The International team hadn’t led after the first day of the Presidents Cup since 2005. That is until Thursday, when it took its largest lead at Royal Melbourne since 1998, the same year of its only victory in 12 Presidents Cup matches. The Americans were served notice that this year at Royal Melbourne, things are going to be different.
Whether it was jet lag, lack of motivation or a simple case of rust, the U.S. team put together an uninspiring performance. Aside from a dominant effort from Tiger Woods and Justin Thomas, the Americans were blitzed on Day 1 of the Presidents Cup as the Internationals jumped out to a 4 to 1 lead after the day’s five four-ball matches.
Here are four thoughts on the opening day of the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne:
Thursday Four-Ball Results:
Tiger Woods/Justin Thomas def. Marc Leishman/Joaquin Niemann 4 and 3
Adam Hadwin/Sungjae Im def. Xander Schauffele/Patrick Cantlay 1 up over
Byeong-Hun An/Adam Scott def. Bryson DeChambeau/Tony Finau 2 and 1
C.T. Pan/Hideki Matsuyama def Patrick Reed/Webb Simpson 1 up
Abraham Ancer/Louis Oosthuizen def. Dustin Johnson/Gary Woodland 4 and 3
Ernie Els looks like a genius
Faced with the task of defeating the Americans for the first time since 1998, International Captain Ernie Els knew he had to think outside the box in 2019. Els has approached his captaincy with the goal of forming a unified team out of players from nine countries and five different continents. He began by holding team gatherings throughout the year, most notably in New Orleans, and then changed the team’s logo to a new International shield.
He then went against the grain in forming his pairings. Instead of matching players with close friendships or experience playing together in the past, Els used data, analytics and statistics from a company called the 15th Club to help form his pairings. It’s the same company that the European Ryder Cup team used to help beat the Americans in Paris last year.
On Day 1, Els looked like a genius, using player combinations that looked odd on paper—like Adam Scott and Byeong-Hun An, or Louis Oosthuizen and Abraham Ancer—and turning them into formidable tandems. The two groupings, along with Adam Hadwin and Sungjae Im, produced three of the International team’s four points on the first day.
Tiger sets the tone as Player/Captain
Tiger Woods put to bed any questions as to whether he could handle the responsibility of being both U.S. team Captain and a player. Paired with Justin Thomas, Tiger sent himself out first in the opening match against Marc Leishman and Joaquin Niemann. With the Tiger intimidation factor on full display, Woods set the tone with birdies on the first two holes, a chip in for birdie on the par-3 fifth hole—and he never looked back after that.
In all, Tiger tallied five birdies in fifteen holes registering the first point of the Presidents Cup in a 4 and 3 U.S. victory.
The Woods/Thomas pairing is one you can expect to see a lot of this week. JT may be Tiger’s closest friend on tour, and the comfort level and natural comradery is one Captain Woods will surely lean on. The question now is how much Woods will play. Heading into the matches, it was believed Tiger would play in three of the five sessions, but with the Captain arguably the team’s hottest player, he may be forced to pencil his own name in the lineup more than he originally planned.
After day one, Tiger said his message to his team will be simple: “We have to go and earn the Cup.”
Reed Hears it from the Australian fans
Fresh off his waste bunker controversy in the Bahamas, Patrick Reed stepped to the tee as part of the fourth match of the day at Royal Melbourne and was promptly given the business by the Australian gallery.
Paired with Webb Simpson, Reed heard references to his two-stroke penalty for improving his lie at the Hero World Challenge throughout the day.
In the You’ve gotta be kidding me moment of the day, Reed put his first shot of the day… into…you guessed it…a bunker.
Overall, Captain America seemed to be able to tune out the noise, though he wasn’t able to stir up any Ryder Cup magic, as he and Simpson were defeated by C.T. Pan and Hideki Matsuyama 1 up.
This controversy and the reaction that has come with it is not going away any time soon.
Competing for the first time since the Tour Championship in August, World No. 5 Dustin Johnson looked rusty. When healthy, DJ is one of the most physically gifted players in the game, but Johnson spent the entire fall recovering from knee surgery and looked like a man who hasn’t been in a competitive environment in three months. Paired with U.S. Open champ Gary Woodland, DJ managed just one birdie over 15 holes in an embarrassing 4 and 3 loss to South African Louis Oosthuizen and Mexican Cup rookie Abraham Ancer.
Without his logical playing partner of Brooks Koepka, who withdrew from the Presidents Cup due to a knee injury, Johnson looked out of sorts, alarmingly fanning a pair of key putts down the stretch. The lackluster performance should likely force Captain Tiger Woods to reconsider how he’ll use Johnson the rest of the way.