Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas lead for USA, Tom Kim gives Internationals spark at Presidents Cup
CHARLOTTE, NC — The day started with memories of 2017 at Liberty National, where the Americans dominated so well they nearly won the Presidents Cup on Saturday.
The moment 20-year-old Tom Kim slammed his cap on the ground in a wild celebration and Cameron Davis finished with three straight birdies for another comeback victory, everyone could think of nothing but the Ryder Cup 2012 in Medina.
The Americans still lead by 4. It was just much closer.
Kim, a young talent with a massive personality, delivered the first big moment for the international team. He gave his team a spark with a 55-foot eagle putt after traversing the 11th green. And on the final hole, he birdied a 10-foot putt in a 1 win over Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele.
He took a few steps back as the ball approached the hole, dropped his putter and slammed his cap to the ground in a boisterous celebration.
“I wanted that putt more than anything,” Kim said.
In two matches on Saturday, Kim and KH Lee knocked out world number one Scottie Scheffler and Sam Burns, and he and Si Woo Kim beat the formidable Cantlay-Schauffele tandem.
The international team split the matches into foursomes in the morning and won the four-ball session 3-1. It was enough to reduce a big deficit, enough to give hope to the underdogs.
The Americans certainly didn’t look like they had an 11-7 lead heading into the 12 singles matches – usually their strength – as they go for a ninth straight win.
“If anything, we need to refocus, and we have a lot of [ticked] guys who want to come out really strong tomorrow,” Jordan Spieth said.
No one on Team USA was in Medinah for the 2012 Ryder Cup except Davis Love III, the captain of the two.
The Americans were leading all week that year until Ian Poulter birdied the final five holes, giving Europe momentum that they maintained on Sunday. Trailing 10-6, the Europeans staged the biggest comeback by a visiting team in Ryder Cup history.
“They picked up momentum today,” Love said. “They’ve started putting putts, and we’re going to have to turn around tomorrow and come out hot and try to get some momentum back.”
No one was more reliable than Spieth and Justin Thomas, a behemoth of this powerful American team. They won two games on Saturday without ever seeing the 16th hole except to get into a car to cheer on their teammates.
They became the first American tandem to go 4-0 in tag team matches since Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker in 2009 at Harding Park.
Thomas thinks he must have only made 10 putts over 30 holes in two games because Spieth was doing so much damage on and around the green. Even on their final hole on Saturday afternoon, with Thomas tight for a 5-foot putt that would have won it, Spieth participated from the front of the green.
“I legitimately think I got my play back more than I hit putts,” Thomas said. “So yeah, my partner is pretty good.”
At that time, the Americans had an 11-4 lead.
On the course, Sungjae Im and Sebastian Munoz were ahead in the match they would win in 16 holes against Tony Finau and Kevin Kisner, the only time in 18 matches this week that an international team did not trail at any time .
The Americans were ahead in the other two. The rout was on, and then it was no longer the case.
Schauffele gave his team a 1-up lead with a putt 40 feet short of the 15th green, only for Si Woo Kim to birdie 4 feet on the par-5 16th to settle the game. Si Woo Kim also made a par 5-foot putt to tie on 17, a putt that made Tom Kim so nervous he covered his eyes and peeked through his fingers.
And then Tom Kim stole the show.
International captain Trevor Immelman noticed that Kim was about 35 yards behind everyone else in the group, 235 yards from the green with a 2 iron in hand. Behind the 20-year-old Korean was a group of American stars – Thomas, Spieth, Collin Morikawa, all major champions – who were also watching. What a step.
“And this kid cleans a 2 iron at 10 feet and makes the putt,” Immelman said. “For me, that’s something impressive.”
Not to be overlooked was Davis, a bright spot in the international squad and one of Immelman’s eight signings due to some four players dropping out of the Presidents Cup for Saudi-funded LIV Golf.
The match was close but Burns and Billy Horschel never led by more than a hole. Davis hit a 12-foot eagle putt on the 16th to score the game. On the next hole, Davis birdied a 15-foot putt for the game’s first lead.
Davis and Scott each had about 10 feet for a birdie on the last hole, and Burns hit his approach from 4 feet for what looked like quite a birdie. Davis made a third straight birdie, another point for the international team, more momentum for Sunday.
“I got a little numb, to be honest,” Davis said. “I was in a situation where I was going to charge. But I just got into a rhythm that made golf easy for once.”
And that made things a little more difficult for the Americans.