DUBLIN, Ohio (Reuters) - The United States opened up a commanding five-point lead over the Internationals before play was suspended at the 10th Presidents Cup on Saturday with four matches yet to be completed after another day of foul weather.
Needing 17-1/2 points to retain the trophy, the Americans ended a day of sporadic sunshine and occasionally heavy downpours leading the Internationals by 11-1/2 points to 6-1/2.
The Internationals, in dire need of a resurgence before Sunday’s concluding 12 singles, did make some inroads late on Saturday before play was suspended at a soaked and soggy Muirfield Village because of fading light.
Of the four foursomes matches still to be completed on Saturday, Nick Price’s Internationals were leading in two, all square in one and trailing in the other.
However, his players will need to build further momentum when play resumes at 7.35 am local (1135 GMT) on Sunday if they are to avoid a fifth successive defeat in the biennial team competition, and an eighth in 10 editions.
With Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods providing a few moments of magic, the Americans had tightened their grip on the trophy with a superb display of golf in the morning’s fourballs to lead by 10-1/2 points to 6-1/2.
Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner then beat the dusk to wrap up a 4&3 win over South African Richard Sterne and Australian Marc Leishman in the foursomes after Johnson spectacularly holed out from 115 yards to eagle the par-five 15th.
Johnson’s magical shot capped a stunning comeback by the Americans, who were one down after eight holes but then surged ahead by winning the ninth, 11th, 13th, 14th and 15th.
“In the morning, we played extremely well, and then Zach and Duf, to flip that match around, seems like it flipped a couple other matches our way,” said U.S. captain Fred Couples.
Price, making his debut as Internationals captain, was delighted with the performance of his team during the afternoon.
“We got off to a really good start ... and then the U.S. team started making some putts and some great shots,” he said.
“I think we are still in pretty good shape. We had some chances this morning and it went the U.S.’s way. If we can turn one of the games around tomorrow, there’s still a chance we could get four points.
“That’s what I’ve been telling the guys, trying to get their spirits up. They are obviously down after what happened this morning. These guys have got a lot of push, a lot of determination.”
Price’s men certainly showed a lot of push on Saturday afternoon, at one point leading in all five foursomes encounters before the Americans began to claw their way back.
When play ended, Australian Jason Day and Canada’s Graham DeLaet were all square with Mickelson and Keegan Bradley after 13 holes while South Africans Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel were three up on Webb Simpson and Brandt Snedeker after 12.
In the bottom match, South African Ernie Els and Zimbabwean Brendon de Jonge, despite making just two birdies between them, were two up on unbeaten American duo Woods and Matt Kuchar after nine holes.
Along with Johnson and Dufner, Bill Haas and Steve Stricker also kept the U.S. flag flying high and were three up on Australian Adam Scott and Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama after nine holes.
Earlier, the U.S. won four of the five fourball matches to put the Internationals on the back foot.
Haas and Simpson made 12 birdies between them and never trailed before sealing a commanding 4&3 victory over Argentina’s Angel Cabrera and South African Branden Grace.
Mickelson and Bradley then followed suit in the top match, beating Els and de Jonge 2&1 after clawing their way back from two down through seven holes.
Chants of “USA, USA” rang out as the Americans birdied eight and nine to get back to all square and Mickelson, red-hot with his putter, sank birdie putts from eight feet at the 12th and from 10 feet at the 13th to put them on track for the win.
Woods also turned up the heat as he and Kuchar came from one down after 12 holes to beat Masters champion Adam Scott of Australia and Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama one-up.
The U.S. duo birdied 13 and 14 to go one up before Woods hit a stunning second shot to within five feet of the flag at the par-five 15th before crouching down and pumping his right fist to celebrate what later became a conceded eagle.
The pair preserved their unbeaten record together in three matches this week when Kuchar rolled in a 16-foot birdie putt on the 18th green.
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Julian Linden