MELBOURNE, Australia — The International team has the lead going into the final day of the Presidents Cup for the first time in 16 years, and it has a trio of rookies to thank for that.
Australia's Marc Leishman and unbeaten rookie Abraham Ancer of Mexico staged a remarkable rally Saturday afternoon in foursomes, going from 5 down with eight holes to play to earn a most unlikely halve against Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas.
South Korea's Byeong Hun An and Chile's Joaquin Niemann never led in the final match and scratched out another half-point against Tony Finau and Matt Kuchar.
That gave the Internationals a 10-8 lead going into Sunday's 12 singles matches at Royal Melbourne Golf Club — and a real chance to win the Presidents Cup for only the second time in its 25-year history.
"We've given ourselves a great shot to win the session tomorrow and win this cup," said Australia's Adam Scott, who has been part of one tie and seven straight losses. "I think we've got to be pretty happy about that. Come out tomorrow, leave it all on the golf course."
Nothing inspired the Internationals more than to watch the final two teams on the course scratch out a half-point despite never leading at any point in the match.
"For us to scratch and scramble for one point, the guys were very excited about that," International captain Ernie Els said.
It looked as though it could have been even larger when the Internationals built a 9-5 lead after the morning session, but the Americans finally showed some fight, even with playing captain Tiger Woods sitting out both sessions.
Patrick Reed's caddie might have shown too much fight. He confirmed in a statement to the Barstool Sports podcast "Foul Play" that he shoved a spectator who he felt got too close to Reed while cursing him.
Kessler Karrain, who is also Reed's brother-in-law, will not be on his bag for the final session. Reed said in a released statement he respects the PGA Tour's decision on the matter and that everyone was focused on winning the Presidents Cup.
It was the second straight week of scrutiny for the Reed camp, following his rules violation of scooping sand out of the way in the Bahamas that led to a two-shot penalty at the Hero World Challenge.
There was plenty of drama Saturday, and all that did was set the stage for the singles showdown.
Woods put himself out first against Ancer, who got his first taste of a big stage when he was grouped with Woods at a World Golf Championship in Mexico City last February.
Reed, a target of the fans all week, will play Taiwan's C.T. Pan in the third singles match. The International team needs six points from the 12 matches to claim the cup for the first time in 21 years.
Reed and Webb Simpson lost matches each of the first two days. Woods sent them out again Saturday morning, and they delivered a dud by making only one birdie in fourballs and losing, 5 and 3, to Pan and Japan's Hideki Matsuyama.
Even more curious was Woods, who won matches each of the first two days with Thomas, then benched himself in the morning and the afternoon Saturday, saying it was best for his team.
"I trust the guys," Woods said.
Dustin Johnson finally got on the board when he and Gary Woodland took down Scott and South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen in the lead match in foursomes. Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele, a pair of Presidents Cup rookies from California, rallied from 3 down through five holes by winning three straight and pulling away at the end over South Korea's Sungjae Im and Australia's Cameron Smith.
It was only the third time in 13 Presidents Cups that the International team had the lead after team matches. It had a three-point lead in South Africa in 2003, the year the matches ended in a tie. And the Internationals — the Presidents Cup does not include Europe — had a nine-point lead at Royal Melbourne in 1998, the only team to beat the Americans.
The Americans trailed in all four matches Friday and kept it close. The Internationals trailed in all four matches Saturday afternoon and returned the favor.
Both captains appeared to use that as motivation in their news conference. Woods noted his team could have been trailing 9-1, "and for the International team only to get one point from that point on, for us to fight back and get eight points, was a huge, huge win."
Els couldn't stifle a laugh, because the Internationals were never leading 9-1 — they were only leading matches.
"You're the absolutely optimist, aren't you?" Els said with a laugh. "My god."
The shocker of the day was Fowler and Thomas losing a big lead.
They were dormie with three holes to go when Leishman made an 18-foot par putt and Fowler missed his six-foot par attempt. Thomas then missed a 10-foot par putt to end it on 17.
On the final hole, Thomas sent his tee shot well to the left and under a tree, leaving the team no chance to get closer than 150 yards from the green. It might not have mattered. Leishman dropped his approach to within six feet of the cup, a birdie that was conceded.
"Speechless," said Thomas, the star so far of this American team. "It's unacceptable for us to get a half a point. They made a couple long putts there on 15 and 16 to keep it going. We had our chances, and flat honest, just didn't execute."
Woods watched it all unfold from the sidelines, sticking to his job as captain.
He and everyone else on the American roster will be playing Sunday, including Bryson DeChambeau, who has not played since Thursday.
Long thought to be a strength, the Americans have not won the singles session in the Presidents Cup since 2009.
They haven't had to.
Now they do.