CHARLOTTE, NC – The idea was for two of America’s most reliable teams to set the tone at the Presidents Cup Thursday, and the outcome was predictable.
Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay did a short work on Adam Scott and Hideki Matsuyama in the opening match. They didn’t make a bogey in a 6 and 5 win, improving their record to 5-0 over four at the Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup.
Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, best friends since they were 14, had friction blows to atone for their mistakes and kept Sungjae Im and Corey Conners, 2 and 1 at bay.
Another strong top-to-bottom American team played at a high level on a hot day at Quail Hollow and walked away with a 4-1 lead after the first session.
“I told the guys last night that we had to set the tone – us, JT and Jordan’s match – and we did,” Schauffele said. “Playing this format on a day like today and not creating bogeys is exactly what we need.”
The international team, already underdogs in these games, has been hurt more than the Americans by players who left the PGA Tour for Saudi Arabian-funded LIV Golf, including Cameron Smith and Joaquin Niemann.
All that kept the international team from being left out were Si Woo Kim and Cameron Davis. They were 2 under with four holes to play against Masters champion Scottie Scheffler and Sam Burns when they caught the American mistakes and took a 2 win.
Two of the eight rookies for the international team, Taylor Pendrith and Mito Pereira, nearly picked up another point. They were all set to reach the difficult par-4 closing hole when Pereira hit a wild tee shot, Pendrith only managed to manage the right bunker and they bogeyed. Tony Finau and Max Homa walked away with a 1-up win and a point.
“We did what we had to do,” Finau said.
The other point in the US came from Collin Morikawa and Cameron Young, PGA Tour rookie of the year, who immersed himself in the environment before a full house in Quail Hollow and produced a winning moment of his own.
They were in a close match with Tom Kim, 20, and KH Lee, all squares with six holes to play. At the time, the last three games could have gone either way. As easy as Cantlay and Schauffele made it look easy in the opening match, it was only one point.
The Americans regained the lead when Morikawa inserted a 2-foot wedge for birdie on the leeward 14th hole. The lead remained 1 on and seemed to be headed towards 18 when Young slammed into a 25 foot birdie putt on 17 to finish the match.
“That moment is all I can ask for,” said Young. “Obviously it’s the first day, but every point we get is important. And it’s a feeling I’ve been waiting for for a long time.”
Cantlay and Schauffele first met on the long flight to Australia for the Presidents Cup in 2019, the first team matches for both. They have become fast friends off the pitch and are becoming a tough team to beat on the ropes.
They received a lot of help from Scott and Matsuyama, the two most experienced players on the international team, who lost many putts that could have won or halved holes along the way. Matsuyama missed by 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 lead on and won the last three holes on par.
Thomas, who won the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow in 2017, had a wild day. He cut a 9 iron so badly on the fourth par-3 that he came within 40 yards from the green. He hit a shin from the bunker on par-5 16. He and Spieth didn’t lose either hole.
The game started on the 15th – typically 18th in 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 bottom of the green and Spieth ran. its descent puts you about 25 feet through the hole.
Conners and Im were able to win the hole, 7 feet apart for the par, and place the game. Thomas pocketed the par putt, Conners missed and the Americans were 2 ahead and headed for another spot.
“You win when you pick up your partner, and he did,” Spieth said. “That change we had on the 15th was unreal there. Looking at the draw and instead we leave that green 2 at the top. It was the difference in the game.”
Then there were five four-ball games on Friday, and each point brings the Americans closer to a ninth consecutive win in these one-sided games. They have never lost at home since the Presidents Cup began in 1994.
With such a dominant start, the Americans only need 11 points out of 25 games remaining to keep the cup.