So many times over three days it appeared as if the Presidents Cup, the first event in which Tiger Woods had served as a captain, was headed for an embarrassing, blowout defeat. Instead, each time, the Americans found a way to inch closer, to stay within reach. And so a surprisingly close, drama-filled Presidents Cup comes down to 12 singles matches. Can the International side pull the upset? Will the U.S. rally around Woods and sneak off with a victory?
Here’s a look at each of the matches that will decide this Presidents Cup:
SCOREBOARD: International 10, United States 8
The marquee match of the singles is the very first one off on the final day. Woods wanted to go out early, hoping to both set a tone for the day and get done playing and return to being a captain as the rest of the matches finish. Woods sat all of Day 3, so the 43-year-old should feel rested. Ancer, the Presidents Cup rookie with a 3-0-1 record this week, said a few weeks ago he wanted to face Woods. Well, he got his wish. Others have asked for a piece of Woods and it hasn’t ended well for them. For both teams, this is a statement match.
Prediction: Woods wins 2 and 1.
At the conclusion of Day 3, Matt Kuchar had a warning for the International side: You don’t want to play Tony Finau. He might not yet have a win to show for it this week — Finau is 0-1-2 — but he carried a struggling Kuchar to a pair of ties on consecutive days. Matsuyama has two wins so far in the competition, but both came in matches against Patrick Reed and Webb Simpson, the pair who by far have had the worst week. While Woods/Ancer is the headliner, this might be the next-best matchup of the 12 singles.
Patrick Reed vs. C.T. Pan
If Reed thought the crowds in Australia were heckling him over the first three days, just wait until he heads to the first tee for this one. Reed is coming off a rules issue at the Hero World Challenge, in which the word “cheating” was brought up more than once. He’s played poorly in this Presidents Cup, going 0-3 alongside Simpson. He egged the fans on once, motioning that he couldn’t hear them and then making a digging motion, referencing his violation in the sand the week before. Then, on Day 3, his caddie, Kessler Karain, got into an altercation with a fan and was taken off Reed’s bag for singles by the PGA Tour. So, no, it won’t be quiet around this match.
Prediction: Pan wins 3 and 2.
Late in Day 3 it appears Johnson finally shook off all the rust. He had been out of action since knee surgery in September. Li, meanwhile, has been hidden by International captain Ernie Els. Li sat the first two days — he was the only player to do that — and played just once on Day 3, and that was a shaky performance in a loss alongside Marc Leishman.
Prediction: Johnson wins 4 and 3
DeChambeau, like Li on the International side, hasn’t participated much this week. He played in the first session of the event and has not been seen on the course since. He wandered into the stands before the first tee and cheered and sang along with some fans during Day 3’s second session, but that has been his only contribution since his Day 1 loss. Hadwin, meanwhile, dealt with an illness that caused him to miss Day 3 altogether. So if you’re looking for the least predictable match of the session, this is it.
Woodland, the reigning U.S. Open champion, hit one of the biggest shots of the week, a perfect approach into the 17th hole in Day 3’s alternate-shot session to help he and Johnson hold off a late charge by Adam Scott and Louis Oosthuizen. Im has been steady in his first Presidents Cup appearance, posting a 2-1-1 record so far.
Prediction: Woodland wins 2 and 1.
For three days, Niemann, the youngest player in the field, looked out of sorts. He started 0-2 and looked headed for another loss in Day’s alternate-shot session with Byeong Hun An. But two birdies at the 14th and 15th helped the pair salvage a tie and perhaps finally allowed Niemann, 21, to shake off the nerves. Cantay is one of the Americans who has played every match — he was with Xander Schauffele for all four sessions. This match, more than perhaps some of the others, will be decided by who has the hotter putter.
Prediction: Cantlay wins 1 up.
Xander Schauffele vs. Adam Scott
In singles, obviously, Cantlay and Shauffele couldn’t be paired together. But Woods made sure the two, who have been side by side this entire week, weren’t far apart. So they’ll still be able to keep an eye on each other. Scott is the biggest fan favorite in the event, the Australian with the most experience on the International side; Schauffele is a Presidents Cup rookie.
Prediction: Scott wins 3 and 2.
Webb Simpson vs. Byeong Hun An
Simpson has to be thrilled to be far, far away from the Reed circus. He was front-and-center with Reed for three sessions, all losses in which the pair wasn’t all that competitive. Going at it alone in singles will feel like a nice break. An has been in close matches all week — he has two ties, a 1-up loss and a 2 and 1 win to make up his 1-1-2 record. The question is here whether fatigue will set in; he is in his first Presidents Cup.
Prediction: An wins 1 up
Woods wanted experience at the back end of his lineup, thinking the Cup might come down to the final few players lined up for singles. Enter Thomas, who had been the U.S. side’s most dominant player until a shocking collapse late in his match with Rickie Fowler at the end of Day 3. Thomas was not happy he and Fowler gave away a match in which they led 5 up with eight holes to play against Leishman and Ancer. They settled for a tie and half point. It wasn’t like Thomas needed added fuel, but that meltdown on Day 3 will likely serve as a little extra motivation. Smith has been played solidly, just not often. Els has only put him in the lineup twice to this point.
Prediction: Thomas wins 4 and 3.
Matt Kuchar vs. Louis Oosthuizen
Perhaps the jeers haven’t been as loud as they have been for Reed, but Kuchar has heard from the crowd this week. The flap in which he shortchanged a caddie at an event in Mexico isn’t something a partisan crowd at an international competition is going to forget. Oosthuizen, like Kuchar, isn’t new to team events; this is his fourth time on the International side. Clearly, Woods and Els wanted experience at the back end of their lineup.
Rickie Fowler vs. Marc Leishman
Given the way this week has gone — with momentum swings at the end of nearly every session — it makes sense to think the whole thing could come down to the last match on the golf course. Fowler will have to deal with the memory of the Day 3 collapse and being matched up in the final group of the competition against a hometown favorite. Leishman grew up about three hours from Royal Melbourne. With both teams watching this match, can Leishman help the International side close out a huge upset on his home soil.
Prediction: Leishman wins 1 up.