DUBLIN, Ohio -- They showed up in wigs and walked off as winners.
It wasn’t supposed to be that way, not against American super troopers Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley.
The U.S. leads by a point after the first day of The Presidents Cup, but Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel set the tone early and in the end it put the International Team in a position it has rarely been in after the first day of competition in the biennial matches: With a chance.
The two South Africans poked a little fun at themselves after a couple of horrible haircuts earlier in the week, then went out and poked a hole in arguably the Americans’ best duo, beating Mickelson and Bradley, 2 and 1, to earn a crucial point.
“I thought it would be a good thing to show everyone that we actually love to wear some wigs,” Oosthuizen joked after the two South Africans turned up on the range wearing the wigs. “But yeah, the point was huge for us. Me and Charl were really pumped.”
So was the rest of the team.
The first point of the day for the International Team actually came from its first match when Jason Day and Graham DeLaet rallied for a 1-up victory of their own, but if ever scoring a point made one too, beating Mickelson and Bradley did it.
The two Americans had teamed together at last year’s Ryder Cup and instant chemistry exploded into a 3-0 record that included a couple of blowout victories. They figured to be a formidable foe again.
Meanwhile, no one quite knew what to expect from Oosthuizen this week.
He had missed nearly all of the last three months with a myriad of injuries that had him wondering as recently as 14 days ago whether he’d even be here. Once he was, it was clear his sense of humor was never in doubt.
Neither was his game.
Oosthuizen and Schwartzel combined for nine birdies, including ones on the eighth and ninth holes to square their four-ball match.
Then the International Team’s 13th man, er woman, stepped in: Mother Nature. Trailing in five of its six matches when the horn sounded, a 90-minute delay wrecked the Americans’ rhythm.
Just like when the lights went out at the Super Bowl, the team that was trailing rallied.
“We were rolling there through seven holes,” said Mickelson, who had combined with Bradley to make three birdies and an eagle during that stretch. “After the rain, I ended up having a bad practice session before I went out, and I played terribly the back nine and left Keegan alone on a lot of holes, and that's tough to do when you've got to make birdies.
“I had a good rhythm early on and when we went back out, I was just a little bit tight and didn't make very good swings.”
Though the U.S. was only 1 up in two matches that hadn’t even reached the turn yet, it was a break the International Team needed.
“You could see everyone knew what they had to do and everyone was just waiting to actually take that breather,” Oosthuizen said. “Everyone is focused on what we want to achieve. It was a good time to just really get a little bit of a break to just realize that, you know, again, we have to go out there and take it from them.”
Which is exactly what the two South Africans did, beginning with a birdie by Oosthuizen on the par-5 11th.
Two holes later, it was Schwartzel’s turn. He knocked in a 15-footer to match Bradley’s birdie.
On the par-4 17th, Schwartzel again came through, sticking his approach shot to 5 feet to set up the final birdie of the day to close out the match.
“When he was out of the hole, I played well,” Oosthuizen said. “When I was out of it, he hit some amazing shots.”
Others followed suit, too.
Adam Scott chipped in for eagle on the par-5 15th, while his partner Hideki Matsuyama birdied the 18th after stuffing his approach to a foot. Trailing for all but three holes, the two carved out a half-point against Bill Haas and Webb Simpson.
“I think what we showed today is that there's plenty of heart on this team,” Scott said. “I don't think spirits were low when we sat in the team room in the break, but for everyone to go out and rally, some guys to pull out wins, other guys halves, and even the matches we lost came closer all of a sudden. I think we should take a lot out of that.”
And they’ll continue to get a lot out of Oosthuizen and Schwartzel.
“Charl probably knows his swing as well as Louis knows his own swing,” Captain Nick Price said. “They will probably help each other and feed a little off each other.”
The rest of the team will, too.