CHARLOTTE, N.C. — American red numbers filled the electronic scoreboards Thursday in the Presidents Cup, an outcome that surprised no one for these one-sided matches.
“Somebody came on the radio and said, ‘Yeah, but we’re 1 up in three matches and those can flip real quick,’” U.S. captain Davis Love III said.
When it was over, the International team was happy it wasn’t shut out.
Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele set the tone with the shortest foursomes match in the Presidents Cup since 2011, dispatching Hideki Matsuyama and Adam Scott in 13 holes as the American duo improved to 5-0 in this alternate-shot format.
Right behind them were Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, coming up with big moments after bad shots in a 2-and-1 win over Sungjae Im and Corey Conners.
Another strong American team from top to bottom played at a high level on a hot day at Quail Hollow and walked off with a 4-1 lead after the first session.
“I told the guys last night we need to set the tone — us and J.T. and Jordan’s match — and we did,” Schauffele said. “Playing this format on a day like today and not making any bogeys, it’s exactly what we need.”
Even the breaks fell the Americans’ way.
Max Homa and Tony Finau were all square with four holes to play when Homa’s shot from a fairway bunker on the 15th hole – typically the 18th at Quail Hollow – was headed for the middle of the stream when it caromed off the rocks and into the rough. Finau pitched to 8 feet and Homa made the putt to halve the hole.
“That tie felt like a win,” Homa said, and they wound up winning the match with a par on the 18th hole.
The lone bright spot for the International team was Cameron Davis and Si Woo Kim, who won the last four holes to take out Sam Burns and Masters champion Scottie Scheffler, the No. 1 player in the world.
“If we got whitewashed today, it would have been a tough pill to swallow,” International captain Trevor Immelman said. “We’ve got our work cut out for us, but like I said, we’ll keep going, man. We’ll keep going until they ring the bell.”
The International team, already an underdog in these matches, was hurt more than the Americans by players leaving the PGA Tour for Saudi-funded LIV Golf, including British Open champion Cameron Smith, Louis Oosthuizen and Joaquin Niemann.
“Nobody here expects us to win. We’ve got to have that belief deep down,” Immelman said. “Go out there and fight. We’re up against maybe the strongest American team ever assembled on paper.”
Two of the eight rookies for the International team, Taylor Pendrith and Mito Pereira, nearly picked up another point. They were all square going to the tough par-4 closing hole when Pereira hit a wild tee shot, Pendrith could only manage the right bunker and they made bogey. Finau and Homa walked away with a 1-up win and a point.
“We did what we were supposed to do,” Finau said.
The other U.S. point came from Collin Morikawa and Cameron Young, the PGA Tour rookie of the year, who soaked up the environment before a full house at Quail Hollow and produced a winning moment of his own.
They were in a tight match with against 20-year-old Tom Kim and K.H. Lee, all square with six holes to play. At the time, the last three matches could have gone either way.
The Americans had a 1-up lead and appeared to be headed toward the 18th when Young slammed in a 25-foot birdie putt on the 17th to end the match.
“That moment there is about all I can ask for,” Young said. “Obviously, it’s the first day, but every point we get is important. And that’s a feeling I’ve been waiting to have for a long time.”
Cantlay and Schauffele first hooked up on the long flight over to Australia for the Presidents Cup in 2019, the first team matches for both. They have become fast friends off the course and are a tough team to beat inside the ropes, particularly in foursomes.
They got plenty of help from Scott and Matsuyama – the two most experienced players on the International team – who missed plenty of putts that could have won or halved holes along the way. Matsuyama missed from 4 feet on the third hole, and the Americans took the lead and ran with it.
Thomas, who won the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow in 2017, had a wild day. He chunked a 9-iron so badly on the par-3 fourth that it came up 40 yards short of the green. He hit a shank from the bunker on the par-5 16th. He and Spieth didn’t lose either hole.
The match turned on the 15th when Spieth’s drive landed on the left side of a creek, Thomas did well to get to the back of the green, and Spieth ran his downhill putt some 25 feet by the hole.
Conners and Im were in position to win the hole – 7 feet away for par – and square the match. Thomas holed the par putt, Conners missed and the Americans were 2 up and headed for another point.
“You win when you pick up your partner, and he did that,” Spieth said. “That switch we had on the 15th was unreal there. Looking at going to even and instead we leave that green 2 up. It was the difference in the match.”
Next up were five matches Friday in fourballs, and each point moves the Americans closer to a ninth straight victory in these one-sided matches. They have never lost on home soil since the Presidents Cup began in 1994.
With such a dominant start, the Americans need only 11 1/2 points from the 25 matches remaining to retain the cup.
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