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U.S. strengthen hold on Cup

Keegan Bradley of the U.S. celebrates after sinking his putt on the 18th hole while playing Justin Day of Australia and Graham DeLaet of Can
Keegan Bradley of the U.S. celebrates after sinking his putt on the 18th hole while playing Justin Day of Australia and Graham DeLaet of Can

By Mark Lamport-Stokes

DUBLIN, Ohio (Reuters) - The United States were on the brink of retaining the Presidents Cup after stretching their overall lead to a commanding six points when the weather-delayed foursome matches were completed at Muirfield Village on Sunday.

Needing 17-1/2 points to keep the trophy, the Americans won two of the remaining four matches in the session while halving one to lead the Internationals by 14 points to 8.

No team has ever won the trophy after coming from behind going into the concluding 12 singles, leaving the holders in a commanding position to win the Cup for an eighth time in 10 editions.

Trailing by 11-1/2 points to 6-1/2 overnight, the Internationals needed to build early momentum on Sunday but it was the Americans who came charging out of the gate on the rain-soaked layout.

Bill Haas and Steve Stricker wrapped up a commanding 4&3 victory over Masters champion Adam Scott of Australia and Japan's Hideki Matsuyama, sealing the win on the 15th green with their third birdie in four holes.

Scott has never been on a triumphant team despite playing in the Presidents Cup on five occasions and he summed up the monumental task facing the Internationals as they headed into the singles.

"Well, we're up against it," he said. "We're just going to have to fight as hard as we can and if we can get enough blue going, we're looking for one of those miracle comebacks I guess.

"Otherwise, we all want to win our matches anyway just for our own pride."

Australian Jason Day and Canada's Graham DeLaet halved their match with Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley after a nip-and-tuck encounter that ended in dramatic fashion.

All square playing the par-four last, the Americans seemed to hold the advantage when Mickelson struck his approach to 10 feet while Day's effort ended up short of the elevated green.

STUNNING CHIP-IN

However DeLaet chipped in for birdie before Bradley followed suit with a clutch putt to share the honors.

"I give the International side a lot of credit for fighting hard, because they made a birdie on 15 from out of the junk that was impressive and they birdied 18 with that chip in to tie us," said Mickelson.

The biggest disappointment for the Internationals came in the third match where Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel had been three up on Webb Simpson and Brandt Snedeker after 12 holes overnight.

However the South African duo spectacularly unraveled, bogeys at the 13th and 14th trimming their advantage to one hole.

Schwartzel then hit their third shot at the par-five 15th out of bounds on the way to a double-bogey for the match to be all square and the South Africans also lost the 17th with a bogey after Oosthuizen's approach ended up back left of the green.

Simpson and Snedeker completed a one-up victory with matching pars on the 18th green.

The only blue number of the session for the Internationals came from the bottom match where South African Ernie Els and Zimbabwean Brendon de Jonge fended off a late fightback by Tiger Woods and Matt Kuchar to win one-up, the first defeat of the week for the Americans.

Two up overnight after nine holes, the International combination made a bad start on Sunday with a three-putt bogey at the 10th for their advantage to be halved.

They then went three up after making birdies at the 12th and 14th before their opponents got it back to one down after eagling the 15th, then watching the Internationals bogey the par-three 16th after de Jonge hit his tee shot into water.

The final two holes were halved with pars, Els having to sink a five-footer on the 18th to preserve their one-up advantage.

(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Julian Linden)

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