Despite Tiger Woods, US squad leads President's Cup golf after first day

Tiger Woods and partner Steve Stricker did not enjoy a pleasant match against their international counterparts Thursday in Australia, but the American team is out in front in the President's Cup competition.

By , Reuters

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    Tiger Woods, left, of the U.S. team and his former caddie Steve Williams stand on the first tee during the first round of the Presidents Cup golf tournament at Royal Melbourne Golf Course, in Melbourne, Australia, on Thursday, Nov. 17.
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The United States recovered from a stunning collapse by Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker to take a 4-2 lead in the Presidents Cup at the end of Thursday's opening foursomes as the nervous hosts stumbled late in the day.

Woods and former caddy Steve Williams had moved to defuse tensions following the New Zealander's recent racial slur, the pair shaking hands at the Royal Melbourne Golf Club's first tee on the opening day of the biennial tournament.

But the former world number one and playing partner Stricker looked far from comfortable thereafter, as they crashed to a 7&6 loss to Australia's Adam Scott and South Korean KJ Choi.

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The U.S. made light of the pair's struggles, however, and it was their opponents who crumbled in front of packed galleries when the heat was on.

Having led in five of the six groups, the Australian-stacked Internationals faltered late in their rounds as their traditional weakness in foursomes came back to haunt them.

Their team trailing 3 1/2 points to 1 1/2, the final all-Australian pairing of Aaron Baddeley and Jason Day blew the chance to take the last point against Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar.

Baddeley burned the rim on a short putt that would have sealed the win on 17, then duffed his tee-shot into the right rough on the last as the nerves set in. Johnson calmly sank a six-footer to steal a half-point for the defending champions.

"Sometimes I know I feel probably worse than Aaron feels, because you know how he feels," Internationals captain Greg Norman told reporters.

"He hit one bad shot in 18 holes. If he looks back over it, all of the great putts he made and all of the great shots he hit, take all of those away from the day, don't take away that poor tee shot on 18."

The pairing of Australia's Geoff Ogilvy and Charl Schwartzel were almost as profligate, surrendering a two-up lead in the last four holes to halve their match with Bill Haas and Nick Watney.

"Well, obviously, point-wise, we are more excited than we were an hour and a half before the day ended," U.S. captain Fred Couples said.

"But that's happened before, and our guys fought hard."

Couples paid tribute to the grit his players displayed late in the day but would also have been delighted with the performance of his first pair, Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson.

The Presidents Cup debutants were a model of composure as they hauled in Ernie Els and Ryo Ishikawa to give the United States a 1-0 lead.

'DAVID AND GOLIATH'

The Americans quelled early jitters to come back from two-down after the first four holes and post an emphatic 4&2 win when Els conceded the match after missing a long birdie putt.

"I woke up this morning because I knew I was so nervous," 26-year-old Simpson said. "To be honest I was just thinking about the story of David and Goliath out there."

Woods and Stricker, who became the first pairing to win all four of their matches at the 2009 edition in San Francisco, were the sixth and final group out but trudged back to the clubhouse with four matches still to finish.

Both players struggled off the tee and on the fairways as Scott and Choi combined sublimely to slam the door on the 12th hole following a masterclass of putting and bunker play.

"We were just slightly off. On a golf course like this, it doesn't take much," said Woods after suffering his worst Presidents Cup loss in seven campaigns.

"They partnered up well, shot four-under on us, and we just couldn't get any kind of pressure on them."

Couples has split the pairing for Friday's four-ball matches, with Woods to partner Johnson against Day and Baddeley. Stricker teams up with Kuchar for South Korea's YE Yang and Australian Robert Allenby.

Hunter Mahan and David Toms were almost as ruthless as Scott and Choi as they handed hapless Yang and his compatriot Kim Kyung-tae a bruising 6&5 thrashing.

Phil Mickelson also enjoyed a lopsided 4&3 victory, his first Presidents Cup win outside North America, as he and Jim Furyk prevailed in a battle of veterans against South African Retief Goosen and Allenby.

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