CHARLOTTE, NC — The idea was for America’s two most reliable teams to set the tone Thursday at the Presidents Cup, and the result was predictable.
Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay made short work of Adam Scott and Hideki Matsuyama in the first match. They pulled no punches in the 6-and-5 victory, improving their record to 5-0 in foursomes at the Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup.
Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, best friends since they were 14, had good putts to make up for their mistakes and hold off Sungjae Im and Corey Conners, 2 and 1.
Another strong American team from top to bottom played at a 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, J.T. and Jordan’s matchup — and we did,” Schauffele said. “To play this format on a day like today and not make a bogey, that’s exactly what we need.”
The international team, already underdogs in these games, was hurt more than the Americans by players leaving the PGA Tour for Saudi-funded LIV Golf, including Cameron Smith and Joaquin Niemann.
All that kept the international side from being sent off were Si Woo Kim and Cameron Davis. They were 2 under with four holes to play against Masters champion Scottie Scheffler and Sam Burns when they capitalized on American mistakes to scratch out a 2-up victory.
Two of the eight rookies for the international team, Taylor Pendrith and Mito Pereira, almost picked up another point. All were set heading into the tough par-4 closing hole when Pereira hit a wild tee shot, Pendrith could only manage the right bunker and they bogeyed. Tony Finau and Max Homa walked away with a 1-up win and a point.
“We did what we had to do,” Finau said.
The other American score came from Collin Morikawa and PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Cameron Young, who soaked up the atmosphere in front of a packed house at Quail Hollow and produced his own winning moment.
They were in a close match with 20-year-old Tom Kim and K.H. Lee, all squares with six holes to play. At that time, the last three games could have gone either way. As easy as Cantlay and Schauffele looked in the opening match, it was only one point.
The Americans regained the lead when Morikawa chipped in to 2 feet for birdie on the downwind 14th hole. The lead remained at 1 and appeared to be heading to the 18th when Young hit a 25-foot birdie putt on the 17th to end the match.
“That 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 teamed up on the long flight to Australia for the 2019 Presidents Cup, the first team match for both. They have become fast friends off the track and are becoming a tough team to beat inside the ropes.
They got plenty of help from Scott and Matsuyama — two of the most experienced players on the international team — who missed many shots that could have won or halved holes along the way. Matsuyama missed from 4 feet on the third hole, and the Americans took the lead and ran away with it.
They won three straight holes through the par-5 seventh to build a 4-up lead, and won the final three holes with pars.
Thomas, who won the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow in 2017, had a wild day. He hit the 9-iron so badly on the par-3 fourth that he came 40 yards from the green. He hit a shin from the bunker on the par-5 16th. He and Spieth didn’t lose a hole.
The match began on the 15th — normally the 18th at Quail Hollow for stroke play tournaments — when Spieth’s drive landed on the left side of the creek, Thomas got well to the back of the green, and Spieth went downhill to putt some 25 feet by the hole .
Conners and Im were in position to win the hole, 7 feet for par, and level the match. Thomas made par, Conners missed, and the Americans were up 2 and heading for another point.
“You win when you pick up your partner, and he did that,” Spieth said. “That change we had on the 15th was unreal there. Seeing us go for a tie and instead leave that green 2 up. That was the difference in the game.”
Five matches followed on Friday in four balls, each point bringing the Americans closer to a ninth straight victory in these one-sided matches. They have never lost at home since the start of the Presidents Cup in 1994.
With such a dominant start, the Americans need just 11 points from the remaining 25 matches to retain the cup.