INCHEON, South Korea (Reuters) - Jack Nicklaus predicted superior putting would be the key at this year’s Presidents Cup and so it proved on Thursday as the United States’ prowess on the greens helped them to a 4-1 lead over the Internationals after the opening day’s foursomes.
The American big guns fired straight and true -- Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson finished off Danny Lee and Marc Leishman 4&3, while Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker crushed Asian duo Thongchai Jaidee and Anirban Lahiri 5&4.
Australia’s world number two Jason Day and partner Steven Bowditch went down swinging, losing to Phil Mickelson and Zach Johnson on the final hole (2 Down), while Adam Scott and Hideki Matsuyama fluffed putt after putt against Bubba Watson and J.B. Holmes to lose 3&2.
The only bright spot for the Internationals was the South African pairing of Branden Grace and Louis Oosthuizen, who defeated Matt Kuchar and Patrick Reed 3&2 to put a touch of blue on a red-hued scoreboard.
Internationals skipper Nick Price said his team were down but not out.
“I‘m certainly not despondent about the whole thing. We are not in the situation we’d like to be after the first round, but there’s an awful lot of golf to play,” he told reporters.
“And to be honest, I think this team is going to bounce back a lot quicker than maybe any of the other teams we’ve had.”
After winning just one of the 10 previous Presidents Cups the Internationals were thought to have their best chance in years in Korea, the first Asian country to host the event, after the PGA Tour agreed to reduce the points on offer to 30 from 34.
However, that format change and home advantage seemed to do little to inspire the International team, who found themselves trailing in every match by the second hole.
World number one Spieth, who won two majors among his five Tour victories this year, said he and Johnson could have been even further ahead of the opposition.
“That front nine, we played some really solid golf, and we had putts to win almost every single hole,” he said.
“We ended up only being one up at the turn, which we felt like we should have been three or four, but we made up for it early in the back nine.”
Spieth, regarded as one of the best putters in the world, said he dovetailed well with the big-hitting Johnson in Thursday’s alternate shot format.
“Alternate shot is a great format for us out here. D.J. hits the par-5s. I have a lot of birdie putts. We feel like that’s an advantage to us, both of those.”
U.S. skipper Jay Haas was particularly pleased with the performance of Mickelson, who needed a captain’s pick for the first time since 1994 but rewarded that faith by partnering Zach Johnson to the win over Day and Bowditch.
Two holes up with two to play, the Americans looked in danger of being reeled in after Day sank a 30-foot putt for birdie on 17, but Mickelson closed the door with a crushing drive up the last.
“I was just real proud of him. I told him so,” said Haas. “He’s dealt with pressure before, obviously, in many situations. Being a pick this time probably added to it a little bit. I‘m happy for him with the way he responded.”
The Presidents Cup continues on Friday and Saturday with foursome and four ball match-ups, before wrapping up on Sunday with 12 head-to-head singles matches.
Editing by Amlan Chakraborty