MELBOURNE, Australia — It was the “War at the Shore” in 1991 that turned the Ryder Cup in the phenomenon it is today. The rivalry of the Presidents Cup might well have its signature moment on Sunday in the “Duel Down Under.”
The 13th Presidents Cup, which for a time looked like it might be a rout in favor of the Internationals, will be decided by the final-day singles matches after the U.S. clawed back into contention by winning the afternoon foursomes matches.
The U.S. claimed three points and will trail the International team 10-8 heading into the 12 singles matches at Royal Melbourne Golf Club.
Despite its 25-year existence, the Presidents Cup pales in comparison to the Ryder Cup in both stature and interest, which is why this Presidents Cup needed the type of drama that awaits here on Saturday (Eastern Time).
The Americans played well on third day, but their result could have been even better. Dustin Johnson and Gary Woodland defeated Louis Oosthuizen and Adam Scott 2 and 1; and Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay downed Cameron Smith and Sungjae Im, 2 and 1. But Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas had to settle for a tie after being 5-up at the turn and 3-up with three holes to play. Matt Kuchar and Tony Finau were 2-up after 13 holes, but settled for a tie.
Still the score is tight enough that it’s anyone Cup to win. That’s what this event needed. The Presidents Cup is appreciated by hardcore golf fans, the best from America competing against the best from nine continents in the world. But it’s normally lost in the general U.S. sports landscape this time of year with the NFL regular season underway, the NBA season taking root and baseball free agency creating its share of noise.
The Presidents Cup was played at Liberty National in Jersey City two years ago and whatever attention it hoped to create in the world’s largest media market was basically lost when the Americans took an 8-2 lead after the second day. After the morning sessions of four-ball that Saturday, the U.S. was up 11 ½ to 2 ½, and the rest of the event wasn’t worth watching.
It also hasn’t helped that the Americans have been so dominant, losing just in 1998. It’s hard to build any kind of rivalry when one side is winning all the time. Oosthuizen, playing here in his fourth Presidents Cup, was asked if people would lose interest if the Americans kept winning.
“I think we’re almost at the point,” he admitted, adding, “I think this week is probably the best chance we will have with this golf course, this crowd.”
Now the Internationals have a chance to make it a true rivalry. While we know many of the names on the 2019 International team — Leishman, Scott, Oosthuizen, and Hideki Matsuyama — there are also seven rookies on the team whom most casual fans in the United States and even Australia are just getting to know. Perhaps that’s why Internationals Captain Ernie Els had to encourage more support from the crowd.
This is the third time the Presidents Cup has been contested here, but Els was still asking for the kind of support the Europeans and Americans receive when these events are played on their home soil.
“We want to have a home game,” Els said, “and this is a home game for us. Although we’ve got nine different regions representing our team, this our home game. So we want the fan support.”
The Internationals should have plenty support when the “Duel Down Under” will be decided.