CHARLOTTE, NC — The idea was for two of America’s most trusted teams to set the tone Thursday in the Presidents Cup, and the outcome was predictable.
Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay made short work of Adam Scott and Hideki Matsuyama in the opener. They didn’t bogey in a 6-and-5 win, improving 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 2-and-1 Sungjae Im and Corey Conners.
Another solid top-to-bottom American team played at a high level on a hot day at Quail Hollow and came away with a 4-1 lead after the first session.
“I told the guys last night that we had to set the tone – us and JT and the Jordan game – and we did,” Schauffele said. “To play this format on a day like today and not make bogeys is exactly what we need.”
The international team, already underdog in those matches, have been hurt more than the Americans by players leaving the PGA Tour for Saudi-funded LIV Golf, including Cameron Smith and Joaquin Niemann.
All that saved the international team from being kicked 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 snatched a 2-man victory.
Two of the international squad’s eight rookies, Taylor Pendrith and Mito Pereira, nearly picked up another point. They were all going squarely for the tough par-4 closing hole when Pereira hit a wild tee shot, Pendrith could only handle the right bunker and they bogeyed. Tony Finau and Max Homa walked away with a 1-up victory and a point.
“We did what we were supposed to do,” Finau said.
The other American point came from PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Collin Morikawa and Cameron Young, who soaked up the surroundings before a packed house at Quail Hollow and produced his own winning moment.
They were in a tight game against 20-year-old Tom Kim and KH 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 opener, it was just one point.
The Americans regained the lead when Morikawa drove a wedge in 2 feet for a birdie on the downwind 14th hole. The lead remained 1 and appeared to be heading for the 18th when Young slammed a 25-foot birdie putt on the 17th to end the game.
“This moment is about all I can ask for,” Young said. “Obviously it’s the first day, but every point we get is important. And it’s a feeling I’ve been waiting 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 became fast friends off the course and are becoming a tough team to beat on the ropes.
They got a lot of help from Scott and Matsuyama – the two most experienced players on the international team – who missed many putts that could have won or halved holes along the way. Matsuyama missed 4 feet on the third hole, and the Americans took the lead and ran with it.
They won three consecutive holes through the par-5 seventh to take a 4 lead, and they won the last three holes with pars.
Thomas, who won the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow in 2017, had a crazy day. He cut a 9-iron so badly on the par-3 fourth that he came 40 yards from the green. He hit a rod from the bunker at the par-5 16th. He and Spieth didn’t miss a hole.
The match turned on the 15th – usually 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 go to the back of the green, and Spieth ran his downhill putt about 25 feet through the hole.
Conners and Im were in position to win the hole, 7 feet for par, and settle the match. Thomas made the par putt, Conners missed and the Americans were up 2 and heading for another point.
“You win when you take your partner, and he did that,” Spieth said. “That change we had on the 15th was unreal there. To consider going par and instead we leave that green 2 up. That was the difference in the match.”
There were five four-ball games on Friday, and every point brings the Americans closer to a ninth straight win in those one-sided games. They have never lost at home since the start of the Presidents Cup in 1994.
With such a dominating start, the Americans need just 11 points from the remaining 25 games to retain the cup.