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The Loop

Brash American team, led by Mickelson and Spieth, is backing up its talk so far


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October 10, 2015

INCHEON, South Korea -- Phil Mickelson can back it up. So can Jordan Spieth.

American players did a little more talking with their golf clubs and a lot less with their mouths on Saturday in the Presidents Cup, and it helped them remain in front of the International squad with 12 singles matches remaining Sunday afternoon at Jack Nicklaus GC. With a split of the eight points available Saturday in foursomes and four-ball, the U.S. retained a one-point lead 9 1/2 to 8 1/2, the 25th straight time it has ended a session out in front.

But this is the closest the Presidents Cup has been after the team matches since the two squads were tied in 2005.

Now onto the fun stuff, namely how this biennial match play competition acquired a bit more sizzle. Thank Phil.

Mickelson provided a textbook delivery of bulletin board material on Friday after a strange four-ball match. He teamed with Zach Johnson to halve their match against Australia's Jason Day and Adam Scott despite the U.S. pair incurring a controversial and irregular penalty; Mickelson violated the one-ball rule as part of the condition of play in the matches, leading to a scoring adjustment in which they lost the seventh hole twice, once by score and once by penalty.

In the aftermath, Mickelson, whose outspokenness was newsworthy at last year's Ryder Cup, said that he didn't look at the mistake as costing his team a half-point. "I feel like we spotted the Internationals's best team two holes and they still couldn't beat us. Just saying." Oof.

Mickelson and Johnson, USA's two oldest players, sat out the morning foursomes but were back on the pitch for afteroon four-ball. Lefty tried to gird Johnson for a tough day.

"You know, his words, prior to playing, were very simple and straightforward," Johnson, the reigning British Open champion said. "He's like, 'We've got to be at our best." You know, he's like, "They are going to come after us." Regardless of who it was; we didn't know at this time.

"He said, 'You know, I might have said some things and they might be a little more anxious to get me. I want you by my side. I said, 'I'm right here.' But that's Phil, that's the beauty of him. That's what we like; and he's our leader."

Drawing Adam Scott and Anriban Lahiri, Mickelson birdied the first hole, and the Americans never trailed in a 3-and-2 decision.

Mickelson wasn't alone, however, in delivering "gotcha" material. After he and Dustin Johnson fell victim to the South African juggernaut of Branden Grace and Louis Ooshuizen in four-ball, 4 and 3, Spieth wasn't in a magnanimous mood. The usually polite Texan, steaming under the collar, realized that together he and his teammate, the No. 1 and No. 8 players in the world, combined for two birdies in the better ball match.

"We both played very poor rounds of golf, and we didn't have many chances, so it was Merry Christmas to the other guys," the 22-year-old said.

True enough, but Grace and Oosthuizen did play well, and they did go on to finish 4-0 in team play.

Spieth decided no more Christmas gifts. He gave the Internationals lumps of coal in a pair of victories in which he thrived under pressure. That was particularly true in the morning, when he and Johnson fell three holes behind Jason Day and Charl Schwartzel through nine holes. They chipped away at the lead, however, and then Spieth made consecutive 6-footers on 17 and 18 to steal a full point.

In afternoon four-ball with Patrick Reed, Spieth just kept making shots. He converted eight birdies on his own ball -- after one the previous day -- and the U.S. pair steam-rolled Day and Schwartzel, 3 and 2 in a match that finished in darkness.

Spieth even called his shot on the par-3 13th, holing a bunker shot after telling his caddie Michael Greller "to go pick the ball out the hole" before he even hit it. Spieth has holed out from off the green more than 20 times this year. He has lost count.

But he hasn't lost any of the fire that he displayed throughout a PGA Tour Player of the Year season that ended with him atop the world rankings.

The U.S. hasn't won anything yet, except the war of words. Then again, they're the only ones firing shots. For now, anyways. It's about time somebody woke up these sleepy little goodwill matches.