JERSEY CITY, N.J. – The Americans came within one match of winning the Presidents Cup – on Saturday.
Anirban Lahiri made two clutch birdies that only delayed the inevitable against a U.S. team on pace for the biggest blowout since these matches began in 1994.
Lahiri and Si Woo Kim had the only victory for the International team over two sessions. From sun rise until the chilly twilight at Liberty National, the American poured it on. They had a 141/2-31/2 lead and need only one point today to win the cup for seventh straight time.
Phil Mickelson set a Presidents Cup record with his 25th victory, breaking the record set by Tiger Woods. Mickelson hit two wedges into birdie range in the morning foursomes session with Kevin Kisner, when the Americans won three matches and halved the other.
Jordan Spieth's best intentions cost him a hole in a ruling rarely seen in match play. All that did was inspire Spieth and Patrick Reed to win yet another match. They are 8-1-3 as a partnership in the Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup.
Justin Thomas made another big birdie on the 14th hole and cupped his hand to his ear, covered by a beanie in the chill, to fire up a crowd that didn't need much help. Even in the lone loss of the day, the Americans made it hard on the Lahari and Kim. Charley Hoffman chipped in from short of the 17th green and body-slammed partner Kevin Chappell, a celebration that lasted only long enough for Lahiri to match his birdie with a 20-foot putt.
Lahiri and Kim were 1 up playing the par-3 18th, and when Lahiri chipped to 3 feet and both Americans were in the bunker, they chose not to concede Lahiri's putt until after Chappell had made par.
It was meaningless in the big picture, yet it illustrated clearly – along with all the celebrations – that no victory is too big for this U.S. team.
The 11-point margin is the largest going into the 12 singles matches, breaking the International record of nine points set in 1998 at Royal Melbourne, the only time it has ever won the Presidents Cup. The 2003 matches ended in a tie.
Although the outcome was inevitable, the day still had its moment, none more peculiar than the 12th hole.
Jason Day was already down for a birdie. Spieth had 12 feet for his birdie, while Louis Oosthuizen hit his drive behind the green on the reachable par 4 and had a shot at eagle. The ball raced by the hole and was headed down the slope with water on the other side, and the partisan American crowd was urging it to keep going.
Spieth had heard enough and reached over and scooped away the moving ball.
Match referee Andy McFee, a top rules chief on the European Tour, stepped in and informed Spieth that it was a violation of the first rule in golf (Rule 1-2): “A player must not take an action with the intent to influence the movement of a ball in play.” Spieth figured the International team already had its birdie. Even so, the rule meant Spieth was disqualified from the hole, even as Oosthuizen and Day protested.