The U.S. Presidents Cup team came roaring out of the gate Thursday morning. It was if they were playing a casual practice round at Muirfield Village; they were pretty fearless on all of their shots and bold on all of their putts. Except for Jordan Spieth:
Got off to a slow start and Steve came up to me and said, ‘When are you finally going to start playing?’ He took care of me at the end, and all in all it was a match you hate to see somebody lose but couldn’t have been happier that he got that up‑and‑down [from a plugged lie in the greenside bunker on 18].
But it ended very well, 1UP to be precise after cruising at 2UP most of the day:
What a match. I think we had 14 birdies between the two of us. They had, what, 13? It was incredible. You don’t want anybody else to have to get that up‑and‑down other than Steve Stricker, so, God, what a match. It was incredible, the vibe out here, the USA chants, looking forward to tomorrow.
It was great to see Spieth come around after a completely uncharacteristic nervous fumbling, the worst his tee shot on the par-4 4th. He chunked his tee shot and it came up 15 or 20 yards short of the green. If you watch the shot in slow motion, none of his signature freedom was present. His body stalled and his timing was so far off, he tried to muscle it through the ball with his arms, you know, like we all play.
That must have been the point in time where Stricker good-naturedly yanked on his chain. And Spieth snapped out of it and reverted to his super competent self with a long bomb on 6 for birdie. Brendon de Jonge topped him with his own short birdie, but Spieth kept it from going All Square with his. In the end, Stricker’s saved par on 18 to win the match was for Spieth’s banked birdie on 6.
And that was kind of how it was for the entire U.S. Team. They came out like a bunch of juggernauts and soon all six matches were U.S. red. And then the rain squall came thundering and lightning right over the top of Muirfield Village. That stopped play for an hour and twenty minutes and a couple of the U.S. pairings too.
The Mickelson/Bradley team had the toughest time of it. Phil explains:
Yeah, we were got off to a good start. We were rolling there through seven holes. We were 5‑under and playing well, and when they birdied 8 and 9 to get it back to even. After the rain, I ended up having a bad practice session before I went out, and I played terribly the back nine and left Keegan alone on a lot of holes, and that’s tough to do when you’ve got to make birdies, and he made a number of birdies, a number of putts to keep us in it and then we just lost it there in the end.
In fact, they lost it on 11 when Louis Oosthuizen birdied the par-5 11th to go 1UP, a lead he and Charl Schwartzel never relinquished.
And that’s kind of how it was for the first three matches. Hunter Mahan and Brandt Snedeker were 3UP through 6 over Jason Day and Graham DeLaet. But that dwindled down to All Square on 15 with Day making a great putt on 18 for the win. (He was cheating though; Muirfield Village is his home course.)
Graham and I, we both played great golf, and we just kept on saying to ourselves, give ourselves the opportunities on the greens and be patient and things will happen.
After the rain delay, we came out and played great golf on the back nine, and I just knew that if I could give myself a putt on the 18th green, that I have played here enough to know where the breaks are.
Moments like that, you just — that’s why you practice so hard. I really enjoy having the putt to win a match like that, and you know, it’s just great to see all the hard work that I’ve put in this year pay off on moments like that.
And the rain delay was a factor in the Bill Haas and Webb Simpson duel with Adam Scott and Hideki Matsuyama. The Americans were 2Up as late as 14. And that slowly dwindled to All Square and then back to 1Up again on 17. But that gave Matsuyama his singular moment of glory when he stuffed it to a foot on 18 to win the halve. Adam Scott:
Well, I think what we showed today is that there’s plenty of heart on this team. I don’t think spirits were low when we sat in the team room in the break, but for everyone to go out and rally, some guys to pull out wins, other guys halves, and even the matches we lost came closer all of a sudden.
So there’s plenty of heart on the team and I think we should take a lot out of that. We were in ordinary shape for a while, and 3 1/2 ‑ 2 1/2 isn’t a big deal, if we win the session tomorrow, so if we are neck and neck, that should be our goal to win the session tomorrow.
Tiger Woods and Matt Kuchar had their way with Angel Cabrera and Marc Leishman winning 5 & 4. Tiger explains what made it work for them:
We’ve been good friends for a long time. We went out there, had a great time today and put it on them.
We both play well at the same time, and we did that today. Kuch was solid all day. When he made a mistake, I was there; and when I made a few mistakes, he was there, and we were just never really out of a hole.
And that was pretty much true with Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson over Branden Grace and Richard Stern, 5 & 3. What made this one so impressive was that Johnson was so sick with the flu, that he stayed home in bed and slept all day Monday, arriving a day late:
I feel fine, getting back to where I should be. Getting my legs underneath me. I have to be honest with you, granted, Duf played great, we ham‑and‑egged it, and we gave each other a lot of two‑look putts for birdies and then he made some nice saves for pars on the par-3s.
So having him on my side and just playing 14 1/2, 15 holes isn’t going to hurt me come the rest of the week.
So with the Americans leading 3½ – 2½, here are the pairings for Friday Foursomes (Alternate Shot). The intervals are down to eleven minutes from fourteen and all times are ET:
1:10 pm – Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley vs Jason Day and Graham DeLaet
1:21 pm – Bill Haas and Hunter Mahan vs Ernie Els and Brendon de Jonge
1:32 pm – Steve Stricker and Jordan Spieth vs Branden Grace and Richard Sterne
1:43 pm – Webb Simpson and Brandt Snedeker vs Angel Cabrera and Marc Leishman
1:54 pm – Tiger Woods and Matt Kuchar vs Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel
2:05 pm – Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson vs Adam Scott and Hideki Matsuyama
The forecast is for a sunny day.