Melbourne: Already shouldering a big burden as playing captain, Tiger Woods’ Presidents Cup load grew heavier on Thursday after the United States crashed to a 4-1 deficit after the first round of fourball matches at Royal Melbourne.
The first playing captain at the biennial tournament in 25 years, Woods led from the front in a six-birdie masterclass, carrying teammate Justin Thomas to a 4&3 trouncing of Marc Leishman and Joaquin Niemann.
He gave Thomas a hug, offered a quick and upbeat television interview, and then watched his day rapidly go downhill from the sidelines.
While his teammates’ travails were tough viewing for Woods, the crowds and organisers will be delighted with the early score.
It has injected vital interest into a tournament that threatened to become irrelevant under a weight of American supremacy, while ensuring 43-year-old Woods will swing the clubs again on Friday, rather than manage affairs through a walkie-talkie.
Shortly after Patrick Reed and Webb Simpson lost the last match 1-up to the east Asian duo of Hideki Matsuyama and CT Pan, Woods announced he would return on Friday with Thomas for the opening foursomes.
He and Thomas will play Matsuyama and An Byeong-hun in the fourth of five matches, with his captaincy duties to be handled by Steve Stricker for a second day in a row.
“Yeah, we have a couple different options rolling into this entire Cup,” Woods said of his decision to keep playing.
“The guys have known the game plan, different possible options, and this is one of the scenarios.” Having played in 1998 at Royal Melbourne, his nation’s only defeat in the tournament, and rolled in the winning putt at the same venue in 2011, Woods is by far the most experienced player in a US team featuring five Presidents Cup debutants.
While his teammates battled through a gusty day and floundered on the fast and tricky greens, the 15-time major champion was a picture of composure.
He remained calm at the end of a tough day, promising the US would be ready to hit back on day two as they continue their bid to extend their reign over the tournament to eight successive titles.
“This is a long four days. I mean, we have to go earn this Cup,” said 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.”