Americans roar to big lead at Presidents Cup

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CHAROTTE, N.C. — On the final hole of the last match on Thursday at the Presidents Cup, Canadian Taylor Pendrith had a chance to stem the tide of an opening day American onslaught, but agonizingly watched as his 10-foot par putt slid past the hole.

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“Honestly, I felt really good, I thought I was going to make it,” Pendrith said moments after his match. “We had a good read and I hit a good putt, it just didn’t break.”

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The International bogey at the 18th hole cost Pendrith and Chilean partner Mito Perreira the match, earning Tony Finau and Max Homa the day’s final point, and staking Team U.S.A. to a commanding 4-1 lead at Quail Hollow in the four-day race to 15.5 points.

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If setting the tone early was part of the gameplan for the heavily favoured Americans, they certainly delivered.

“There’s a long way to go,” American captain Davis Love III said. “We’re obviously very pleased.”

In hopes of getting his underdogs off to a quick start during Thursday’s demanding alternate-shot format, International captain Trevor Immelman sent out Adam Scott and Hideki Matsutyama, two Masters champions, in the first match. The Americans answered with Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay.

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It wasn’t even close.

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The Americans wasted no time defeating Scott and Matsuyama 6&5, with Schauffele and Cantlay going bogey-free for the day and ending the match on the 13th hole. It was the first time since 2011 a Presidents Cup match didn’t make it to the 14th hole, and it was the beginning of a nightmare start for the Internationals.

In Match 2, Immelman sent out Canadian Corey Conners and South Korean Sungjae Im, gambling with top-heavy pairings for his overmatched roster. Love called on the familiar pair of Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth and the Americans took care of business, taking the lead on the third hole, and holding on for a 2&1 victory.

“They certainly didn’t give us any holes and they were tough to beat today,” Conners said after the match. “We just didn’t get off to the best start, but we battled back nicely.”

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Conners and Im — two of the absolute best ballstrikers in the world — were both slightly off Thursday. By choosing South Korean Im to tee off on odd-numbered holes, and with all four par threes on even-numbered holes, the strategy was to put plenty of drivers in Im’s hands and plenty of approach shots in Conners’. Problem was, Im didn’t have his usual driving day, and Conners didn’t have his usual day with the irons, so Im was frequently left to pitch and chip and plenty of pressure was placed on Conners’ putter, which ranked 136th on tour last season.

“We just couldn’t get the important putts to go in at the end,” Conners said. “I think we are all going to learn a lot from the day. We are all going to be pretty hungry to get back out there.”

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In Match 3, the American pair of Collin Morikawa and Cameron Young defeated 20-year-old Tom Kim and K.H. Lee 2&1. The International duo of Si Woo Kim an Cam Davis rallied in Match 4, taking their first lead of the day on the 17th hole, and defeating World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler and Sam Burns 2-up.

“It’s always more satisfying when you start off not having your best stuff and then you find a way to turn it around, especially against the caliber of players that are playing here,” Aussie Davis said. “Really proud as a team.”

That left Pendrith and Perreira in the final match to determine how deep of a hole the Internationals would find themselves in heading to Friday. Trailing for most of the match, the Internationals squared things up with a birdie at the 13th, before Pendrith kept things tied with a 24-foot birdie putt at the 16th.

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With the rest of the International team and captains and assistants surrounding the 18th green, Pendrith’s putt to halve the match just missed, ending the day with four red American winning numbers on the scoreboard.

“To make that putt on 16 was really cool to keep us in it, and give us some momentum, and then unfortunate about 18, but that’s golf,” Pendrith said. “I’ve never experienced anything like this before, so it was crazy. Tonnes of people, good support for the International team, and it was really cool.”

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FIRST HOLE JITTERS

It was a long day for Presidents Cup rookie Pendrith, who had quite the wait before unleashing one of his big drives from the first tee in the final group on Thursday afternoon.

“I woke up early this morning by accident and couldn’t go back to bed, so I was thinking about that first tee shot for a while,” he said. “The anticipation of teeing off in my first match ever was building from 5 a.m.”

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The International plan for Pendrith and Perreira worked fairly well with Pendrith taking advantage off the tee, and Perreira showcasing his shotmaking, but in the end it wasn’t quite enough to hold off Finau and Homa.

“Mito and I both played really well, we didn’t really have our best stuff early but we battled back really hard and put some pressure on them mid-round,” Pendrith said. “It seemed like the last five, six holes could have gone either way. For my first ever match in the Presidents Cup I had a good time. I’m hungry for a win.”

Mike Weir sat down with fellow Canadians Pendrith and Conners on Wednesday night and tried his best to let them know what to expect. For Pendrith, it wasn’t quite enough to calm his early nerves.

“I think if you’re not nervous there’s something wrong with you,” he said. “The first tee shot was quite the experience but I got up there and put it right down the middle.”

Pendrith and Conners are paired together Friday, when the two Canadians pals will take on Americans Homa and Billy Horschel in the final match of Best Ball format.

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