By Chris Kudialis
Special to The Tuscaloosa News
JERSEY CITY, N.J. – In perhaps the most dramatic reaction of Justin Thomas’ historic season, the former Crimson Tide golfer pumped his fist, spun around, cupped his hand on his ear, held his putter up and bellowed “let’s go” as he dropped a 32-foot birdie putt.
Wearing a red, white and blue beanie with a tri-colored pompom on top to compliment a solid blue sweater, Thomas wasn’t celebrating a putt en route to his first PGA Championship win last month, nor the FedEx Cup playoff championship he earned in the weeks that followed. Rather, the 24-year-old was celebrating winning the 14th hole at the lopsided Presidents Cup, which put him and partner Daniel Berger 2-up in a victorious performance during Saturday afternoon’s four-ball match at Liberty National.
“This team is like a fraternity to me, but even better,” Thomas said. “It was a raw moment of emotion and excitement for what we’ve been able to accomplish this week.”
Thomas earned 1½ of a possible two points Saturday in facing two of the opposing International team’s strongest pairings. The leader in Alabama’s 2013 run to the NCAA golf national championship, Thomas has earned 3½ of four possible points in his first career rounds of international play with the U.S. team this week. The U.S. lead 14½ to 3½ in the most lopsided three-day score in the event’s 23-year history.
Paired with Rickie Fowler for the third straight day, Thomas began Saturday’s alternate-shot foursomes with a halve against international titans Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace, who were undefeated in their previous five Presidents Cup matches until Thomas and Fowler beat them 3 & 2 in Friday’s four-ball event.
Two-down after Grace sunk a 6-foot birdie on the par-4 sixth hole, Thomas and Fowler two-putted for par on the par-3 seventh to win the hole after Oosthuizen missed a 4-footer for par. The Americans also took the par-4 eighth hole and birdied the par-5 ninth to lead 1-up at the turn.
Oosthuizen dropped a 38-foot birdie putt on the par-4 11th to bring the match to all-square, and it stayed that way to the finish, with both teams parring each of the last seven holes.
“Rick (Fowler) is a great guy to play with and those two are tough,” Thomas said after the morning round.
In the afternoon four-ball session, Berger carried the load through the first 12 holes before the former Tide star found his form. Three-down after four holes to Hideki Matsuyama and Jhonattan Vegas, the Americans clawed back with birdies from Berger on the par-4 fifth hole, then later at par-5 ninth, the par-3 10th and the par-4 11th to move to 1-up.
Thomas sunk a 12-foot birdie putt at the par-4 12th hole to halve the hole and remain 1-up after Vegas also carded a birdie with a 15-footer of his own.
Thomas’ emphatic putt on the 14th green put the duo 2-up, and they never looked back. A par on the par-4 15th kept the score at 2-up and the Thomas-Berger combo won with that score on the par 4-16th to top Matsuyama and Vegas 3 & 2.
Thomas will face Matsuyama in singles play Sunday as the U.S. needs just one point in 12 matches to clinch its seventh straight Presidents Cup.