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U.S. Takes Lead; Woods & Stricker Fall Hard
Faced with a tough opponent on a tough, unfamiliar golf course, the American squad overcame the odds and took a 4-2 lead after Day 1 of the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne Golf Club in Australia.
The U.S. won three of the six foursome matches Thursday rather easily and rallied to halve two others for their four points. The only glitch was a record-tying 7 and 6 loss by Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker to Australian Adam Scott and South Korea's K.J. Choi. The only other Presidents Cup match that was over after 12 holes was in 1996 when David Frost of South Africa beat American Kenny Perry.
Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson got the Americans off to a rocking start, beating Ernie Els and Ryo Ishikawa 4 and 2. Watson and Simpson went 7-under par through 16 holes.
"We got some good breaks, I guess you could say, however you want to word it," said Watson afterward. "Obviously (Simpson is) playing great, he's ninth in the world, and I trusted him over iron shots and putts. It was him who was worried about me but other than that, we had some good breaks."
Playing in his first Presidents Cup, Simpson admitted to being anxious before teeing off. "I was pretty nervous," said the North Carolinian. "I'm glad Bubba was hitting the first tee shot and he gave me a good pep talk, he could see I was really nervous and he really helped me. I knew him pretty well before this week but now I know him really well and already one of my best friends and made me laugh like crazy. I told Freddie, if he puts me with anyone else, I'm going back home."
Bill Haas and Nick Watney salvaged a halve over Aussie Geoff Ogilvy and South African Charl Schwartzel, the reigning Masters champion. The International tandem was cruising with a 2-up lead late in the match before a birdie and a par on Nos. 15 and 16 got it all-square and the two teams tied the last two holes.
"I felt we played nice, for alternate-shot, we had a couple of bad holes, but they had a couple bad ones," said Haas, whose father Jay Haas is an assistant to U.S. captain Fred Couples. "Obviously you know, apart from us being all-square there - we definitely had a couple extra looks that could have gone in and they will say the same exact thing probably."
Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar also got a half-point, tying two more Aussies Aaron Baddeley and Jason Day, who at the 11th hole had a 3-up lead. But Johnson made some clutch putts and the Yanks won the 18th hole with a par to their opponent's bogey. Said Kuchar: "DJ stepped up big today, those putts are not easy, the amount of pressure on those, that's just really clutch and he knocked in three or four of those today that just can go either way and they were big. They were big savers and that was a big one to have a halve in his match."
Day sounded relieved to make it through his first Presidents Cup match. "It's tough for us, we are rookies and we don't know what to expect. It's a lot of pressure on our shoulders and we are the last match in, but a halve and better than a loss."
In the fourth match, Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk beat South Africa's Retief Goosen and Aussie Robert Allenby 4 and 3. After getting to all-square on the seventh hole, the Americans took the lead on the eighth with a par and never looked back, closing out their opponent on the 15th hole.
Mickelson, who dropped the belly putter he'd been experimenting with and returned to his old blade, likes playing alongside the steady, veteran Furyk. "We played together in '99 at the Ryder Cup. We played very well together. We felt like for years, we have been wanting to partner up again, and the last few years, there have been some young guys that we wanted to get both he and I out with, and this year, we feel like our young guys are ready to play with each other or want to play with each other and are going to play well with each other, which they are. That gave Jim and I a chance to do what we have been wanting to do for a few years."
The fifth match was another romp for the Americans as Hunter Mahan and David Toms rolled over South Koreans K.T. Kim and Y.E. Yang 6 and 5. The Yanks won the first hole and never lost a hole before the match ended on the 13th.
"We got off to a really good start, we birdied the first three holes and that always helps to settle your nerves and everything," said Toms. "We just kept the pressure on them. Didn't make many mistakes, the one hole that they won, we 3-putted. So for the most part, we just played our games, hit a lot of fairways, hit a lot of greens and just let them make mistakes after we got up early."
Mahan feels he has a special affinity with the Louisianan. "We are a very good team. We are similar in our games, our attitudes, the way we go about our business. It made it easy and enjoyable out there. There was no really - I don't think, it was easy to be around one another.
"We didn't have to adjust at all. Like he said, hit a lot of good shots, put the ball in play. I always felt like we were ahead in the holes, even though we were never behind, to try and catch up and make a save. It was nice, first match of the week to, get off to a start like that feels good."
The final, marquee Woods-Stricker vs. Scott-Choi match had several subplots, none of which mattered as the Internationals took the lead on the second hole and played steadily as the American duo mustered nothing. Woods and Stricker had three bogeys and didn't card a birdie or win a hole the entire - albeit short - day.
Woods and Stricker, who won their first six matches as partners, have now lost their past two badly: 6 and 5 in last year's Ryder Cup to Lee Westwood and Luke Donald and 7 and 6 to Scott and Choi.
"We were just obviously slightly off," Woods said. "It's one of those things where we got down a little bit early, tried to make up some shots and these guys were playing well."
Scott, who now has Woods' former caddie Steve Williams carrying his bag, was relatively low-key after the victory. "KJ and I didn't get it out of position today, which is a good thing on this golf course. We both played very well, and they didn't play their best.
"A good win because they were a tough team last time, took a lot of points off us, so it was pleasing to get one up there."
Couples was surprised how the opening day turned out. "It did not look like 4-2 an hour and a half ago," he said shortly after the last match was concluded. "Bill Haas fought hard, he and Nick Watney did a great job and Kuchar and Johnson got a little lucky to win the last two holes. They had tough teams and we had tough teams. We still fought hard and a 4-2 lead, I'll take that any day."
International captain Greg Norman said his team had to put the opening day disappointment behind them and look ahead to Friday's four-balls. "We had a good opportunity to really push all the way through today, and we didn't square all the matches and we are behind," Norman said.
"We have to forget about what happened today. It's like any golf tournament, you have to look forward, not back. We have the ability to go out there and win more points."
The four-ball pairings will be a bit different than the foursomes. Because of the threat of poor weather, the tee times were moved up two hours. The groups and tee times are:
9:35 a.m.: Watson/Simpson vs. Els/Ishikawa
9:49 a.m.: Johnson/Woods vs. Baddeley/Day
10:03 a.m.: Mickelson/Furyk vs. Scott/Kim
10:17 a.m.: Haas/Watney vs. Ogilvy/Choi
10:31 a.m.: Kuchar/Stricker vs. Yang/Allenby
10:45 a.m.: Toms/Mahan vs. Goosen/Schwartzel
For all the scores, visit http://www.pgatour.com/tournaments/presidentscup/scoring/2011/.