JERSEY CITY, N.J. — Here we go again.
Despite a different venue and a different year, the United States 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. There is a long ways to go.”
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 seven-hole 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 teams’ 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 needed 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 up-and-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-and-forth 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.
“We had a heck of a battle. It was a great, great match,” Kuchar said. “It was just a really good fight. Dustin and I didn’t make a bogey today; in these conditions, in alternate-shot, you would think we would look awfully strong to win pretty easily with the way we played. But it was just a great match.”
Branden Grace and Louis Oosthuizen, who were 4-0-0 as a team in the 2015 Presidents Cup, won again in a tense 3-and-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 3-up 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.”