MELBOURNE – The International Team reeled off four consecutive matches to build a 4-1 lead after Thursday’s four-ball matches at the Presidents Cup, claiming their first lead after the first day of the biennial event since 2007.
Heavy underdogs entering the tournament, having won only one of the previous 12 iterations, the International Team took advantage of its collective knowledge of the undulating layout of the Royal Melbourne Golf Course.
Woods Leads, But USA Fails to Follow
United States captain Tiger Woods, who selected himself with a captain’s pick, sent himself out first along with Justin Thomas. The strategy worked handsomly early, with Woods birdying the first two holes and chipping in for a third as the pairing built a 3-up lead.
Their International counterparts of Australia’s Marc Leishman and Chile’s Joaquin Niemann would trim the lead to one through eight holes, but Woods’ solid play eventually led the Americans to a decisive 4-up victory.
That would prove to be the U.S.’s lone victory of the day.
In the second group out, South Korea’s Sungjae Im set the tone with an eagle-birdie start, as he and Canada’s Adam Hadwin went on to a 1-up victory over Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele.
Tony Finau and Bryson DeChambeau never led in their match against South Korea’s Byeong Hun An and Australia’s Adam Scott in an eventual 2&1 win for the Internationals. The script was similar for Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama and Taipei’s C.T. Pan, who never trailed and secured the Internationals’ third point when Patrick Reed’s birdie attempt on the 18th hole slid right of the cup.
Reed was paired with Webb Simpson, and their match was the final one on the course because South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen shot out of the gate in the final pairing on the course with a slew of birdies. He and Mexico’s Abraham Ancer built a 4-up lead through five holes and cruised to a shockingly-easy 4&3 win over former No. 1 Dustin Johnson and U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland.
It all added up to the International Team posting its largest first session victory in the history of the event.
The Internationals entered the event with a 1-1-10 all-time record, but are only 11.5 points away from securing the Cup after the first day. Play resumes with Friday’s foursomes.
“We have to go out and earn the Cup,” Woods told the Golf Channel. “We’re not out of it yet, it’s a long week.”
While International captain Ernie Els used his knowledge of the course to instruct his players to be measured off the tee and leave themselves favorable distances and lies into the greens, Woods gave more freedom to his players to choose their personal game plans.
Woods was asked if he would alter that approach as he considered his Friday pairings.
“We have a plan,” he said. “Obviously, we have contingencies and we’re going to talk about things right now and get after the pairings.”
NOTES: Sitting out Thursday’s matches for the U.S. were Rickie Fowler and Matt Kuchar, while Els chose to sit Australia’s Cameron Smith and China’s Haotong Li. … The only win for the International Team (excluding Europe) came in 1998, when the event was also held at Royal Melbourne Golf Club. … The 12-man teams will compete Saturday in four Four-Ball matches in the morning and in four Foursomes in the afternoon. The final day will feature 12 Singles matches. … All matches are worth one point. … Each player is required to play once before the singles matches. …. Woods, making his ninth appearance, is now 25-15-1 at the Presidents Cup. He needs one more victory to tie Phil Mickelson for most matches won. Mickelson is not competing this week after having being a member of the U.S. team for the first 12 editions of the President Cup. … There is no prize money, but the PGA Tour contributes to charities, which are nominated by members of both teams. The PGA Tour distributed $10.7 million in 2017.