The idea was for two of the most reliable American teams to set the tone Thursday in the Presidents Cup, and the result was predictable.
Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay made short work of Adam Scott and Hideki Matsuyama in the opening match. They didn’t make a bogey in a 6-and-5 victory, improving their record to 5-0 in foursomes at the Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup.
Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, best friends since they were 14, had clutch shots to atone for their mistakes and held off Sungjae Im and Corey Conners, 2 and 1.
Another strong American team from top to bottom played at a high level on a hot day at Quail Hollow and walked off with a 4-1 lead after the first session.
‘I told the guys last night we need to set the tone – us and J.T. and Jordan’s match – and we did,’ Schauffele said. ‘Playing this format on a day like today and not making any bogeys, it’s exactly what we need.’
The International team, already an underdog in these matches, was hurt more than the Americans by players leaving the PGA Tour for Saudi-funded LIV Golf, including Cameron Smith and Joaquin Niemann.
It’s a tough reality the International team is facing, but there’s determination among the team to keep going.
‘We’re going to keep fighting. It’s what we do.,’ said International team captain Trevor Immelman.
‘Nobody here expects us to win. We’ve got to have that belief deep down. We’re up against maybe the strongest American team ever assembled on paper. We’ve got our work cut out for us, but like I said, we’ll keep going, man. We’ll keep going until they ring the bell.’
All that kept the International side from being shut out were Si Woo Kim and Cameron Davis. They were 2 down with four holes to play against Masters champion Scottie Scheffler and Sam Burns when they seized on American mistakes and scratched out a 2-up victory.
Two of the eight rookies for the International team, Taylor Pendrith and Mito Pereira, nearly picked up another point. They were all square going to the tough par-4 closing hole when Pereira hit a wild tee shot, Pendrith could only manage the right bunker and they made bogey. Tony Finau and Max Homa walked away with a 1-up win and a point.
‘We did what we were supposed to do,’ Finau said.
The other U.S. point came from Collin Morikawa and Cameron Young, the PGA Tour rookie of the year, who soaked up the environment before a full house at Quail Hollow and produced a winning moment of his own.
They were in a tight match with against 20-year-old Tom Kim and K.H. Lee, all square with six holes to play. At the time, the last three matches could have gone either way. As easy as Cantlay and Schauffele made it look in the opening match, it was only one point.
The Americans regained the lead when Morikawa stuffed a wedge into 2 feet for birdie on the downwind 14th hole. The lead remained 1 up and appeared to be headed toward the 18th when Young slammed in a 25-foot birdie putt on the 17th to end the match.
‘That moment there is about all I can ask for,’ Young said. ‘Obviously, it´s the first day, but every point we get is important. And that´s a feeling I´ve been waiting to have for a long time.’
Cantlay and Schauffele first hooked up on the long flight over to Australia for the Presidents Cup in 2019, the first team matches for both. They have become fast friends off the course and are becoming a tough team to beat inside the ropes.
They got plenty of help from Scott and Matsuyama – the two most experienced players on the International team – who missed plenty of putts that could have won or halved holes along the way. Matsuyama missed from 4 feet on the third hole, and the Americans took the lead and ran with it.
They won three straight holes through the par-5 seventh to build a 4-up lead, and they won the final three holes with pars.
Thomas, who won the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow in 2017, had a wild day. He chunked a 9-iron so badly on the par-3 fourth that it came up 40 yards short of the green. He hit a shank from the bunker on the par-5 16th. He and Spieth didn’t lose either hole.
The match turned on the 15th – typically the 18th at Quail Hollow for stroke-play tournaments – when Spieth’s drive landed on the left side of a creek, Thomas did well to get to the back of the green, and Spieth ran his downhill putt some 25 feet by the hole.
Corey Conners and Sungjae Im were in position to win the hole, 7 feet away for par, and square the match. Thomas holed the par putt, Conners missed and the Americans were 2 up and headed for another point.
‘You win when you pick up your partner, and he did that,’ Spieth said. ‘That switch we had on the 15th was unreal there. Looking at going to even and instead we leave that green 2 up. It was the difference in the match.’
Next up were five matches Friday in fourballs, and each point moves the Americans closer to a ninth straight victory in these one-sided matches. They have never lost on home soil since the Presidents Cup began in 1994.
With such a dominant start, the Americans need only 11 points from the 25 matches remaining to retain the cup.