12 Dec 2019 | Professional golf |
A day for the International believers
by Mark Hayes
Some thought a 2-3 deficit would just about pull up Ernie Els’ International outsiders as a day one result at Royal Melbourne. Others hoped that 2.5 points each would leave the hosts in a manageable position after what’s traditionally been a day of American procession.
But nobody dared dream of the 4-1 International romp that has thrown the script of this Presidents Cup straight out the window.
Only a rampant Tiger Woods in the first match out prevented an International clean sweep – and the 4-1 margin represents the first time the International team has led after day one since 2005.
Such statistics abound. For example, no team in Presidents Cup (or Ryder Cup) history has lost after leading by three or more points after day one.
Nine-Cup veteran Adam Scott was “elated” to be able to hear such numbers trotted out and clearly excited to be bowling along out front for a change.
But the Queenslander is certain there’s a big pushback coming from the Americans. “It feels good, that's what I can tell you,” Scott enthused after he and Ben An toppled Tony Finau and Bryson DeChambeau 2&1.
“We don't know the results from here on out, but this is a great start. This is a very strong American team with a lot of depth and they can keep throwing things at us every session from here on out and we're going to have to keep throwing it back at them.
“But it does feel very good. The guys have really done a fantastic job of getting themselves ready this week on our side. I know we're in it (and) I think everyone's got a taste for it.” It wasn’t long after Woods dropped his sixth birdie of the day - to end the hopes of Marc Leishman and debutant Joaquin Niemann on the 15th green - that things went pear-shaped for the Americans.
Remarkably, it’s Woods’ first fourball point at Royal Melbourne in his three Cup appearances on the course.
Australian Open champion of 2018, Abraham Ancer, and this year’s runner-up Louis Oosthuizen formed a spectacular unit to thump Dustin Johnson and reigning US Open champ Gary Woodland, also by a 4&3 mark to square the contest.
Oosthuizen was sparkling early and then Ancer’s putter caught fire late as the pair were a combined eight under par through 15 entertaining holes.
“Gary and DJ didn't start well. When we got 4-up through five, it was always going to be tough for them to get it back, and whenever we were in trouble, we found a way to make pars,” Oosthuizen said.
“Abe kept us going with rolling beautiful putts. I think we executed the plan pretty good today."
That point seemed to steady the Internationals who had led for much of the day in the middle three matches, but were facing a challenge from the Americans with the clubhouse looming.
Scott rolled in a crucial par putt on the 17th to end that match prematurely, then emerging fan favourite Sungjae Im lagged down his birdie try on the last ahead for he and Adam Hadwin to complete arguably the biggest shock of the day, downing Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay to sew up a session victory.
Then it came down to whether or not villain Patrick Reed could steal half a point in the final match after earlier sinking a great birdie putt on the 16th to pull he and Webb Simpson to square with Hideki Matsuyama and C.T. Pan.
Reed’s long birdie try rolled past and suddenly, almost to the disbelief of even those in the team watching on, the International team was 4-1 up.
Woods predictably said there was much time left to chase down his team’s deficit, while Els was satisfied, but a light year from cocky.
“It's a good start (and) we're loving the golf course. We'd like to get the crowd a little bit louder on our side. It was a little quiet out there today, but hopefully they get going tomorrow,” Els said.
“But we're playing an excellent side, and they will be coming back strong tomorrow. So we'll have to be ready to counter that.”
FRIDAY’S PAIRINGS (International v USA from 11.02am) Louis Oosthuizen and Adam Scott v Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar Adam Hadwin and Joaquin Niemann v Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay Marc Leishman and Abraham Ancer v Webb Simpson and Patrick Reed Ben An and Hideki Matsuyama v Justin Thomas and Tiger Woods Sungjae Im and Cameron Smith v Gary Woodland and Rickie Fowler
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