Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 29 January 2020

Presidents Cup: Tiger Woods forced to keep playing after US team shocker on opening day

International team 4-1 up after opening fourballs at Royal Melbourne on Thursday

Pressure mounted on US team captain Tiger Woods as the International team took a 4-1 lead in the Presidents Cup after the first round of fourballs at Royal Melbourne.

Woods has been forced to handle captain's duties while playing for a second day on Friday as his team look to claw their way back. The US team captain said he would not have played again if his team were not so far behind against the Ernie Els-led Internationals, who have had their best start since 2005 as they target a first win in 21 years.

Woods – the first playing captain at the biennial tournament in 25 years – led the way with Justin Thomas to register a 4 and 3 win over of Marc Leishman and Joaquin Niemann. However, his day deteriorated rapidly.

"Yeah, we have a couple of different options rolling into this entire Cup," Woods said of his decision to play.

"The guys have known the game plan, different possible options, and this is one of the scenarios."

US were favourites at Royal Melbourne, having won all but one of the 12 editions of the tournament. But Els, armed with in-depth knowledge of the course, spent many hours guiding his team.

All that work showed on the course. In a big upset, Mexico's Abraham Ancer and South African Louis Oosthuizen defeated US Open champion Gary Woodland and former world No1 Dustin Johnson 4 and 3.

Patrick Reed was heckled on the first tee by the Aussie crowd following a 'cheating' row earlier in the week. Despite that, Reed and Webb Simpson leveled a tense tie on the 16th against Japan's Hideki Matsuyama and Taiwan's CT Pan. But the Internationals held on to a tense 1 up win.

Woods played in 1998 at Royal Melbourne, US' only defeat in the tournament, and rolled in the winning putt at the same venue in 2011, making him the most experienced player in a team featuring five Presidents Cup debutants.

Woods remained calm at the end of a tough day, promising the US team will be ready to hit back on day two as they look to extend their reign at the tournament to eight successive titles.

"This is a long four days. I mean, we have to go earn this Cup," said Woods.

"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."

Meanwhile, International team's Oosthuizen lauded the seven rookies in his team after taking an unexpected lead.

Their only newcomer to lose was Chilean 21-year-old Niemann, teamed with Leishman, but the defeat was at the hands of 15-time major winner Woods and world No 4 Thomas.

"I think a lot of us are feeding off the energy. We have a great bunch of rookies on the team," said Oosthuizen, who is playing in his fourth Presidents Cup.

"I've said this a few times – they are in great form, and watching them play a practice round, us senior boys are trying to feed off their energy," said the South African.

"I was just a passenger today in a car watching Abe [Ancer] just playing unbelievable golf. So it was fun to see him, how motivated and focused how was on the golf course, and we are all just in a good place," he added.

The Internationals have failed to win the Presidents Cup since 1998 and Scott, playing in his ninth edition, said the debutants were not carrying memories from the previous defeats.

"I think they don't know any different, you know. They have just come out and won matches today. It's a nice way for them to start their Presidents Cup careers," he said.

"I hope that gives them a lot more confidence for the rest of the week and they play with that confidence."

Updated: December 12, 2019 02:25 PM