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International team race into an early 4-1 lead against Tiger's USA in Presidents Cup

Els hails ‘unbelievable start’ on opening day at Royal Melbourne.

Niemann and Oosthuizen celebrate during Friday's opening round.
Niemann and Oosthuizen celebrate during Friday's opening round.
Image: Speed Media

ERNIE ELS’ YOUNG International team got off to dream Presidents Cup start as they stunned Tiger Woods’ star-studded United States to take a 4-1 lead after the opening fourballs Thursday.

The Americans were heavy favourites ahead of the matchplay event at Royal Melbourne, having won all but one of the 12 editions of the biennial clash, with one drawn.

But Els boasts intimate knowledge of the difficult sandbelt layout where he holds the course record, and spent hours schooling his team on its fast greens and treacherous bunkers.

It paid dividends with the Internationals in front after the opening day for the first time since 2005.

“We’ve got a long way to go, but this is an unbelievable start. We haven’t had a start like this for many years,” said an elated Els, adding that he never envisioned having a 4-1 advantage.

Superstar Woods and world number four Justin Thomas put the first point on the board for the US with a 4 and 3 victory over Australian Marc Leishman and Chilean newcomer Joaquin Niemann, with the 43-year-old sinking the winning putt.

But that was as good as it got on a blustery day that began in overcast conditions and light drizzle before the sun burst through.

“This is a long four days. I mean, we have to go earn this Cup,” said a defiant 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.”

Patrick Reed was heckled on the first tee by a boisterous Australian crowd who loudly jeered the controversial American after he became embroiled in a cheating row earlier in the week.

Undeterred, Reed and partner Webb Simpson dug in and levelled a tense tie on the 16th against Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama and Taiwan newcomer CT Pan.

But it was not enough with the Japanese star landing a big birdie putt on the 17th to steer them to victory.

South Korea’s PGA Tour rookie of the year Im Sung-jae enjoyed a stellar start to his first Presidents Cup, chipping in for an eagle at the first to put him and Canadian partner Adam Hadwin one up against Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele.

A tight affair tipped the Internationals’ way when Hadwin drilled a tough par putt on the 16th for the lead they never relinquished.

Australia’s Adam Scott, who like Woods is in his ninth Presidents Cup, and South Korean teammate An Byeong-hun beat Bryson DeChambeau and Tony Finau 2&1 and were never threatened after snatching the lead at the third.

The biggest upset saw Mexico’s Abraham Ancer and South African Louis Oosthuizen convincingly outgun US Open champion Gary Woodland and former world number one Dustin Johnson 4&3.

With 30 points at stake over the week, the first to 15 1/2 will secure the cup.

© – AFP, 2019

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