Thank goodness for Tiger Woods, otherwise, it might have been 5-0, International team after day one at the Presidents Cup matches.
Royal Melbourne proved quite the challenge, as did the upstart Internationals, who stunned the Americans and took four out of the five opening day matches.
“We’re fine, this is a long process,” said Woods, who made six birdies and basically single-handedly secured his team’s only point. “We have an amazing lineup going out there tomorrow,” Woods said of his lineup for the foursomes, or alternate shot format. “We have to go out there and earn the cup, they’re not going to hand it to us.”
Woods put on a short game clinic with Justin Thomas basically along for the ride as they took care of Marc Leishmann and Joaquin Niemann, 4-and-3. Tiger birdied the first two holes for a quick 2-up lead and the first team out for the U.S. never trailed.
Here’s how the first session’s best-ball (four-ball) matches shook out:
MATCH 1: Tiger Woods/Justin Thomas (USA) def. Joaquin Niemann/Marc Leishman 4 and 3.
MATCH 2: Sungjae Im/Adam Hadwin (INT) def. Patrick Cantlay/Xander Schauffele 1 up.
MATCH 3: Byeong Hun An/Adam Scott (INT) def. Tony Finau/Bryson DeChambeau 2 and 1.
MATCH 4: C.T. Pan/Hideki Matsuyama (INT) def. Patrick Reed/Webb Simpson 1 up.
MATCH 5: Louis Oosthuizen/Abraham Ancer (INT) def. Gary Woodland/Dustin Johnson 4 and 3
In the anchor match, Woodland and Johnson were totally on defense all day. Johnson looked rusty from his long layoff and Woodland didn’t make a birdie all day. Oosthuizen and Ancer got all over them with Ancer putting well and not looking the least bit like a rookie in these matches.
Finau and DeChambeau didn’t show any chemistry. DeChambeau, toting his new poundage around the course, was pretty ineffective and it was obvious he was spending more time in the gym than on the golf course the past six weeks.
The most effective International was C.T. Pan. Pan’s putting proved the different then Matsuyama made a huge birdie from 20 feet at the 17th that proved to be the difference as they upset Reed and Simpson. Reed for the most part was very subdued. The crowds weren’t rude to him, in fact, the crowds really didn’t get into it until late in the day when it became obvious that the Internationals had the U.S. totally on the ropes.
The Internationals also looked more prepared for the challenge that Royal Melbourne presents. “It’s like playing a British Open with Augusta greens,” said Woods, who used his sharp, imaginative short game like no other player on the course for either team.
The first day’s performance will no doubt increase the crowd’s presence on day two. The International team hasn’t had a lead after any session since the second session of the 2005 matches.
On day one, Woods chose to sit Rickie Fowler and Matt Kuchar. Finau and DeChambeau will sit out on day two.
Here’s the lineup for day two, Woods chose to keep three of his first day teams together while Els totally revamped his opening lineup:
MATCH 6: 7:02 p.m.: Dustin Johnson/Matt Kuchar (USA) vs. Louis Oosthuizen/Adam Scott (INT)
MATCH 7: 7:15 p.m.: Xander Schauffele/Patrick Cantlay (USA) vs. Adam Hadwin/Joaquin Niemann (INT)
MATCH 8: 7:28 p.m.: Webb Simpson/Patrick Reed (USA) vs. Marc Leishman/Abraham Ancer (INT)
MATCH 9: 7:41 p.m.: Justin Thomas/Tiger Woods (USA) vs. Byeong Hun An/Hideki Matsuyama (INT)
MATCH 10: 7:54 p.m.: Gary Woodland/Rickie Fowler (USA) vs. Sungjae Im/Cameron Smith (INT)
Of course Els was elated with his team’s day one performance. “It’s heroic. They played unbelievable. Incredible to watch, the grit they showed, the putts they made — a really good session for us.”