Jersey City (United States) (AFP) – The United States started strong in pursuit of a 10th Presidents Cup crown on Thursday, taking a 3.5 to 1.5 lead over the International team in the biennial match play golf showdown.
The Americans, winners of nine of the prior 11 editions of the Cup, with one draw and just one International victory back in 1998, wasted no time in asserting themselves at Liberty National Golf Club.
They put three points on the board before South Africans Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace grabbed a first point for the Internationals.
Australians Jason Day and Marc Leishman, 1-up through 16 holes, ended up sharing a point with Kevin Kisner and Phil Mickelson in the final match of the day.
Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas got the ball rolling for the hosts on a blustery day on the banks of the Hudson River, within sight of the Statue of Liberty and Manhattan.
Fowler and Thomas dominated Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama and South African Charl Schwartzel 6-4.
Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed never trailed in their 5 & 4 win over International rookies Kim Si-Woo of South Korea and Emiliano Grillo of Argentina.
Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar rallied on the back nine for a 1-up win over Aussie Adam Scott and Venezuela’s Jhonattan Vegas before Oosthuizen and Grace topped Brooks Koepka and Daniel Berger 3 & 1.
It was another solid showing for Oosthuizen and Grace, who won all four of their matches together two years ago.
Their heroics in Incheon were to no avail, as the Internationals fell by a point.
International captain Nick Price was hoping a faster start this year would put his team on the way to an upset win — but they face a tough climb going into Friday’s five fourball matches.
In all, 30 points will be on offer this week, with 15.5 needed to claim the Cup.
World number four Thomas and eighth-ranked Fowler were 1-down to world number three Matsuyama and Schwartzel through two holes.
Fowler chipped in from off the green as the Americans squared the match at the third. They won five of seven holes starting at the third to make the turn 4-up.
“That was definitely a big turn of events,” Fowler said of holing out.
– Spieth and Reed shine –
World number two Spieth and Reed also wrapped up their 5 & 4 victory at the 14th, improving their record together in match play to 6-1-2.
Spieth and Reed never trailed, taking the lead at the second when Kim hit the Internationals’ second shot into the water.
Spieth and Reed won holes four through seven to take control, and after the Internationals clawed back a couple of holes got back on track with Spieth’s 33-foot birdie putt to win the 11th.
“I think it comes down to on the greens,” Spieth said of his success teaming with Reed. “We get confident in our reads and we put aggressive putts on it because we’re OK with our partner making something coming back.”
The final match saw Day and Leishman, 3-down through seven, fight back to lead 1-up through 16.
But the Americans squared it at 17. Day then missed an 18-foot putt at the at the final hole, leaving Mickelson a chance to win the match with a seven-footer. He missed as well and they shared the points.
The day started with a festive opening ceremony attended by former US Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
It marked the first time that three US presidents have attended the biennial match play showdown launched in 1994.