Melbourne: The International Team will take a 10-8 lead into Sunday’s Singles matches against the United States Team following a drama-filled day three at the Presidents Cup on Saturday which saw Asian quartet Sungjae Im, Byeong Hun An, C.T. Pan and Hideki Matsuyama producing heroic performances.
Mainland China’s Haotong Li’s Presidents Cup debut in Saturday morning’s Four-Ball session alongside Marc Leishman however ended in a disappointing 3 and 2 defeat to Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler but the other four Asian stars put crucial points on the board for Ernie Els’ team at The Royal Melbourne Golf Club in front of large galleries.
This will mark the first time the International Team has held a lead heading into Sunday’s Singles since 2003 as Els attempts to secure only the second International victory following its lone triumph at Royal Melbourne.
Holding a three point lead going into Saturday, the 21-year-old Im, the 2019 PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year, teamed up with Abraham Ancer for a 3 and 2 win over Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele before Pan and Matsuyama combined for their second win in the Four-Ball format, handing a 5 and 3 defeat to Webb Simpson and Patrick Reed.
An, playing with home hero Adam Scott, contributed a half point in the morning after Tony Finau courageously holed a seven-foot birdie on the last green to snatch a tie alongside Matt Kuchar. The International Team won the morning session 2.5 to 1.5, which marked the first time since 1998 it has recorded 2.5 points or more in each of the first three sessions.
Later in the afternoon Foursomes session when the Tiger Woods-led U.S. Team had looked like it would win all four matches, An and Joaquin Niemann fought tooth-and-nail with Finau and Kuchar again in the final match of the day before settling for a tie after An missed a seven-foot birdie chance on the 18th hole for the win.
Abraham Ancer, one of seven rookies on the International Team, and Leishman emerged as heroes as well after coming back from five-down through seven holes to salvage a tie with Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas, with the Mexican rising star holing a seven-foot birdie on 18 for the dramatic comeback.
Els was effusive of his 12 charges. “I mean, you know, we had a lead. It looked like it was going to be wiped away (in the afternoon), and the guys absolutely played with their guts and I could not be more proud and more happy for those guys in that cabin tonight. They are as excited as you could ever see a team be, losing a session 3-1, I can tell you. It was some unbelievable golf, and my hat's off to those guys,” said the South African legend.
Pan, the first from Chinese Taipei to play in the Presidents Cup, was ecstatic after securing two wins out of two alongside Matsuyama, overcoming the Reed-Simpson combination on both occasions. Pan will take on Reed in Sunday’s singles.
“He's a great teammate to have,” said Pan of his teammate. “He's super solid. He hits pretty much every right shot and he made some crucial putts, and that's big. He's just someone I feel very comfortable to play with, and he helped me to play great golf, definitely.
“We’re just communicating, a little combination of body language and English. I just feel we have chemistry. It's hard to explain. Our game fits each other and that really helps.”
After joining the International Team as a late replacement for injured Australian Jason Day, Korea’s An has played a massive role with one win, two ties and one loss in his four matches at Royal Melbourne. He takes on Simpson in the singles.
“That was a big half point. To be fair, we were struggling a little bit on the front nine. We were not hitting it great. We were not in the places where we wanted to be, but you know, at the end we got a half-point, but I mean, I guess I'm a little disappointed I missed the putt, but still, we're in a great position going into Sunday We played great today. We missed some crucial putts coming down, and the half-point was big. 10 points is where we want to be for sure,” said An.
The International Team needs to win another 5.5 points from the 12 Singles matches on Sunday to win the Presidents Cup which has been won by the U.S. Team in the past seven editions.