MELBOURNE (Reuters) - A Presidents Cup rivalry all but buried by decades of American dominance flickered back to life at Royal Melbourne on Thursday, as the unfancied Internationals stormed to a 4-1 lead by routing Tiger Woods’ United States in the fourballs matches.
Ernie Els’ rookie-laden outfit played fearlessly on a gusty day at the sandbelt course as the Internationals secured a day one lead for the first time at the biennial tournament since 2003.
Woods, only the second playing captain in the 25-year history of the tournament, upheld his end of the bargain, as he anchored a comprehensive 4&3 win with Justin Thomas over Australian Marc Leishman and Chilean debutant Joaquin Niemann.
But that was as good as it got for the star-studded United States, who were consistently bamboozled by Royal Melbourne’s fast and rippled greens and outplayed by a team featuring only Adam Scott in the top 20.
“We’re not done, we’re not out of it yet,” said Woods, who was largely brilliant in a six-birdie round.
“This is a long week.”
Dustin Johnson and Gary Woodland had been branded a dream team by American media after the long hitters were named in a pair on tournament eve.
But they walked off 4&3 losers after a thrashing by South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen and Mexican Abraham Ancer.
Ancer, one of five tournament debutants in the Internationals on day one, had a fairytale first day off the tee and on the greens.
He rolled in a monster 68-foot putt for birdie on the par-four 12th to restore a 4-up lead and all but seal the match.
“It’s so much fun, truly a pleasure playing with Louis,” said the 28-year-old, his nation’s first Presidents Cup player.
“He made it feel easy out here, which is not easy. It’s a very tough golf course ... We had a plan and I think we kept to our plan really well and I felt good out there, which gave me a lot of confidence and I made some putts.”
Home hero Adam Scott and South Korea’s An Byeong-hun made it 2-1 for the hosts when Scott rolled in a six-foot putt for par on the 17th, clinching a 2&1 win over Bryson DeChambeau and Tony Finau.
Canada’s Adam Hadwin and South Korean Im Sung-jae stretched the lead further with a hard-fought 1-up win against Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay.
A banner day for the Internationals was complete on the 18th, when Patrick Reed missed a long putt to halve the hole and concede a second 1-up win to the east Asian duo of Hideki Matsuyama and CT Pan.
Reed was under the microscope after a controversial bunker penalty in the Bahamas last week and was duly heckled by the crowd from the first tee.
He said the United States needed a “lot of attitude” to pull themselves back into the contest in the foursomes on Friday.
“I think our guys are hungry. I think we’re pretty upset with how the day went on as a whole and as a group,” he said.
The U.S. misfire is a boost for local crowds and the tournament organizers, with 43-year-old Woods naming himself in Friday’s foursomes with Thomas rather than sitting out to manage the team from the sidelines.
The U.S. have dominated foursomes’ alternate shot format throughout the tournament’s history.
With pride wounded, they are likely to hit back hard on day two as they look to secure an eighth successive title.
“Just because we lost the session doesn’t mean the Cup’s over,” warned Woods.
Editing by Shri Navaratnam, Clarence Fernandez and Muralikumar Anantharaman