Melbourne: Captain Tiger Woods will kick off the United States’ bid for an eighth successive win in the Presidents Cup when he combines with Justin Thomas in the opening match of the fourballs at Royal Melbourne on Thursday.
Woods and fellow former world No. 1 Thomas meet Australian Marc Leishman and tournament debutant Joaquinn Niemann as the Americans look to put down a marker against the International team, which represents the rest of the world minus Europe.
Woods and his assistant captains conferred at length before revealing their opening pair on Wednesday, but the 15-times major champion said there had been no last-minute wavering.
“I think from our side, we had a game plan (with) who we wanted to start out, and we were committed to putting Justin and myself out there, and that’s who we’re rolling with,” Woods said.
“Having my responsibility as a player, I want to get out there and play with Justin, but also as a captain, I want to see my guys play.” Woods gave Dustin Johnson, who is on the comeback trail from a knee injury, a vote of confidence by naming the long hitter in a pair with Gary Woodland in the last of Thursday’s five fourball matches.
They will meet Mexican debutant Abraham Ancer and major winner Louis Oosthuizen.
“More than anything with DJ (Johnson), it’s just making sure that he recovered from the flight,” said Woods.
“He’s feeling good. He’s worked out each and every day we’ve been here ... He was chomping at the bit to get out there.” U.S. debutants Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay will meet Canada’s Adam Hadwin and South Korean Im Sung-jae in the second match.
Bryson DeChambeau and Tony Finau face Presidents Cup veteran Adam Scott and South Korea’s An Byeong-hun in the third match with Webb Simpson and Patrick Reed teaming up against Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama and Taiwan’s CT Pan in the fourth.
Woods is only the second playing captain in the 25-year history of the tournament. Hale Irwin, who led the United States to victory in the inaugural edition in 1994, was the first.
Woods said his assistant Steve Stricker would take over his captaincy duties while he was on the course.
The U.S. team arrived at Royal Melbourne on Tuesday, a day later than the Internationals, after a delay in their long-haul travel from the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas.
“We wish we could have gotten here on Monday, but we were a little bit delayed,” said Woods.
“I got a chance to play all of yesterday. Played a little bit today ... The preparation is very simple.”