Seeing is believing for captain Ernie Els, who has waited 2 decades for a breakout performance against the Americans
MELBOURNE, Australia – Even captain Ernie Els couldn’t have envisioned the 4-1 lead that his International team opened Thursday against the Americans after the first session of the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne.
Els is only 1-6-1 against the U.S. in this biennial series, with the lone victory coming in 1998, also at Royal Melbourne. Els was 29 then as his International team won 3½ points on the opening day, eventually winning by nine.
“I didn't envision 4-1,” Els said, “so it's a nice start (scores/pairings). We haven't had a start like this for many, many years. So, it's really nice to have some points on the board.”
Most of the pundits in the newspapers, on the Internet – yes, even some in Morning Read – and on TV practically conceded the cup to the Americans. Els has had an unwavering belief that if he prepared his players better than in the past, he could make the matches competitive. If he could keep the International team close until the 12 singles matches on Sunday, they might even ride a wave of emotion over the finish line.
But he could not envision Canadian Adam Hadwin and playing partner Sungjae Im, a 21-year-old South Korean rookie, taking the lead on Im’s chip-in eagle on the first hole. They rode the strong start to a 1-up victory against Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele.
Els also couldn’t envision that rookie Abraham Ancer would be the dominant force in his pairing with Louis Oosthuizen, a major champion who entered with a 7-5-3 career record.
“I think a lot of us are feeding off the energy, as well,” Oosthuizen said after his fourth career four-balls victory. “We have a great bunch of rookies on the team. I've said this a few times: They are in great form, and watching them play a practice round, us senior boys are trying to feed off their energy. I was just a passenger today in a car watching Abe just playing unbelievable golf.”
Oosthuizen wasn’t the only passenger as rookies Byeong Hun An and C.T. Pan joined Ancer in allowing their veteran partners – Adam Scott and Hideki Matsuyama, respectively – to free-wheel a bit.
In the last three matches Thursday, the Internationals never trailed in the 50 holes that were played.
In the opening match, Americans Tiger Woods and Justin Thomas never trailed en route to a 4-and-3 victory against Joaquin Niemann and Marc Leishman. The Americans led in only two holes over the remaining 68 holes.
Of course, the Presidents Cup is only five matches into a 30-match marathon. But for the first time in years, the Internationals are in position after Day One to change the trajectory of a series that the Americans have dominated.
Now, let’s see what they can do with it.
“Well, it feels good, that's what I can tell you,” Scott said. “We don't know the results from here on out. But this is a great start. This is a very strong American Team with a lot of depth, and they can keep throwing at us every session from here on out and we're going to have to keep throwing it back at them.”