Presidents Cup 2019: Tiger Woods and Justin Thomas remain undefeated thanks to 18th-hole theatrics
MELBOURNE—Justin Thomas didn't have his best stuff all day. A bit loose with the driver, slightly off with the irons, uncharacteristically inconsistent with the putter.
But he was perfect when it mattered most.
Thomas holed a slippery 17-foot birdie putt on Royal Melbourne's 18th green for a desperately needed 1-up victory in foursomes with Tiger Woods over Byeong-Hun An and Hideki Matsuyama.
Thomas slammed his Scotty Cameron to the ground, turned to the man he calls "the GOAT," and paid tribute to ... Terrell Owens, of all people.
"I! LOVE! ME! SOME ME!"
His captain loved every second of it. Woods smiled ear to ear and bear-hugged his buddy, 17 years his junior.
"It gives me chills, man," Woods said. "Absolute chills."
It also gave Woods a full point when the U.S. simply couldn't afford anything less. Woods' side will enter Saturday's 36-hole day (four-ball in the morning, foursomes in the afternoon) trailing by three points, and it could have been so much worse if not for a late American flurry that salvaged the session.
Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele also won on the 18th to beat Joaquin Niemann and Adam Hadwin, and Rickie Fowler and Gary Woodland birdied the 16th and 17th to steal a half-point from Cameron Smith and Sungjae Im. In the end, the foursomes were an even split.
"At one point, we were down in four and even in one, and so it looked pretty bleak," Woods said. "But the guys turned it around. They played phenomenal coming in. It was important for us to end the way we did, and it totally changed the last hour."
After going out first and dominating their match on Thursday, Woods and Thomas, playing in the second-to-last match, again jumped out to an early lead with some terrific play. They went 2 up after a birdie on the fourth, the product of a glorious iron shot from Woods and curling right-to-left birdie putt that Thomas snuck in the right side of the hole.
But Matsuyama and An birdied the next two holes to even the match and put their American opponents on the defensive after making a winning par on the eighth. Woods and Thomas quickly responded by winning the ninth to even the proceedings at the turn.
An struck the next blow. The South Korean's tee shot on the drivable par-4 11th landed just short of the putting surface and scooted all the way to the back tier, finishing about 15 feet from the hole. One up to the Internationals.
After Woods made a 10-footer for birdie to win the 14th, the two sides halved the next three holes to set up a make-or-break situation at the last. Thomas played first and sent his tee shot well right of where he was aiming. He looked away in disgust shortly after impact, thinking he had put Woods in a spot of bother.
"I guess I haven't played that hole enough, because I thought I hit it off the planet," Thomas said. "Was fortunate enough to give him a good angle."
Woods took advantage, sending a short iron directly at the flag and walking after the approach. It landed firmly, though, and finished above the hole. Matsuyama's birdie effort missed on the high side, setting the stage for Thomas. He faced a downhill, treacherously fast putt that had about a cup and a half of break.
"It was a putt, fortunately, where you just had to get it to the fall line," Thomas said. "Even if I pushed it—as long as I had the right speed. That's the only thing I was thinking over the putt, was just get the correct speed. I knew first off it was going to be extremely fast, but second off, if I kind of got it to that fall line, gravity would take over and the hole would get in the way."
It got to the fall line, and gravity did indeed do its thing.
"It was a phenomenal moment," Woods said of the scene. "It was priceless. I'm glad we got to experience it together."
Woods opted to sit himself for the Saturday morning four-ball session despite looking far and away the best player on his team throughout the first two sessions. Thomas will be first out with Fowler.
"That was kind of the game plan. It would be hard for me to go all the sessions," Woods said. "I've been fortunate enough to go out there with JT, and we've gotten two points. JT played great, and Rickie played awesome this afternoon. They have been looking forward to playing with one another."