CHARLOTTE, NC — The idea was that two of the most reliable American teams would set the tone in Thursday’s Presidents Cup, and the result was predictable.
Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay made short work of Adam Scott and Hideki Matsuyama in the opening match. They didn’t bogey in a 6 and 5 win and broke their record to 5-0 in fours in the Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup.
Best friends since they were 14, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas had shots to make up for their mistakes and stopped Sungjae Im and Corey Conners, 2 and 1.
Another strong head-to-toe American team played 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 have to set the tone – us and JT and Jordan’s game – and we did,” Schauffele said. “Playing this format on a day like today and not making bogeys is exactly what we need.”
Already an underdog in these matches, the international team was hurt more than the Americans by players leaving the PGA Tour for Saudi-funded LIV Golf, including Cameron Smith and Joaquin Niemann.
The only thing that kept the international side from being left out were Si Woo Kim and Cameron Davis. They were 2 down by four holes to play against Masters champions Scottie Scheffler and Sam Burns as they grabbed American errors and bagged a 2-up win.
Two of the eight rookies for the international team, Taylor Pendrith and Mito Pereira, almost took another point. They were all squarely on their way to the difficult par-4 closing hole when Pereira hit a wild tee shot, Pendrith could only manage the right bunker and they made a bogey. Tony Finau and Max Homa walked away with a 1-up win and a point.
“We did what we had to do,” said Finau.
The other point from the US came from Collin Morikawa and Cameron Young, the PGA Tour’s rookie of the year, who took in the surroundings in front of a packed house in Quail Hollow and produced a winning moment of their own.
They were in a tight contest against 20-year-old Tom Kim and KH Lee, all square with six holes to play. At that point, the last three games could have gone either way. As easy as Cantlay and Schauffele looked in the opening game, it was only one point.
The Americans retook the lead when Morikawa shoved a wedge in 2 feet for birdie on the 14th hole downwind. The lead stayed at 1 and looked set to be headed for the 18th when Young drove in a 25-foot birdie putt on the 17th to end the game.
“At that point, there’s about all I can ask for,” Young said. “Obviously it’s day one, but every point we get is important. And that’s a feeling I’ve been waiting for for a long time.”
Cantlay and Schauffele first connected with the long flight to Australia for the 2019 Presidents Cup, the first team matches for both. They have become fast friends from the track and become a hard-to-beat team 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 along the way that could have won or halved the holes. Matsuyama missed from four 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-up lead, and they won the last three holes by par.
Thomas, who won the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow in 2017, had a wild day. He broke a 9-iron so badly on the par-3 fourth that it went 40 yards below the green. He hit a shaft from the bunker on the par-5 16th. He and Spieth haven’t lost either hole.
The match took place on the 15th – usually the 18th in Quail Hollow for stroke play tournaments – when Spieth’s drive landed on the left side of a creek, Thomas did well to reach the back of the green, and Spieth ran his downhill putt about 25 feet to the hole.
Conners and Im were in position to win the hole, 2 yards away for par, and square the game. Thomas hit the par putt, Conners missed and the Americans led 2 and headed for another point.
“You win when you pick up your partner, and he did,” Spieth said. “That switch we had on the 15th was unreal there. If we take a look at it and leave that green 2 instead. It was the difference in the game.”
Next up on Friday was five games in four-balls, with each point bringing the Americans closer to a ninth straight win in these one-sided games. They have never lost on home soil since the Presidents Cup began in 1994.
With such a dominant start, the Americans need only 11 points from the 25 remaining games to retain the cup.