International team opens with 1st lead in 14 years at Presidents Cup

MELBOURNE, Australia -- An inspired International team shook off an opening four-ball loss to Tiger Woods and Justin Thomas by getting big shots and key putts from rookies and veterans alike to lead for the first time in 14 years on Thursday at the Presidents Cup.

The International squad won the other four matches, never trailing in three of them, and wound up with the start it needed in a bid to win for the first time since 1998.

Its 4-1 advantage in the opening session is its best start ever and marks the first time it has led after any session since 2005.

"This is the start we needed," Adam Scott said after he recovered from his nerves in Australia. "We haven't seen this for a while. We've got to try to keep this lead now as long as possible, and hopefully the week runs out."

Woods worked well, but little else did for the Americans. That was more a product of great play by the International team that Ernie Els assembled.

"I didn't envision 4-1, no," Els said.

The International team walked off the course with arms around shoulders, a happy occasion after losing seven in a row since a tie in South Africa in 2003.

Even the normally stoic Hideki Matsuyama showed just how much this week means, fist-pumping his way to victory. Matsuyama holed a 25-foot birdie on the 17th for a 1-up lead with C.T. Pan, leading to the final victory of the session over Patrick Reed and Webb Simpson.

"We'll celebrate this little session victory, and then we've got a couple more to go," Els said.

Next up are the foursomes matches, a U.S. strength in the Presidents Cup.

"We have to earn this cup," Woods said, perhaps a reminder that history means little inside the ropes. "Just because we lost the session doesn't mean the Cup's over. There's a long way to go, a lot of points available. The guys will regroup, and we'll come out tomorrow ready to go."

While Woods and Thomas dominated the top of the draw, there was more dominance at the bottom end of the draw, this time by the International team. Abraham Ancer of Mexico, one of seven rookies on his team, and Louis Oosthuizen opened with five straight birdies and built a 4-up lead through five holes against the American power duo of Dustin Johnson and Gary Woodland.

Johnson looked as though he might spark a rally when he smashed his driver on the 330-yard 11th hole to just inside 4 feet. Johnson missed the eagle putt, though, and Ancer drained a 12-foot birdie putt to halve the hole and stay 3 up. Two holes later, Ancer made another birdie for a 4-up lead, and it was over two holes later.

It was in the middle three matches that the International team seized control in the opening session. Adam Hadwin and Sung-jae Im won the 16th hole with a par, and Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay didn't have good birdie looks over the final two holes to lose.

Scott shook off early nerves and poured it on with five birdies, three of them on the back nine as he and Byeong-Hun An handled Bryson DeChambeau and Tony Finau.

The last chance for the Americans to at least get a half-point came in the last match on the course. Reed, who heard his share of needling from the crowd over his rules violation in the sand last week in the Bahamas, made a 12-foot birdie putt to square the match on the 16th, only for Matsuyama to deliver his big putt on the next hole.

Reed's 30-foot birdie chance on the 18th to halve the match stayed above the hole.

It marked only the fourth time that the International team has led after the opening session, and it was their largest margin after one day.

"You have to win 15½ points to win the tournament, and we've got four," said Geoff Ogilvy, an assistant captain who has a house at Royal Melbourne. "Still a long way to go from there. It's going to be pats on the back. This is a good start. But let's keep going."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.