By Steve Keating
JERSEY CITY, New Jersey, Sept 30 (Reuters) – The International team’s Presidents Cup hopes were hanging by the slimmest of threads after the United States claimed six of eight matches in a cut-throat display on Saturday to sit on the brink of a seventh successive title.
Only a one-up victory by India’s Anirban Lahiri and South Korea’s Kim Si-woo over Kevin Chappell and Charley Hoffman denied the United States a sweep of the afternoon four-balls to put celebrations at a breezy Liberty National on hold.
It also kept the Internationals of suffering the ultimate embarrassment of watching the trophy claimed on a Saturday for the first time.
The United States have a commanding 14-1/2 to 3-1/2 lead and need just one point from Sunday’s 12 singles matches.
“We’ve just come up against a juggernaut of an American team that has not put a foot wrong,” said International captain Nick Price. “They have had all the momentum and we’ve had nothing.
“There’s an outside shot tomorrow and the guys all know that.
“They are going to go play for their pride, they are going to play for themselves, they are going to play for the team and they are going to play for us.
“You’re not going to be able to take the spirit away out from our team, that’s for sure.”
Despite failing to clinch, it was another ruthless performance from the U.S., who won three of four foursomes matches and halved the other then followed up by prevailing in three of the four-ball contests.
The U.S. had looked poised to run the table on Saturday after Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed claimed a 2&1 decision over Australian Jason Day and South African Louis Oosthuizen, before Daniel Berger and Justin Thomas beat Venezuela’s Jhonattan Vegas and Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama 3&2.
Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka then secured a 3&2 victory over Australian Marc Leishman and South African Branden Grace before the spotlight fell on Chappell and Hoffman in the last match of the day.
With the Americans clinging to a one hole lead, Kim sent a charge through the chilled crowd when he drained a nervy seven-foot birdie putt at the 15th to leave the match all-square.
Lahiri rolled in a 16-foot birdie effort on the next hole to take the lead.
Chappell generously conceded a four-foot birdie to Lahiri at the last, handing the Internationals just their second match victory.
U.S. captain Steve Stricker sent out British Open champion Spieth and Reed first who overcame a rules blunder at the 12th that appeared to open the door for the Internationals.
With their match all-square Spieth was disqualified from completing the hole and denied an opportunity to match Day’s birdie putt when Oosthuizen’s eagle attempt scooted past the cup and he scooped up the ball before it had stopped.
The error allowed the Internationals to grab a one-up lead but in the end it proved only a minor setback as Spieth and Reed rallied with three birdies from the 15th to steal the point.
Spieth assured there will be no such complacency when they arrive at Liberty National on Sunday.
“Our goal is still to stay focused,” said Spieth. “It’s easy to get complacent with the way things are right now and it’s easy to come out tomorrow lazy.” (Editing by Andrew Both)