JERSEY CITY, N.J. — It has come to this in the Presidents Cup: After a U.S. twosome made a riveting comeback to tie a match that had seemed lost, both players felt empty. In any other context, their play would qualify as a highlight. On this day in this event, they were the only Americans who didn’t win.
“I thought it would straighten just a smidge at the end,” Jordan Spieth said of the 15-foot birdie putt on No. 18 that rolled around the back of the cup and stayed out. “I was just a bit unlucky. I thought, with that speed, it might catch the lip and go in. All in all, we’ll take a half, but we’re still disappointed with not winning.”
So, he and Patrick Reed had to settle for rallying from 2-down through 14 holes to halve their match against the International team’s Hideki Matsuyama and Adam Hadwin. It just added spice, or salt in the wound from the other side’s perspective, as the United States dominated the second day of play at Liberty National, 4 1⁄2- 1⁄2 , and took a commanding 8-2 lead with two days to go.
The Internationals, who have won only once in 11 Presidents Cup competitions, must gain 13 1⁄2 of the 20 remaining points to win this time.
“We have to pick our heads up, go out there and see if we can have a good Saturday,” said Louis Oosthuizen, part of the visitors’ strongest twosome with South African countryman Branden Grace. They lost to Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler, 3 and 2.
If the outcome of this year’s four-day event ever was a foregone conclusion, you couldn’t prove it by the exuberance of the U.S. golfers. Thomas, playing in his first international team match as a pro, vigorously shouted and waved, encouraging the crowd to cheer after he holed out from a greenside bunker on No. 14.
“I’m a little hoarse. That’s a first for me,” Thomas said, having done his share of yelling after his six birdies.
Later, there was a choreographed (and nonetheless awkward) celebration between Kevin Kisner and Phil Mickelson after the latter’s 12-foot birdie putt completed a comeback, 1-up victory over Jason Day and Marc Leishman, who had led for the first 13 holes.
U.S. players credited Charley Hoffman and Kevin Chappell, Presidents Cup rookies who were not put in the lineup Thursday, for setting the tone. Those two completely blitzed Charl Schwartzel and Anirban Lahiri, 6 and 5.
“You know, that was something you’ve got to experience by doing it. You can’t make it up . . . To get that first point was awesome,” Chappell said.
Hoffman said the two of them were “biting at the bit” after not having cracked captain Steve Stricker’s rotation Thursday. “Kevin and I understood that, but I think it gave us a little fire and a little momentum going into today,” Hoffman said.
It was dispiriting for the other team, an amalgam of players from all parts of the globe. For a while, there seemed good chemistry between Japan’s Matsuyama and Hadwin, who was born in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan (hometown of Islanders Hall of Famer Clark Gillies).
“We had it a couple up there going through 14, they kind of turned it on and made a few putts. We just couldn’t match the putts coming down,” Hadwin said. “It probably wasn’t the prettiest of matches at times, but a half’s a half.”
For Team USA, the day was whole, beginning with the excitement of a ferry ride from the team’s Manhattan hotel, past the Statue of Liberty.
“I get goose bumps,” Thomas said. “A lot of us were going outside, taking pictures, the same pictures we’ve gotten three or four previous days.”
Fowler added, “I like the ride going back better.”