October 8, 2009

Comeback Win

A day after a short missed putt cost the U.S. a full point, Justin Leonard rallied for an important win alongside Phil Mickelson

Leonard didn't let a tough loss on day one bother him on day two.

Leonard didn't let a tough loss on day one bother him on day two.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Justin Leonard didn't look like he was in a joking mood in the moments after he missed a three-foot birdie putt late Thursday on the 18th green. The mistake caused he and Jim Furyk to halve their foursomes match with Retief Goosen and Y.E. Yang rather than win it outright, in turn leaving the American Presidents Cup squad with a 3½-2½ lead at day's end rather than a 4-2 advantage. Still, an hour after the mishap -- which included some confusion as to whether Goosen had conceded Leonard's putt -- the Texan decided to take advantage of the situation and pull a prank on his U.S. teammates.

With the golfers and their families assembled in the U.S. team room at Harding Park GC, Leonard stormed into the room, throwing a couple objects in seeming disgust while muttering to himself before proceeding to drink five shots that had been lined up on a bar, followed by a glass of beer.

"The whole room got quiet," said Leonard's wife, Amanda. "There was dead silence. For a split second I was like, 'Honey, are you OK?' "

The shot glasses, though, were only filled with water, set up by Furyk's caddie Mike (Fluff) Cowan shortly before anyone else entered the room. Slowly but surely those watching the scene started to realize they had been had.

"I just wanted to let everybody know that I was fine," said Leonard, "and that I was ready to come out and play today."

The later point was proved again Friday when, paired with Phil Mickelson in the opening four-ball match, Leonard made a 10-foot birdie putt on the first hole that set the tone in a 3-and-2 victory over Goosen and Adam Scott.

Despite both being veterans of several Presidents and Ryder Cups, Leonard and Mickelson had never been paired before today's match. Each had made the request to captain Fred Couples, who obliged by putting them in the lead-off spot.

"We started talking strategy last night, an hour after I finished my match," Leonard said. "He really helped me mentally get into playing today."

Added Mickelson: "I thought it showed a lot of heart on Justin's part to get the match started the way he did, coming out with a birdie and making that critical putt on the first hole."

Leonard also made a clutch birdie putt on the 14th before closing the match out on the 16th by holing an 11-foot birdie try. "He showed a lot of heart today," Mickelson said. "It was fun having him as a my partner."

Mickelson, too, was on top of his game, making birdies on the seventh, eighth and 13th holes to earn his second point of the Presidents Cup. "I rode him all the way around, and made a couple of putts, so it felt very good," Leonard said.

Meanwhile, Leonard tried to clear the air on just what transpired on the 18th green Thursday between he and Goosen. "Retief thought the match was all square," Leonard said. "I think his intent was to give me the putt to halve the match. And I guess he realized then that I needed to make that in order to win the match. It didn't distract me. It was obviously just a mistake on his part, but it had nothing to do with the reason I missed the putt. I hit a bad putt.

"He came to apologize later, and I said, 'No reason to.' It was an honest mistake."