Early vic­to­ries put Amer­i­cans on top

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS - Steve Di Meglio @Steve_DiMeglio USA TODAY Sports

Here we go again. De­spite a dif­fer­ent venue and a dif­fer­ent year, the USA as­sumed com­mand of The Pres­i­dents Cup on Thurs­day at blus­tery Lib­erty Na­tional Golf Club and once again put the In­ter­na­tion­als up against it in the bi­en­nial match play clash.

Trig­gered by routs from the teams of Rickie Fowler/Justin Thomas and Jor­dan Spi­eth/Pa­trick Reed, the Amer­i­cans took a

3½-1½ lead af­ter the first ses­sion’s four­somes play and look ev­ery bit the part of a team that will im­prove on its 9-1-1 record in the event.

“The team will not be dis­cour­aged,” In­ter­na­tion­als cap­tain Nick Price said. “They will be rar­ing to go to­mor­row.”

With the Man­hat­tan sky­line and the Statue of Lib­erty in the back­ground, and for­mer pres­i­dents Bill Clin­ton, Ge­orge W. Bush and Barack Obama sit­ting on the first tee, the 12th edi­tion of The Pres­i­dents Cup got off to a pa­tri­otic start.

And now it looks like it will be the same kind of fin­ish, too. The Amer­i­cans have won the last six matches and haven’t lost since 1998. “We feel good about what hap­pened out there,” U.S. cap­tain Steve Stricker said. “It was a good day for us. I’m sure the In­ter­na­tion­als will come back strong.”

Fowler and Thomas, good friends who live on the same street in Jupiter, Fla., steam­rolled Hideki Mat­suyama and Charl Schwartzel in the day’s first match. Af­ter shak­ing hands with the three pres­i­dents on the first tee, Fowler and Thomas shook off an early deficit by win­ning five holes in a sev­en­hole stretch and then won three of the fi­nal four holes in a 6

and-4 rout.

“Any time, any match, I’ll take Rick as my part­ner,” Thomas said.

“We’re very com­fort­able around each other. We know our lim­its, in a way. I can push and say stuff to him that I know may not be the best things to other peo­ple,” Fowler said. “I know his game very well and he knows mine very well, and it is fun to put the two to­gether. We did a good job of piec­ing it to­gether out there and keep­ing our­selves out of trou­ble.”

Spi­eth and Reed were rarely in trou­ble and put the sec­ond point on the board for the USA in a 5-and-4 trounc­ing of rook­ies Si Woo Kim and Emil­iano Grillo. Spi­eth and Reed closed out the match by win­ning three of the last four holes. A big boost came when Spi­eth holed a

33-foot putt for par to win the

11th hole, jump­ing the team’s lead from 2 up to 3 up.

“Other than the flip on 11, this was a pretty bor­ing day for us, but bor­ing is what we need- ed today. We re­ally only hit, I want to say, two shots that we shouldn’t hit today. We both had an iron shot that we’d like over again,” Spi­eth said. “But on a day like today, even our missed fair­ways were in the cor­rect spots and we were able to get it up near or around the green when we could get it upand-down, and our short games kind of showed off.”

Point No. 3 for the USA came from Dustin John­son and Matt Kuchar, who won a back-and­forth tus­sle with Adam Scott and Jhonat­tan Ve­gas, 1 up. John­son and Kuchar lost the first two holes and didn’t take their first lead un­til the 16th with a birdie.

Bran­den Grace and Louis Oosthuizen, who were 4-0-0 as a team in the 2015 Pres­i­dents Cup, won again in a tense 3and-1 vic­tory against Brooks Koepka and Daniel Berger that wasn’t de­cided un­til the In­ter­na­tion­als won two of the last three holes.

The fi­nal match came down to the fi­nal hole. Cap­tain’s pick Phil Mick­el­son, who has played in ev­ery Pres­i­dents Cup, missed a 7-footer that would have won the match. In­stead, he and Kevin Kis­ner, who held an early 3up lead, halved their match with Ja­son Day and Marc Leish­man.

“We seem to be trail­ing ev­ery time af­ter the first day,” Oosthuizen said. “To­mor­row is a big day for us.”

BILL STREICHER, USA TODAY SPORTS

Dustin John­son hits out of the sand on Thurs­day.

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