Tiger Woods starts strong at Presidents Cup as rest of U.S. team struggles

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Tiger Woods the player is doing far better than Tiger Woods the captain so far at the Presidents Cup.

Woods birdied the first two holes and chipped in for another at the fifth at Royal Melbourne on Thursday to help him and partner Justin Thomas to a 4 and 3 four-ball (best ball) victory over Marc Leishman and Joaquin Niemann.

It turned out to be the only American victory of the day.

As great as the start was for Woods, the rest of his U.S. team struggled, losing the remaining four matches and falling into a 4-1 hole against the International team on the first day of the 13th Presidents Cup.

For the first time since 2005, the Americans trail after the first session, a huge boost for the International side, which lost the previous seven Presidents Cups and have only one victory in the history of the event -- here at Royal Melbourne in 1998.

The Internationals had not led after any session of the Presidents Cup since the second day in 2005.

Adam Hadwin and Sung-jae Im -- who eagled the first hole in his first Presidents Cup -- won the 16th hole and forged a 1-up victory over Americans Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay.

Adam Scott, playing in a record ninth Presidents Cup for the Internationals without ever winning, helped partner Byeong-Hun An forge a 2 and 1 win over Bryson DeChambeau and Tony Finau.

Hideki Matsuyama and C.T. Pan took down Webb Simpson and Patrick Reed 1-up. And Abraham Ancer and Louis Oosthuizen routed Dustin Johnson and Gary Woodland 4 and 3.

Woods, the first playing captain at the Presidents Cup since the inaugural competition in 1994, put himself out in the first group with Thomas and immediately hit a tight approach on the short par-4 first, followed by another birdie at the par-5 second.

When he chipped in from over the green at the par-3 fifth, the Americans were 3-up, and although the International squad pulled within 1 after seven holes, they never got closer. Woods' birdies at the 11th and 14th holes kept the advantage, and he closed out the match with a 5-footer for another birdie at the 15th.

"It was important for us and the U.S. side to get off to a quick start," Woods said. "We got up on them early and kind of held on from there."

Woods might be playing the best of any American player at the moment. He won the Zozo Championship for his 82nd PGA Tour victory in October and finished fourth last week at the Hero World Challenge.

Despite a 26-hour journey to Australia and cool temperatures Thursday morning, Woods showed no ill effects, swinging effortlessly and looking solid. He more or less carried Thomas, who contributed two birdies to winning holes.

"Tiger was working well out of the two of us today," Thomas said. "He played great. I didn't really take advantage of the opportunities I had, and that's what you have a partner for. It's nice knowing that, and it's nice because I know he's playing well.

"He played great today. It's no coincidence why we won. He really carried me out there, and it was a tough day, and to have as many birdie putts as he had on a couple of holes was the reason we won the match."

Woods had been 0-4 in his previous four-ball matches in two Presidents Cups at Royal Melbourne and 7-9 overall. He improved his overall record to 25-15-1, pulling within one victory of the U.S. record for wins in the Presidents Cup, held by Phil Mickelson.

The format on Friday switches to foursomes (alternate shot), where Woods will play again with Thomas, this time in the fourth match out of five.

"We had a couple of different options rolling into this entire Cup," Woods said. "The guys have known the game plan, different possible options, and this is one of the scenarios."