosthuizen out first against the might of Spieth and Johnson proved a masterstroke. The South African duo earned the Internationals’ only point on Thursday and were in confident mood.
Spieth, however, said he and Johnson had gift-wrapped the point to the opposition.
“We both played very poor rounds of golf and we didn’t have many chances, so it was Merry Christmas to the other guys,” added the 22-year-old, who won two majors this year.
“That was one of the worst rounds of golf I’ve felt over the ball in a long time. I don’t know what I owe it to but one of us was out of the fairway on every single hole and one of us was missing the green on every single hole.”
The feel-good story of the day was South Korean Bae, who birdied the last to give his team the win.
Bae is playing in his last tournament before he begins mandatory military service and after a tough year on the PGA Tour needed a captain’s pick to make the Presidents Cup team.
After being benched for the opening day, Bae was a rock on Friday, carrying the erratic Lee throughout and sinking a match-winning 12-footer on the last to the delight of the home fans.
Lee said the tension had been unbearable.
“I‘m pretty sure he was pretty nervous. I was nervous watching him,” said Lee.
“He had to stand up and man up and hit that golf ball; I‘m pretty sure he was shockingly nervous.”
Play continues on Saturday with foursomes and four-balls before wrapping up on Sunday with 12 singles matches.
Editing by Amlan Chakraborty