/ Golf

USA on top at the Presidents Cup

Updated: Friday, 18 Nov 2011 07:31

Steve Williams and Tigers Woods came face to face
Steve Williams and Tigers Woods came face to face

Tiger Woods suffered the biggest match play defeat of his life today - but it was still the Americans who began the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne much the better.

Woods and Steve Stricker, hammered by a cup record-equalling 7&6 margin by Adam Scott and KJ Choi, were the only United States pair to lose in the opening foursomes.

Thanks to two late fightbacks for vital half-points Fred Couples's side established a 4-2 lead as they began their bid for a fourth successive win over the Internationals.

Woods was inevitably the centre of attention - and not so much because he was a controversial wild card pick for the match after crashing outside the world's top 50.

By facing Scott, of course, he also came up against his former caddie Steve Williams, whose fury at being sacked earlier this summer spilled into a racist comment two weeks ago.

They shook hands on the first tee and again only 11 holes later, but they were the briefest of exchanges between a pair who had shared in 13 major victories.

Woods and Stricker won all their four games together in the match two years ago and had two more wins at the Ryder Cup last year before being blitzed 6&5 by Luke Donald and Lee Westwood.

At the time that was Woods's heaviest-ever match play loss, either individually or with a partner, but now it has been relegated to his second worst.

He and Stricker, playing his first tournament since September because of injury, did not make a single birdie and did not win a single hole.

"Unfortunately they got off to a quick start and we couldn't keep up," Woods said.

"We kept finding ourselves on the wrong side of the slopes and the course is so difficult it's hard to make up shots."

Stricker said: "It seems like we were always just a little bit off. We've got to do a better job of putting it in play."

Although they were the last of the six games to tee off, such was the size of the thrashing they were the second to finish.

Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson had registered the first point, coming back from two down after four to beat Ernie Els and Ryo Ishikawa 4&2 with a superb seven under par score.

Hunter Mahan and David Toms were almost as impressive, demolishing Koreans YE Yang and KT Kim 6&5 and it became 3-1 when Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk - back together for the first time since the 1999 Ryder Cup - beat Retief Goosen and Robert Allenby 4&3.

At that point it still looked as though the Internationals would end the day on level par.

But from two up with four to play Geoff Ogilvy and Charl Schwartzel lost the 15th and 16th and were relieved to get a half with Bill Haas and Nick Watney after Haas missed a 12-footer at the last.

Worse was to come for Greg Norman's team. Aaron Baddeley and Jason Day had been three up on Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar with seven to play and were still two ahead on the 17th tee, but then Baddeley buckled under the pressure.

He missed the green there and then, after failing to hole from six feet for the match, hit a shocking drive up against a tree right of the 18th fairway.

The bogey five allowed the Americans to escape with a half that felt like a win given the momentum switch.

"It didn't look like 4-2 - we got a little lucky," Couples said, while Norman said: "I know Aaron feels bad, but it's early days.

"We've just got to rally the troops and you have to forget what happened. Like any tournament you have to look forward, not back."

To nobody's surprise, Woods and Stricker have been split for the second-day fourballs, which will start earlier than planned at 9.35am because of a bad weather forecast.

Johnson becomes Woods's 18th different partner in Presidents and Ryder Cups, while Stricker links up with Kuchar.

They are the only changes made by Couples, while Norman has kept only two of his pairs together - Els and Ishikawa will play Watson and Simpson again, while Baddeley and Day face Woods and Johnson.