US team in for­eign ter­ri­tory, trail­ing at Pres­i­dents Cup

The Saline Courier - - SPORTS - By Doug Fer­gu­son As­so­ci­ated Press

MEL­BOURNE, Aus­tralia — Tiger Woods lightly pumped his fist with an­other birdie. He raised his hands over his head in ap­plause to salute a bril­liant play by Justin Thomas that led to an­other hole won. He thor­oughly en­joyed his re­turn to com­pe­ti­tion in the Pres­i­dents Cup.

His match won, Woods took the ra­dio and in­serted the ear piece as he re­sumed his role as U.S. cap­tain.

And there was lit­tle else to cheer.

Ernie Els and his in­spired In­ter­na­tional team won the day, and won it big.

Els got solid per­for­mances from Adam Scott and Louis Oosthuizen and re­mark­able play from his rook­ies that led to a 4-1 lead af­ter the open­ing ses­sion of four­balls Thurs­day.

“I didn’t en­vi­sion 4-1, no,” Els said.

It was the first time the In­ter­na­tional team won the open­ing ses­sion since 2005, which also was the last time it led af­ter any ses­sion in an event the Amer­i­cans have won 10 out of 12 times, in­clud­ing the last seven in a row.

Woods as­sem­bled the strong­est U.S. team ever for the Pres­i­dents based on the world rank­ing. The first play­ing cap­tain in 25 years, he in­serted him­self in the first match and made six birdies, the most of any­one at Royal Mel­bourne.

When it was over, the U.S. team found it­self in for­eign ter­ri­tory — trail­ing for the first time in 14 years.

“We have to earn this cup,” Woods said, per­haps a re­minder that history means lit­tle in­side the ropes. “Just be­cause we lost the ses­sion doesn’t mean the Cup’s over. There’s a long way to go, a lot of points avail­able. The guys will re­group, and we’ll come out to­mor­row ready to go.”

That was a mes­sage Els preached to his team af­ter a dynamic per­for­mance.

Scott over­came a snap hook on the open­ing hole to make five birdies as he and Byeong Hun An — the re­place­ment for Ja­son Day — won in 17 holes. Hideki Mat­suyama holed a 25-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole that car­ried the Ja­panese star and C.T. Pan to a 1-up vic­tory over Patrick Reed and Webb Simp­son.

Oosthuizen and Abra­ham Ancer, the Mex­i­can rookie who has re­ceived praise all week for his fire and con­fi­dence, opened with five straight birdies in a crush­ing de­feat over the Amer­i­can power duo of Dustin John­son and Gary Wood­land.

But it was just a start. “Keep the jets down,” Els said. “There’s a long way to go. Don’t get too ex­cited. This is a strong team, and they’re go­ing to come back strong.”

Woods was so strong that he de­cided to play again in Fri­day foursomes, again paired with Thomas. Woods kept two other teams to­gether — Patrick Cant­lay and Xan­der Schauf­fele, and Reed and Simp­son — even though both lost.

Els is send­ing out five new part­ner­ships, stick­ing to a plan that so far is work­ing quite well.

“He had a sys­tem go­ing in. We are his sol­diers, so we fol­low his in­struc­tion, and that’s what we did to­day,” C.T. Pan said. “And it works great.”

Woods showed off an exquisite short game, build­ing a 2-up lead af­ter two holes with pitch-and-run shots that set up easy birdies. He chipped in for birdie on the par-5 fifth, and closed out the match with an 8-foot birdie on the par-3 14th and a 5-footer on the next hole, his sixth birdie in the 15 holes he and Thomas needed to beat Marc Leish­man and Joaquin Nie­mann.

Asked what worked well in their first time play­ing to­gether, Thomas replied, “Tiger was work­ing well.”

Lit­tle else did for the Amer­i­cans, but that was more a prod­uct of great play by the In­ter­na­tional team that Els as­sem­bled to try to

Kelsey Greer led the way with a game-high 16 points, with team­mate Lariah Hawkins adding six and Presly Pal­lette five.

Ben­ton re­turns to ac­tion win the Pres­i­dents Cup for the first time since 1998, its only vic­tory.

The In­ter­na­tional team walked off the course with arms around shoul­ders, a most happy oc­ca­sion af­ter hav­ing lost seven in a row since the tie in South Africa in 2003.

The mid­dle three matches is where the In­ter­na­tional team seized con­trol in the open­ing ses­sion. Adam Had­win and Sung­jae Im won the 16th hole with a par, and Schauf­fele and Cant­lay didn’t have good birdie looks over the fi­nal two holes to lose.

The big­gest of Scott’s five birdies was a 12-footer to halve the 14th and pro­tect a 2-up lead that led to vic­tory on the 17th hole over Tony Finau and Bryson Decham­beau, now win­less in first four matches in the Ry­der Cup and Pres­i­dents Cup.

The last chance for the Amer­i­cans to at least get a half-point came in the last match on the course. Reed, who heard his share of needling from the crowd over his rules vi­o­la­tion in the sand last week in the Ba­hamas, made a 12-foot birdie putt to square the match on the 16th, only for Mat­suyama to de­liver his big putt on the next hole.

Reed’s 30-foot birdie putt on the 18th to halve the match stayed above the hole.

Per­haps typ­i­cal of the Amer­i­cans’ day was when John­son, play­ing for the first time since Aug. 25 be­cause of knee surgery, smashed driver on the 330-yard 11th hole to just in­side 4 feet. He missed the ea­gle putt, Ancer made a 12-foot birdie to keep the 3-up lead and the Amer­i­can team never got any closer.

It was only the fourth time the In­ter­na­tional team has led af­ter the open­ing ses­sion, and it was their largest mar­gin af­ter one day.

“This is the start we needed,” Scott said. “We’ve got to try to keep this lead now as long as pos­si­ble, and hope­fully the week runs out.”

to­day with a trip to Cabot to take on Cabot North, with the eighth-grade girls start­ing at 5 p.m. Ben­ton ninth­grade girls and boys fol­low.

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