And they’re off …
Barring unforeseen circumstances, the only question seemingly remaining to this 12th Presidents Cup after its first session Thursday at Liberty National is whether the International Team will still have a mathematical chance to win by the time the Sunday singles session arrives.
The Americans, who have won nine of the 11 Presidents Cups, losing one and tying another, raced to a 3 ½ to 1 ½ lead after Day 1, which featured five foursomes matches.
The Internationals traditionally have had problems in the alternate-shot format, falling on the wrong side of them in nine of the 11 Cups while the U.S. amassed 77 total points to 38 for the International side. Since 2007, the U.S. leads the Internationals 41 ½ to 16 ½ in foursomes.
“Foursomes have always killed us,’’ Jason Day said. “We always get ourselves behind a little bit in alternate-shot.’’
The story Thursday was much the same, beginning with the first match of the day between Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas against Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama and South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel, whom the Americans steamrolled, 6 and 4, to give the U.S. its first point.
Not long afterward, Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed handily defeated South Korea’s Si Woo Kim and Argentina’s Emiliano Grillo, both rookies in this event, 5 and 4 for a 2-0 U.S. lead.
Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar gave the U.S. a 3-0 lead when they edged Adam Scott and Jhonny Vegas 1-up, and it looked like the rout was on. Johnson and Kuchar are 3-0-1 as a team including Ryder Cup play.
The International Team finally got on the board when South Africans Branden Grace and Louis Oosthuizen defeated Brooks Koepka and Daniel Berger, both American rookies, 3 and 1.
International Team captain Nick Price would like to trot out Grace and Oosthuizen in every one of his two-man matches this week considering they’re 5-0 as a pair, dating back to their 4-0 record in 2015 at South Korea, where the Americans won 15 ½ to 14 ¹/₂ .
Grace and Oosthuizen’s dominance is similar to that of Spieth and Reed, who have become the Ryder Cup powers for the Americans. The pair is 6-1-2 as a team in Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup play.
“We felt good about what happened out there … it was a good day,’’ U.S. captain Steve Stricker said. “It was a good start for us. The International Team I’m sure will come back strong. There’s still a long, long ways to go. But we very much liked the day and the way it started.’’
The U.S. has now led after the last 27 sessions of the Presidents Cup, and the nine times they’ve won the Cup the Americans led after the first day.
“We seem to be trailing every time after the first day, and then sort of find our feet and go from there,’’ Oosthuizen said. “I think [Friday] is a big day for us being better-ball, and we need to win [Friday’s] session.’’
Price, who’s 0-2 as captain and in his third stint, said his team is accustomed to falling behind early.
“We got behind the eight ball pretty early with a few of our guys, a few of our teams being 2-down, 3-down at the turn,’’ Price said. “But the guys rallied back great. I think we’re one point better than we were two years ago, and even though we’re two points behind, it was one of our strongest starts in foursomes on Thursday. So the team is not discouraged at all. They are raring to go [Friday].
“We have a resilient team. They have this ability to come back and bounce back, and they have done it. They did it last time in Korea.’’
Grace chose to look at the bright side of this deficit, which was 4-1 after the first day in 2015.
“Listen, we’re half a point better than last time, so that’s a big up for us,’’ he said.
“If we have a good day [Friday] there’s no reason why we can’t be leading at the end of [the day],’’ Leishman said. “That has to be our goal.’’
The Friday four-ball (best ball) session will feature five matches, beginning with Spieth and Reed taking on Matsuyama and Adam Hadwin, followed by Fowler and Thomas against Oosthuizen and Grace, then Mickelson and Kisner with a rematch against Day and Leishman, Kevin Chappell and Charley Hoffman, both of whom didn’t play Thursday, against Schwartzel and Anirban Lahiri and finally Johnson and Koepka against Scott and Vegas.
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