CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The heavy favorites came to play early, but the underdogs didn’t leave without a fight.
What began as an anticlimactic rout — Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele ended their round up six with five holes to go — turned into a nail-biter that might be consequential later in the week.
The heavily favored Americans won four matches and lost one, ultimately escaping Quail Hollow Club on Thursday with a 4-1 lead over the International side heading into Friday.
“Going out first, there’s a real advantage to trying to get red up on the board as early as possible,” Cantlay told reporters after his round. “I think it just gets everyone a little more comfortable and inspires them to just follow suit.”
One of the biggest storylines leading into this year’s Presidents Cup was the supposition that the event could be one-sided. The U.S. team has won 11 of the 13 iterations of the tournament and hasn’t lost since 1998. Not only that: The LIV Tour has rendered many of the international side’s potential stars, including third-ranked Cameron Scott and 33rd-ranked Louis Oosthuizen, ineligible — tipping the scales even further in America’s favor.
But the International side, after a sluggish start, made a valiant comeback.
And made Thursday chock-full of big moments.
The biggest shot of the day for the U.S., perhaps, came on hole 15. To save par, Justin Thomas carefully nudged a long putt from the fringe. When it fell into the cup, he fist-pumped to a roaring crowd and slapped Jordan Spieth’s hand and shouted, “That’s what I’m talkin’ about!” The International team missed the ensuing putt and had to settle for bogey — and that gave the Spieth-Thomas pair a two-stroke lead and a momentum it wouldn’t relinquish.
Another big moment came on hole 10, a par three, for the American squad. Collin Morikawa slipped a 6-iron out of his bag and rocketed a shot off the tee about five feet away from the hole. (“Not a bad 6,” Morikawa told his caddie, trying to suppress a big smile.)
That good shot didn’t lead to a birdie or any change in margin, after Morikawa’s partner, Wake Forest grad Cameron Young, missed the ensuing putt. But it was a highlight from a solid day from Morikawa — and Young eventually got his partner back, which included a beautiful approach from the rough to help hold par and the lead on 15, as well as a match-sealing putt on 17.