The United States captain, Steve Stricker, purposefully sent out Fowler and Thomas, who had looked unbeatable on Thursday, against the South African pair, who had a 5-0 career record together at the Presidents Cup, including a 3-and-1 victory over Brooks Koepka and Daniel Berger that was the International team’s only win on Thursday.
A Fowler birdie on the third hole gave the Americans a lead that they never relinquished in their 3-and-2 victory. Thomas, who won five titles, including a major, in the just-completed season, made six birdies over 16 holes.
“I made a couple good birdies early, and I rode my horse on the way in,” Fowler said, referring to Thomas.
Oosthuizen hit two balls into the water on a first nine in which he ruefully acknowledged, “It was Branden against them both.”
In “Rise Up,” Day sings, “When the silence isn’t quiet and it feels like it’s getting hard to breathe,” and that pretty much summed up how Oosthuizen felt at the turn before finding his rhythm down the stretch. At the par-4 14th, he hit his approach inside six feet, only to watch Thomas hole his third shot from the bunker.
On the par-4 15th, Oosthuizen was again closest to the pin, but missed his birdie putt after Thomas made his. On the par-3 16th, Oosthuizen hit his tee shot inside six feet, but missed his birdie attempt after Thomas nearly holed another bunker shot for birdie.
“We ran into a brick wall out there today with those two,” Grace said. “Every time we tried to show them something, they threw something better back at us.”
Nothing went quite right for Price’s players, who failed to earn a full point Friday and trailed by 8-2 with two days remaining.
The plight of the International team’s top pair encapsuled Price’s overall predicament: His best is not quite good enough.
Anirban Lahiri of India was disqualified from playing the third hole for taking a practice shot out of the bunker, which is against the rules, after he had played a poor third shot from the same sand. Lahiri and Charl Schwartzel trailed from the first hole in their 6-and-5 loss. Hideki Matsuyama and Adam Hadwin built a 2-up lead over the formidable duo of Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, but settled for a half a point after Spieth and Reed came charging back.
Grace, 29, and Oosthuizen, 34, came through the Ernie Els & Fancourt Foundation, which Els established in 1999 to assist junior golfers in South Africa. A four-time major champion, Els is one of Price’s assistant captains, and he followed the pair during their four-ball trials, trying to will them to a win.
“It’s amazing how this team is leaning on them right now,” Els said, adding, “I’m so proud.”
Els said that Grace looks up to Oosthuizen “and listens to him.” The pair begged to differ. When asked Thursday who is the more talkative, Grace laughed, and Oosthuizen, who was seated next to him, wordlessly pointed at Grace and said, “I just do whatever he tells me to do.”
Said Grace, “If you get through that first layer, he really opens up and is a class guy and a character.”
On off weeks, they regularly play spirited rounds in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., where they are neighbors. If they are better together, it might be because of all the money matches that they have played against each other at Old Palm Golf Club.
“We like to play against each other, even though it’s just for 10 or 20 dollars, it’s a lot of fun,” Oosthuizen said. “It’s more about who wins than anything else. The two of us always give each other a hard time.”
Grace has collected one PGA Tour title and 10 international victories. He carded a record 62 in the third round of this year’s British Open on his way to a tie for sixth. Over the past three years, he has four top-five finishes in the majors. He is ranked 42nd in the world, 21 places behind Oosthuizen.
Thomas is fourth, four places ahead of Fowler. “They are world-class players, and it was just a big task at the end,” Oosthuizen said.
Can Oosthuizen, Grace and the rest of the International team rise up?
“We can still get out there and hopefully finish the week off strong,” Grace said, adding, “I think if we get the pairings right tomorrow and guys put the foot down, you never know.”
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