Saturday, October 5, 2013
Zach and Duf take a break, then pick up big point
DUBLIN, Ohio -- They split two matches, then reluctantly took a break.
Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner came back with a vengeance in a 4-and-3 foursomes victory over the International side's Richard Sterne and Marc Leishman on Saturday night at the Presidents Cup.
It was a win that might have meant a lot more than just a point to the Americans.
"Zach and Duf, to flip that match around, it seems like it flipped a couple other matches our way," United States captain Fred Couples said.
The win -- capped by the most memorable shot of the day -- gave the United States an 11½-6½ lead in the rain-plagued competition with four other foursomes matches left to be decided early Sunday morning. Then the 12 singles matches will get under way, weather permitting -- it's always "weather permitting" at Muirfield Village.
Dufner, the laconic winner of the PGA Championship, and Johnson, a former Masters champion, rolled to a lopsided 5-and-3 win over Sterne and Branden Grace in their opening fourballs match Thursday. But they lost 2 and 1 in Friday's foursomes to Hideki Matsuyama and Adam Scott.
Couples and his assistants made the decision to give them both a rest in the next round.
"We saved them for the alternate shot," Couples said. "Obviously, the hardest thing is to sit someone and that's just the choice we made."
It proved to be a good one based on how they played on Saturday afternoon.
They were 2-down through seven holes but then won at the ninth, 11th, 13th, 14th and 15th holes to close out the victory.
Dufner kept sticking iron shots close on the greens, sodden by 1.5 inches of rain since Thursday.
"It seemed like Duf was going to hole out three times," Johnson said. "He had, in about a three- or four-hole stretch, his ball marks were in a 3-foot circle next to the hole. I guess if you just keep knocking on that door, maybe one is going to fall.
Couples said he'd never seen anything like it.
"From the eighth hole onto the 15th, I watched every step with Zach and Duf," he said. "Honestly, I've not seen golf like that -- ever. They hit every shot at the flag. Duf hit it over the top of the flag on 12. On 13 he played a beautiful shot. On 14, he made a 6-footer."
The topper was what happened at the 15th. After Johnson drove into the rough on the uphill but reachable par-5, Dufner hit to 117 yards short of the green.
Johnson pulled out a wedge.
"Honestly, it was a perfect number and I'm not embellishing because the greens are saturated that it was a half-shot," he said, fighting off Dufner's incursions on his version of the story. "It was a chip wedge that took spin off and landed right next to the pin and dropped."
The two swapped an awkward half-hug, half-high five as the damp gallery cheered how they closed out the match.
Johnson needed an IV to get fluids after suffering through a bout of the flu earlier this week. He didn't travel to Ohio with a couple of teammates because he was so ill he didn't think he could make the trip and didn't want to make anyone else sick.
Instead, he spent almost 48 hours in bed, doing his best to recover quickly in time to play.
The morning off, and the thrill of competition, did wonders. Well, and something else.
"I had a massive plate of Mexican (food)," he said, smiling. "So I'm feeling good right now."
YES, HE DID: As Adam Scott walked down the first fairway prior to his Saturday afternoon foursomes match, a fan yelled out, "Raise your hand if you've won a major this year!"
Scott, who captured the Masters for his first major championship, flashed a smile at the spectator and then proudly raised his arm as high as possible.
THE FORECAST: The release from the tournament meteorologist said the following about Sunday's weather: "Mostly cloudy with a 50 percent chance of scattered showers and thunderstorms in the morning, becoming a steady moderate to heavy rain late Sunday afternoon into Sunday night. Chance of precipitations: 100 percent late in the day. High 78, low 67, winds 10-15 mph SW."
PGA Tour officials announced that the gates will open at 6:30 a.m. Sunday, with the remaining fourth-round foursome matches resuming at 7:35 a.m. The captains will make their singles pairings at around 8:30 a.m., with the singles matches set to get under way starting at 9:10 a.m.
Tournament director Steve Carman said the conditions have required give and take by everyone -- particularly the captains who have a short turnaround time from the time they make the singles pairings until the matches head to the first tee.
