SAN FRANCISCO, October 9 – Tiger Woods turned in a typically dominant performance, but the United States emerged from the first day of the Presidents Cup with just a slim one-point lead over the International team.Woods and partner Steve Stricker clicked in the tricky foursomes format, defeating Australian Geoff Ogilvy and Japanese teen sensation Ryo Ishikawa 6 and 4.
The hosts finished the day with a 3.5-2.5 lead in the biennial match play golf showdown, a Ryder-esque competition which pits the United States against a team drawn from everywhere in the world except Europe.
The United States were denied a larger lead when Justin Leonard missed a three-foot putt to win the last match of the day.
Leonard and Jim Furyk had rallied from 3-down against South Korea’s PGA Champion Yang Yong-Eun and South African Retief Goosen and took a 2-up lead with two to play.
The Internationals birdied 17 to extend the match. The Americans were on the green in two at the par-five 18th, and Furyk’s first putt left Leonard facing a short birdie attempt.
But after Goosen holed his birdie putt, the South African took his cap off as if to concede Leonard’s putt.
After a moment of confusion, Leonard stepped up to putt. His attempt lipped out, the US lost the hole and the match was halved.
Internationals captain Greg Norman said Goosen wasn’t trying to wrong-foot the Americans.
"He thought the match was over," Norman said. "He didn’t concede the putt, he just thought the match was over. It was a legitimate mistake. It was just the intensity of the game."
Leonard shouldered the blame.
"I knew I was going to need to make that little putt. Unfortunately, I missed it," he said.
Added Norman: "The game can be cruel."
The foursomes have sometimes been a stumbling block for the Internationals, who didn’t win a match on the first day of the last Presidents Cup in 2007, when they went on to lose 19.5-14.5.
South African Ernie Els was happy to be just one point adrift heading into Friday’s six fourball matches.
"We are not too despondent about today," Els said. "The first-day foursomes has always been a bit of an Achilles heel to us."
At one point, things were looking even better for the Internationals, who led four of six matches in the early going before the momentum swung in the Americans’ favor.
Woods and Stricker were the only US duo that never trailed in their match.
They notched five birdies in the first nine holes and were 4-up at the turn. They moved 5-up as Ogilvy and Ishikawa bogeyed 10, and Woods drained a 15-footer for birdie to close out the match at 14.
Woods and Stricker missed only two greens and one fairway.
Stricker admitted he felt a little nervous about playing with the fiercely competitive world number one.
"I didn’t want to feel like he had to hold up my end as well as his end," Stricker said. "In the end, that wasn’t a problem.
"It was a lot of fun," Stricker said. "We did a lot of good things."
Phil Mickelson and Anthony Kim delivered America’s first point, saving their best for last as they closed out a 3 and 2 victory over Canadian Mike Weir and South African Tim Clark with four birdies to win the last four holes.
US captain Fred Couples said Kim and Mickelson, who teamed successfully at the Ryder Cup last year, were eager to go out first and ‘set a tone,’ but they duo couldn’t hit the right notes early.
They were 1-down through the first 12 holes, but came to life with a birdie at 13 that squared a ragged match and launched their winning birdie burst.
Mickelson said a wedge shot from Kim that set up the birdie at 13 was key.
"We just needed one little thing to go our way," Mickelson said. "We needed something to ignite us, and that wedge shot to three feet sure did the trick."
Aussie Adam Scott and Els earned the Internationals’ first point with a 2 and 1 victory over Hunter Mahan and Sean O’Hair.
"It’s an important win," Scott said. "Things were looking good early on, but some matches turned around so we needed this one."
Fiji’s Vijay Singh and Australian Robert Allenby delivered another crucial point for the Internationals as they battled to a 1-up victory over Lucas Glover and Stewart Cink – the reigning US and British Open champions.
The Americans never led, but they never let the Internationals run away with it, and squared the match at 16.
Singh and Allenby regained the lead with a birdie at 17 and claimed the match when they halved the last hole.
Americans Kenny Perry and Zach Johnson won a tight match against Argentina’s Masters champion Angel Cabrera and Colombian Camilo Villegas 2-up.
The match had been all-square from the 10th when the Americans gained the advantage with a birdie at 16. After 17 was halved, the Perry and Johnson sealed the win at the last after Cabrera was in a bunker off the tee.