Fired up Internationals take surprise 4-1 lead

The Internationals have breathed fresh life into the Presidents Cup with a dream opening at Royal Melbourne.

Ernie Els’ inspired decision to play all four captain’s picks ahead of two automatic qualifiers proved a masterstroke as the Internationals carved out a 4-1 lead after the first-day fourballs.

US captain Tiger Woods, partnering Justin Thomas, saved Team USA from a humiliating wipe-out by securing the hot favourites’ only point on Thursday.

In an ominous opening, Woods reeled off six birdies in 14 holes in the US’s commanding four and three victory over Marc Leishman and Joaquin Niemann.

Marc Lieshman tees off on the first hole.
Marc Lieshman tees off on the first hole.

But it was all the Internationals after that as the jet-lagged Americans slumped to four straight defeats.

An equally crushing four and three win for Abraham Ancer and Louis Oosthuizen over long-time former world No.1 Dustin Johnson and US Open champion Gary Woodland marked the start of the Internationals’ fightback.

Team spearhead Adam Scott, with five birdies, and Byeong Hun An beat Bryson DeChambeau and Tony Finau two and one before Adam Hadwin and Sungae Im finished one up over Xander Shauffele and Patrick Cantlay.

Rounding out a memorable day for the underdogs, Hideki Matsuyama and CT Pan beat Webb Simpson and Public Enemy No.1 Patrick Reed one up.

The Internationals have lost the past seven editions and last won the trophy in 1998.

But they have never lost a fourball session in four previous sessions at Royal Melbourne in 1998 and 2011 and will head into Friday’s foursomes in control.

Not that a defiant Woods was ready to raise the white flag.

“We’re not out of it yet. It’s a long week,” Woods said after reducing Thomas to a support role in their opening match.

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Justin Thomas blasts from a b bunker on the 11th.

His side’s big deficit aside, the 15-times major champion was the undoubted player of the day.

He made a gimme birdie on the first hole before also winning the second after making the only par in the group despite hitting a wayward tee shot and having to lay up with his approach.

A birdie from Leishman on the par-3 third reduced the US’s lead to one up before Thomas won the fourth with his first birdie of the day.

Woods sent the crowd into raptures when he chipped in for another birdie on the fifth, then demanded Thomas retrieve his ball from the cup as the US went three up.

After a nervy start, Niemann, making his Presidents Cup debut, came to life to win two holes only for Woods and Thomas to take the ninth to regain control heading to the back nine.

Further birdies for Woods on 11, 14 and 15 were enough to seal the deal for the US.

But the American captain can’t win the cup on his own and Friday’s foursomes, which the US traditionally dominate, shape as vital.

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