MELBOURNE (Reuters) – United States captain Tiger Woods led from the front to claim the opening fourballs match with Justin Thomas at the Presidents Cup but the Internationals were well placed to overhaul the Americans during Thursday’s first round.
FILE PHOTO: Oct 21, 2019; Chiba, JAPAN; Tiger Woods plays a tee shot on the 7th hole during The Challenge: Japan Skins golf competition at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club. Mandatory Credit: Matt Roberts-USA TODAY/File Photo/File Photo
Woods stormed out of the blocks on a challenging day at Royal Melbourne and sealed a 4&3 win over Australian Marc Leishman and Chilean debutant Joaquin Niemann with his sixth birdie on the 15th hole.
It was tough going elsewhere for the U.S. as they kicked off their bid for an eighth successive title in the biennial team event against the International team representing the rest of the world except Europe.
The Internationals led three of the other fourball matches, with Adam Hadwin and Im Sung-jae tied in a tense battle with Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay with four holes to play.
Woods, only the second playing captain in the tournament’s 25-year history, made an early statement by landing his approach on the par-four first some two feet from the pin for a tap-in birdie.
The 43-year-old later chipped in from 36 feet on the par-three fifth to rack up his third birdie and push the U.S. to a three-up lead.
A fired-up Woods pointed at the cup and barked “Go get that!” at Thomas, leaving no-one in doubt who was in charge.
Patrick Reed, one of Woods’s captain’s picks, was under the microscope after his controversial bunker penalty in the Bahamas last week and was duly heckled by the gallery at the first hole.
One spectator yelled, “Are you going to make your caddie carry 14 clubs and a shovel?” and Reed struck his tee shot into a bunker, sparking Bronx cheers from the crowd.
He carefully dug the ball out of the sand to within 10 feet of the pin as he and Webb Simpson halved the hole against Hideki Matsuyama and CT Pan.
Matsuyama and Taiwanese debutant Pan were 1-up with six holes to play.
Editing by Shri Navaratnam