Sunday, September 23, 2018

U.S. takes record lead in Presidents Cup

JERSEY CITY, N.J. — Phil Mickelson and Kevin Kisner rehearsed the dance from Three Amigos. The only question was whether to use it at the Presidents Cup, and as the veteran of 23 team events, Mickelson concluded it would need to be during a big moment.

Their match was all square on the 18th hole Friday. Mickelson was 12 feet away for birdie. A victory would give the Americans a record lead.

"If this putt goes in," Mickelson said he told his rookie partner, "we're going to dance."

And dance they did.

The day turned out to be one big dance party for an American team that has gone nearly two decades without losing in this event against players from outside Europe. They hammered the International teams on the back nine to go unbeaten in fourballs and build an 8-2 lead, the largest margin after two sessions since the Presidents Cup began in 1994.

Mickelson had his 24th match victory to tie the Presidents Cup record held by Tiger Woods, and he set a record with his 10th victory in fourballs.

As for that dance in homage to the 1986 movie?

It looked a little awkward, though Mickelson did slightly better than when he cropped most of his face out of a selfie he took during Thursday's opening ceremony with the last three U.S. presidents.

"I'm clearly the worst selfie taker. I'm the worst Three Amigos dancer," Mickelson said. "But I can putt."

So can his teammates, who have followed the script set out by U.S. captain Steve Stricker to win every session. They won handily in three other matches. The fifth match was a halve, but even in that one, Hideki Matsuyama and Adam Hadwin had a 2-up lead with four holes to play until Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed rallied. The Americans nearly won that one, too, except that Spieth narrowly missed birdie putts on the last two holes.

"Our guys stepped up again," Stricker said. "They have a knack for doing that. To finish like that is huge for us going into (today)."

Mathematically, the International team could be done today, the first day of a double session — four matches of foursomes in the morning, followed by four matches of fourballs in the afternoon. The Americans are 71/2 points away from clinching the cup.

"I think we saw the strength of the U.S. team come out (Friday)," International captain Nick Price said.

He also saw his team play its worst golf on the back nine at Liberty National. The Americans won 13 holes on the back nine. The Internationals won three.

Price was not about to give up, hopeful of gaining momentum this morning and riding it into the afternoon ahead of the 12 singles matches on the final day.

"We're only 10 points through 30. There's 20 points left," Price said. "We are not laying down."

PGA Europe: Tyrrell Hatton shot 5-under 65 in miserable conditions in his second round to lead the British Masters by three, at 12-under 128, topping a leaderboard dominated by English players at Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, England. Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter also shot 65 and were two of four Englishmen in a five-way tie for second behind Hatton, who shared the first-round lead with George Coetzee. Coetzee shot 72 and was 5 under. Rory McIlroy (69) was 4 under. Masters champion Sergio Garcia missed the cut, which was 2 under, after rounds of 70 and 69 left him 1 under. Sam Saunders, Arnold Palmer's grandson, followed his opening 12-under 59 with 66 to take a two-stroke lead at 17-under 125 in the Tour Championship at Atlantic Beach. Saunders is trying to regain his PGA Tour card in the four-event Tour Finals after finishing 129th in the FedEx Cup standings.

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