MELBOURNE, Australia — It was a magical day for Tiger Woods the player. Not so good for Tiger Woods the captain.
Woods and playing partner Justin Thomas scored the first points for the United States in the opening session of Four-Ball on Thursday at the 13th President Cup at Royal Melbourne Golf Club. The duo claimed a dominant 4&3 win over Marc Leishman of Australia and Joaquin Niemann of Chile.
The rest of the day didn’t go so well for the United States as the Americans lost the other four matches and trail 4-1 heading into Friday’s session of Foursomes.
The only pairing Woods got right was his own. Partnering with Thomas, Woods was brilliant, rolling six birdies, including a 3-footer to clinch the match at the par-5 15th.
“J.T. and I went out there and partnered up well,” Woods said. “We got off to a quick start and got up on them early and kind of held on from there.”
Thomas won two holes with birdies, but didn’t have to do much else as Woods applied the early pressure and remained relentless throughout his round.
“He played great,” Thomas said. “It’s no coincidence why we won. He really carried me out there. It was a tough day out there, and to have as many birdie putts as he had on a couple holes was the reason we won the match.”
The only problem was the rest of the U.S. team couldn’t match Woods’ performance. Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay lost 1-up to Adam Hadwin and Sungjae Im; Byson DeChambeau and Tony Finau were beaten 2&1 by Adam Scott and Byeong Hun An; Webb Simpson and Patrick Reed were taken down by Hideki Matsuyama and C.T. Pan, 1-up; while Dustin Johnson and Gary Woodward were whipped by Abraham Ancer and Louis Oosthuizen, 4&3.
It was the first time the Internationals led after Day 1 since 2005. At least captain Woods can’t blame player Woods. He looked focused and determined and his early play reflected that.
Woods, 43, posted birdies on three of the first five holes, including a chip-in from off the green at the par-3 fifth to put his pairing 3-up in the match and quiet an Aussie crowd ready to root for Leishman who grew up just outside Melbourne. Niemann of Chile made birdies at the par-4 6th and the par-4 7th to cut the Americans advantage to 1-up. But Thomas had a concession birdie at the ninth to put the Americans back up 2-up at the turn.
Royal Melbourne, hosting its third Presidents Cup, was firm and extremely fast, making approach shots and putts an adventure. Good shots rolled off the back of greens, while tee shots seemed to have a life of their own.
Woods hit a splendid shot out of a greenside bunker at the par-4 11th, leaving himself at 2-footer for birdie to go 3-up in the match. He just missed a 30-foot putt for birdie at the par-4 12th, leaving Leishman to cut into the U.S. lead with a birdie that gave hope to the Aussie crowd.
But Woods closed it out over the next three holes. He made a 10-footer for birdie at the par-3 13th that curled in and finished the match at the par-5 15th after his third shot rolled to within 3 feet. He buried the birdie, put the ball in his pocket and put back on his captain’s hat.
The rest of his team didn’t play as well. The U.S., which hasn’t lost a Presidents Cup since it was here in 1998, played like it still had jet lag from a 26-hour flight on Monday.
The big-hitting duo of Johnson and Woodland got dusted by Ancer and Oosthuizen. After halving the first hole, the Internationals won four straight holes to go 4-up after five and never looked back.
Hardwin made a 15-footer for birdie at the par-4 16th hole to give his pairing a 1-up that stood over the final two holes.
Finau and DeChambeau seemed to lack chemistry and never had any momentum in their match against a determined Scott playing on his home soil.
Meanwhile, Matsuyama made a 28-foot putt for birdie at the 17th hole for a 1-up and Reed missed a chance to halve at the 18th when a birdie putt from beyond 30 feet never came close.
It was a bitter opening day for the favored Americans. Now captain Woods has to get his team playing more like Woods the player in Friday’s Foursomes session.