CHARLOTTE, NC (AP) — Max Homa has never felt more energetic during a big putt on a Friday, perhaps because he’s never had so many people join in the celebration.
That’s why making the Presidents Cup was top of his wish list this year, and his final afternoon exploits at Quail Hollow exceeded expectations.
The final four-ball match was square with two holes to play, the green surrounded by American players and caddies, captains and their red carts. Homa stepped up to the hole and slammed his fist when he birdied 12 feet for a 1 lead.
And then it got even better. Taylor Pendrith birdied a 15-foot putt as the International tried to eliminate a third tie. Homa stepped up and delivered again with another 12-foot birdie putt for the win.
The matches have tightened. The result was not. Homa’s big putts in the end earned the Americans another session win by a 4-1 margin, taking the lead to 8-2.
“It was pretty surreal,” said Homa, who improved to 2-0 on his debut. “The vibe there is crazy. There are so many people you can smell them on the back of your neck.
Quail Hollow was packed with 40,000 fans on a glorious fall day, with former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush among those on the course.
In five matches that covered 87 holes, the players combined for 67 birdies and three eagles, and three matches went the distance.
All the international team could manage was two halves. What he now faces is an even more monumental task against an American team that looks set for a ninth straight victory in this lopsided affair.
“We feel like we’ve played some really good golf, solid tee-to-green, especially the last few days,” international captain Trevor Immelman said. “But we were absolutely overwhelmed. No doubt about it.”
He was with that last game as Homa and Billy Horschel dropped key putts in the stretch. And when Pendrith dropped his birdie on the last and it looked like he and Corey Conners could escape with a half point, Homa was just as eye-catching.
“I was nervous as hell about that putt, but it was fun,” Homa said. “I used to say to my wife, when you talk about things that money can’t buy, money can’t buy that feeling. And that’s something I’ll remember forever, and I’ll tell everyone who want to hear about it what I felt.”
For the second time in a row at home, the powerful American team begins a double session on Saturday with a mathematical chance of winning the cup.
There are four foursomes and four-ball matches, and the Americans would have to win seven and halve the other to clinch the cup. It seems unlikely except for who they have and how they play.
The international teams led a match – Mito Pereira and Christiaan Bezuidenhout, for a total of five holes – which ended in a half with Cameron Young and Kevin Kisner.
In two days and 10 matches, the international teams only had a lead on 10 of the 170 holes played.
The 12 Americans are among the top 25 in the world and most of them play like that. The international team was cobbled together at the last minute with more defections at Saudi-funded LIV Golf, which is managed by Greg Norman, a former Presidents Cup captain.
Norman sent a Tweeter wishing good luck to the international team, accompanied by a photo of the team during its only victory in 1998.
One of the replies was from Immelman: “LOL.”
“I say it pretty much exactly the way I mean it,” Immelman said. “What I said is exactly what I was doing when I read that tweet. I was laughing out loud.”
The strength of Team USA came from a pair of dynamic partnerships. Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele were 5-up on the turn and easily held on for a 3&2 victory over Hideki Matsuyama and Tom Kim.
Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas improved to 6-2 as a team in Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup matches, leading from the fourth hole in a 2-1 victory over the Australian pair of Adam Scott and Cameron Davis.
As usual, Spieth and Thomas were far from boring.
They were 2 with five holes to go when Thomas hit a 6-iron that swept away from an ace on the par-3 14th over the water to a backpin for a birdie. And just when it looked like the international team might be closing in, Spieth was up to his tricks.
His approach from the 15 was heading for the creek when he hit the rocks and crossed the green into the rough. He chipped 15 feet, then made the putt to halve the holeshot.
The Spieth-Thomas and Cantlay-Schauffele teams, formed as much by friendship as by their games, are 2-0 this week and are tough to beat no matter who the international team sends against them.
The passion came from the Presidents Cup rookies.
Horschel hasn’t played for his country since the 2007 Walker Cup and said he felt like throwing up for three hours before his game. For Homa, it was the second day in a row that he appeared in the final match, and the two went to the 18th green with a large audience outside and inside the ropes.
“It’s surreal to have 10 of the best golfers I’ve ever seen in my life watching you and you have to help them out,” Homa said. “He’s a heavyweight. But it’s also a lot of fun.
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