The last time the International team led after a session of the Presidents Cup was 2005. Going into this event, it seemed as if that wasn’t going to change. On paper, the U.S. team appeared far superior. Then the matches started. Aside from a strong showing from Tiger Woods, the Americans struggled. Here’s how the International side put together a stunning first day and took a big lead at the Presidents Cup:
If you want something done, sometimes you have to do it yourself. Captain Tiger Woods sent Player Tiger Woods out first. Sure, Thomas was playing with him, but Woods did most of the work. He was the best player on the American side — not just in this group, but the entire team on the opening day of matches. A kick-in birdie at the first got the day going. He added four more birdies as this U.S. pair never trailed. On a day when the other four American teams had a hard time finding their footing, Woods (and Thomas) had no problems.
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This entire match can be explained by retelling what happened at the 11th hole. Dustin Johnson hit his drive 326 yards on the short par 4. How good was it? He had 3 feet for eagle to win the hole. He missed. That was just how things went for Johnson and Woodland. Remember, this was Johnson’s first competitive round since having arthroscopic knee surgery in early September. While Johnson shook off the rust, Oosthuizen and Ancer raced out to a 4-up lead through five holes. The International pair never let the lead slide get smaller than 3 up. They made seven birdies in the first 13 holes for a stress-free win.
Scott, the most popular of the three Australians on the International team, has made it clear he wants to win the Presidents Cup on home soil. He implored the fans coming to back the International team. He did his part, giving his team the lead with a birdie at the third hole. While the U.S. evened the match on the fifth, Scott and An never trailed. It was a theme from most of the matches that didn’t include Tiger Woods and Justin Thomas; the International team made sure it never really fell behind. It was Scott’s birdie at the 13th that, for the most part, put away the match, giving the team a 2-up lead.
Every team competition has swing matches, ones that over 18 holes always look as if they could go either way. This was one of those matches that, if the Internationals pull the upset at week’s end, could be pointed to as a decisive one. Im put a jolt into the match on the very first hole. On the short opening par-4, Im drove it up near the green then chipped in for eagle. So much for easing into that first Presidents Cup appearance. But that was the end of the fireworks for a while. The match was all square from the ninth until Hadwin made a birdie at the 16th. And the International side held on over the 17th and 18th holes for a big point.
It took 16 holes, but the first show of Reed’s emotion came when he rolled a huge birdie putt to even the match. With the International side in control of all the matches still on the course around them, Reed and Simpson needed to make something happen or the U.S. side was likely staring at a 4-1 deficit after Day 1. The momentum lasted … one hole. Hideki Matsuyama drained a long birdie at 17 to regain control and sealed it with a par at the last to close out a big day for the International team.