"(The captains) understand the situation and we need to try to play as quick as we can," he said. "We tried to the pairings meeting as close to the tee times as possible. That's 40 minutes. By the time they finish (the remaining foursomes matches) we'll probably have 25 minutes to get to the first tee to get things organized for that first match."
QUOTE OF THE DAY: Couples on a long day on the links: "It seems like they have been out here for six days playing and grinding."
DRAWING A BYE: After fighting through grueling conditions in the morning fourballs matches, the captains made some minor changes before the afternoon foursomes got started.
Couples rested Hunter Mahan and 20-year-old rookie Jordan Spieth, while the International side's Nick Price benched Branden Grace and Angel Cabrera.
Mahan is 1-2, losing with Brandt Snedeker in the opening match and with Bill Haas in the rain-delayed foursomes on Friday and Saturday. Along with Snedeker, he ground out a 2-up win over Louis Oosthueizen and Charl Schwartzel in the lengthy third round fourballs match earlier on Saturday.
Mahan, a member of four Presidents Cup and two Ryder Cup teams, didn't have a problem watching and cheering on his teammates.
"If you're chasing, it's nice to get a little break probably and reboot," he said. "Kind of find maybe some sort of swing thought or something that can kind of get you going. These are long, tough days. They are tough on everybody, and conserving your energy and making sure you use it wisely is extremely important."
Spieth and Steve Stricker won their first two matches, but Spieth had been somewhat shaky even then. When he and Stricker lost 2-up to Jason Day and Graham DeLaet, it seemed a natural to sit him out.
"I sat the kid and Hunter," Couples said. "You know, it's like having an all-star team -- just like it is with Nick. (Spieth) has done great for us, but we just felt like sitting Hunter and Jordan."
Grace, who is 0-3 with two of the losses being lopsided, was hardly a surprise to be held back. He's the only one of the 24 players who has yet to collect a point.
Cabrera, however, was a huge surprise, even though he was a part of just one winning side in his three matches. Long off the tee and with a jeweler's touch around the greens, he was considered along with Adam Scott and Ernie Els to be one of the cornerstones of the International team. That's the kind of respect you gain when you win two major championships, the 2007 U.S. Open and the 2009 Masters.
But the Argentine player is 44 years old and it was a long slog through the muck at Muirfield Village, which is not an easy walk even on a dry track. Captain Nick Price said he was sore and would undergo physical therapy to loosen up before the singles matches on Sunday.
"This was tough for everyone today, this rain," Price said. "The guys are tired. I think they are all tired."
COUNTING CLUBS: Before Phil Mickelson teed off in the opening fourballs match Thursday with teammate Keegan Bradley, he pulled aside a rules official to ask an interesting question.
According to a tournament representative, Mickelson said he only had 12 clubs in his bag and asked if, should he end up in a predicament where he could not swing left-handed at a shot, he could borrow one of the right-handed teammate Keegan Bradley's 14-allowed clubs.
The official looked up various rulings and consulted with others before saying that, no, a player is limited to playing only with the clubs he has in his bag.
Mickelson thanked him and then teed off.
EARLY WAKE-UP: The rain delays -- some official and others just because it took longer to wipe off grips and clean golf balls -- assured that the Saturday afternoon matches wouldn't be completed.
Not only did it all make for a long day, it also made for a short night.
"It will be another 5 a.m. bus ride for all 24 guys," Couples said.
DIVOTS: International caddie captain -- yes, there is such a thing -- Greg Hearmon filled in on the 14th and 15th holes in the morning foursomes on Angel Cabrera's bag. He gave way when Angel Cabrera Jr., who had slept in, got to the course. ... Louis Oosthuizen's 7-iron to the par-3 12th plugged on the green during the rain-delayed morning fourballs, the ball sticking while caked with mud. ... The hundreds of fans lining three sides of the first tee didn't let the bad weather stop them. Couples pointed and laughed while spectators waving American flags chanted, "Fred-die! Fred-die!" Snedeker teed off first in his alternate-shot match and then turned, smiled, and gave the partisan U.S. section a big thumbs-up. ... Matt Kuchar and Tiger Woods are each 3-0. They were 2 down through nine holes in their match with Ernie Els and Brendon de Jonge.
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