It’s a case of ‘so far, so good’ in the International team’s bid to end an embarrassing 21-year drought in the Presidents Cup, with the host side taking an emphatic 4-1 lead after the opening-day four-ball matches. It’s the first lead an International side has taken after the first session of play since the 2005 matches.
Aside from a dominant first-out performance by playing captain Tiger Woods, who paired with Justin Thomas to dismantle the Marc Leishman/Joaquin Niemann pairing, there wasn’t much for the American side to cheer about at Royal Melbourne Golf Club. While Woods and Thomas set a threatening pace in the top match, winning eight of 15 holes to clinch it 4&3, they enjoyed little support from their teammates.
Internationals captain Ernie Els’ five unions of past Presidents Cup players and rookies worked a treat as his veteran players guided their nascent colleagues in fine style. Best of the International pairings was Abraham Ancer and Louis Oosthuizen, the 2018 Australian Open winner and the 2019 runner-up winning four straight holes from the second to shoot to an early 4-up lead against the big-hitting pairing of Dustin Johnson and Gary Woodland. In the last match out, the International duo won 4&3.
In between were three tighter contests, but importantly, the Internationals edged clear in each one. Adam Hadwin and Sungjae Im (whose Presidents Cup began with a chip-in eagle on the first green) lost only two holes to Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay in winning 1 up. Adam Scott and Ben An never trailed in a 2&1 decision over Bryson DeChambeau and Tony Finau, while Hideki Matsuyama holed a crucial putt across the 17th green to give him and CT Pan a 1-up victory over Webb Simpson and much-heckled Patrick Reed.
To go 1 UP heading to the final hole …
… Hideki Matsuyama is CLUTCH. pic.twitter.com/Zwk3dlxWMM
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) December 12, 2019
The villain of the US side endured 18 holes of jeering and sledging from the vocal Melbourne galleries, while the non-participating (for Thursday, at least) Cameron Smith and Reed had ‘a moment’ behind the fifth green. Whether he used the hostile atmosphere as motivation or not, Reed couldn’t lift himself and Simpson past the dogged Asian duo.
The next hurdle may prove tougher to jump for the Internationals. Tomorrow’s foursomes matches – for so long the Achilles-heel format of the International side – will prove whether their promising start is sausage or merely sizzle.
Collectively, the International side won only four more holes than the Americans on Thursday (20 to 16) but managed to win three more matches. It’s that kind of grit and ability to edge clear in tight matches that Els and co. will be seeking again tomorrow in the finicky alternate-shot format.
“This is a great start,” Scott said. “This is a very strong American team with a lot of depth and they can keep throwing at us every session from here on out and we’re going to have to keep throwing it back at them. It does feel very good. The guys have really done a fantastic job of getting themselves ready this week on our side. Now we’re in it, I think everyone’s got a taste for it and we’ll looking forward to getting out tomorrow and trying to do it all again.”
Thursday’s Four-ball results:
Justin Thomas/Tiger Woods (USA) def. Marc Leishman/Joaquin Niemann (INT) 4&3
Adam Hadwin/Sungjae Im (INT) def. Xander Schauffele/Patrick Cantlay (USA) 1 up
Adam Scott/Byeong Hun An (INT) def. Bryson DeChambeau/Tony Finau (USA) 2&1
Hideki Matsuyama/CT Pan (INT) def. Webb Simpson/Patrick Reed (USA) 1 up
Abraham Ancer/Louis Oosthuizen (INT) def. Dustin Johnson/Gary Woodland (USA) 4&3
Internationals 4, USA 1
Friday’s Foursomes matches:
Louis Oosthuizen/Adam Scott (INT) vs Dustin Johnson/Matt Kuchar (USA)
Adam Hadwin/Joaquin Niemann (INT) vs Xander Schauffele/Patrick Cantlay (USA)
Marc Leishman/Abraham Ancer (INT) vs Webb Simpson/Patrick Reed (USA)
Byeong Hun An/Hideki Matsuyama (INT) vs Justin Thomas/Tiger Woods (USA)
Sungjae Im/Cameron Smith (INT) vs Gary Woodland/Rickie Fowler (USA)