US take command at Presidents Cup

Three tense last-hole foursomes triumphs on Thursday sparked the United States to a 5½ to ½ edge over the Internationals at the Presidents Cup, matching the largest first-session lead in its history.

The Americans nabbed the biggest first-session edge since they grabbed 5-0 leads on their way to victories over their non-European rivals in 1994 and 2000, when the format featured five matches in the session.

”We’re a long way from the end of this thing,” United States star Tiger Woods said. ”We still need to go out there and play well and get our points.”

South Africa’s Ernie Els missed a heartbreaking four-foot par putt at the 18th and David Toms sank a four-footer to give him and Jim Furyk a one-up triumph over Els and US Open champion Angel Cabrera of Argentina.

”I said, ‘You’re not the only one to do that. Forget it’,” Internationals captain Gary Player said. ”It’s never won on the first day. We will come back and play again. Let’s congratulate the United States. They played very well.”

Masters champion Zach Johnson and Stewart Cink beat South Africans Trevor Immelman and Rory Sabbatini one-up while Scott Verplank and Lucas Glover downed South African Retief Goosen and Australian Stuart Appleby two-up.

”Our guys played just great,” US captain Jack Nicklaus said. ”They played well down the stretch.”

World number one Woods and struggling Charlie Howell won three and one over South Korean KJ Choi and Australian Nick O’Hern, who had beaten Woods in two World Golf Championship match-play events.

Woods salvaged poor shots from Howell and helped his pal read a key birdie putt at the 14th for a two-up lead.

”I wasn’t going to miss that putt,” Howell said. ”I didn’t want to let him down.”

Nicklaus handed the Internationals their day’s only profit at Royal Montreal Golf Club, where six four-ball matches will be staged on Friday ahead of more pairs play on Saturday and 12 concluding singles matches on Sunday.

Nicklaus nudged Phil Mickelson and Woody Austin into conceding a four-foot putt at the 18th hole to Fiji’s Vijay Singh, allowing him and home-nation hero Mike Weir to halve with the US team.

”Captain Nicklaus said for us to do it. If it was up to me I don’t know,” said Mickelson. ”It was the right call. Vijay wasn’t going to miss that putt anyway. He hasn’t missed one like that in four or five years.”

Second-ranked Mickelson and Austin sank 20-foot putts on the last two holes to deny the Internationals a victory. Mickelson squared the match with his only long putt on the 17th and Austin dropped another on the 18th green.

”Mike being Canadian and it being here, they made the right decision,” said Nicklaus. ”They felt there shouldn’t be a loser in that match.”

The Mickelson-Austin charity came after Singh had cracked a ”Phil Who?” joke about Mickelson on Wednesday, the way his caddie had about Tiger Woods in 2000 — when Woods answered by defeating Singh.

Singh also complained at the 2005 Masters that Mickelson left spike marks on Augusta National greens, leading to a heated locker room confrontation.

And Weir, 4-1 against Mickelson in prior Cup play, had said he felt like he could take Mickelson, Internationals assistant captain Ian Baker-Finch said.

”In my four Cups, that was probably the toughest match,” Weir said. ”We stormed back and they stormed back. Phil made that putt at 17. That’s why he’s number two in the world. He makes those putts.”

Weir was pleased Nicklaus gave away the deadlock, saying: ”That doesn’t surprise me. I’d like to think if it was role reversal, we would have done the same thing.”

Steve Stricker and Hunter Mahan beat Aussies Adam Scott and Geoff Ogilvy three and two in the first match on the course.

”It was important for us to come out with a good start,” Stricker said. ”We got out early and hung in there down the stretch.” — AFP



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Jim Slater
Jim Slater
Sports Editor Agence France-Presse (AFP).

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