JERSEY CITY: The United States lived up to their top billing, seizing a two-point lead over a battling International team on the opening day of the Presidents Cup 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 won the first three matches before South Africans Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace notched the lone International win of the day.
Australians Jason Day and Marc Leishman were 3-down early but battled back to stand 1-up through 16.
But they ended up sharing a point with Kevin Kisner and Phil Mickelson in the final match of the day, in which Mickelson missed a seven-foot putt at the 18th that could have given the Americans yet another win.
It’s the sixth straight time that the Internationals have lost the opening session.
Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas got the ball rolling for the hosts on a blustery day, dominating 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, when the Internationals fell by a point in South Korea.
International captain Nick Price was hoping a faster start this year would put his team on the way to an upset win over the powerful US squad.
Instead they face another 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.
“Obviously the day was a brutal day to play golf,” Price said of the wind whipping off the Hudson River.
“Club selection was so difficult, and we got behind the 8-ball pretty early with a few of our guys, a few of our teams being 2-down, 3-down at the turn.
“But the guys rallied back great. I thought the back nine, one stage, it maybe even looked like we may get two or three, but we wound up with just 1 1/2.
“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.”
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.
World number two Spieth and Reed also wrapped up their 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.
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.--AFP