Date: October 09, 2015
Author: Mark Hayes

Drama as Internationals hit back

The International team has stoically forged back into Presidents Cup contention on a day of high drama in Incheon, Korea.

After entering the second day trailing 4-1 and facing questions about their competitiveness, the hosts won 3.5 of the five points on offer in the fourball contests, edging back within one before the weekend action.

But the focus for much of a controversial afternoon was on the match between Aussie pair Jason Day and Adam Scott against Phil Mickelson and Zach Johnson that ended all square.

The Americans led early, but were sensationally penalised a hole when Mickelson changed to a harder variety of ball to play the par-5 seventh hole.

Mickelson, thinking he could change balls as per foursomes regulations, realised he might have made a mistake halfway down the fairway.

He alerted rules officials to his decision halfway up the seventh hole when he thought he might have made an error, and was immediately told he was out of the hole.

Day’s birdie won the hole over Johnson soon afterwards, but on the next tee the Americans were informed they’d lost an additional hole under a “deduction of hole” penalty for the infraction, rather than immediate “loss of hole” they had been playing.

Officials later apologised to the Americans for not allowing Mickelson to have played out the hole, but it mattered little by that stage as the veteran duo clearly were playing with an “us-against-the-world” attitude.

The left-handed Mickelson, who has played in every Presidents Cup since its inception in 1994, was visibly disturbed by the ruling when it happened, but recovered quickly to roll in a birdie on the 11th to restore the status quo in the match.

He then played the shot of the tournament, holing a 130m fairway bunker shot on the 12th for eagle to restore the Americans’ lead.

From there, the match see-sawed, but Day’s clutch birdie on the 15th evened the ledger and that’s where it stayed until he holed a critical 3m putt on the last to ensure a half-point.

“The PGA of America doesn’t have that rule. It threw me for a loop that we had a one-ball rule and I didn’t think much about it,” Mickelson said before accepting the blame.

“But it’s my responsibility to know that.”

Johnson said it had made the match a little tense.

“It’s not that comfortable … but if there’s a gentleman I’ d like to be fighting with when my back’s against the wall, it’s this guy right here,” the Open champion said of Mickelson.

“The shots he hit (subsequently) were exactly what I’d expect. It was a great fight and that’s all we could ask for.

“It was a tough match – there’s a bit of nasty taste, but that’s OK.”

Earlier, South African duo Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace continued their unbeaten start to the Presidents Cup with a 4&3 drubbing of world No.1  Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson in the opening match.

Local hero Sangmoon Bae rolled in a spectacular birdie putt from 6m on the last hole to give he and Danny Lee a surprise victory over Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker, who had been 2-up for much of the front nine.

But Bae and his Korean-born Kiwi teammate never gave up and were rewarded for their persistence with the grandstand finish in front of the appreciative local crowd.

In a match of many birdies and highlight reel shots, Aussie Cup rookies Steve Bowditch and Marc Leishman were 2-down early, but twice rallied to pull square against power combination J.B. Holmes and Bubba Watson.

But after Holmes made birdie on the 12th, the Americans remained 1-up the rest of the way until a desperate push on the last by the Aussies came up short and their opponents won 2-up.

The bottom clash looked set for Thongchai Jaidee and Charl Schwartzel cakewalk early on the back nine when they edged out to a 3-up lead with five to play against Bill Haas and Chris Kirk.

But Haas chipped in for eagle on the 14th, sparking two more back-to-back birdies that extended the match to the 17th.

But eventually the gap proved too much and Schwartzel rolled in a long birdie on the second-last for a 2&1 victory.