Originally created 09/23/05

International team takes early lead



GAINESVILLE, Va. - The International team was in foreign territory Thursday at the Presidents Cup.

It was in the lead.

Retief Goosen and Adam Scott turned in a tag-team performance that buried Tiger Woods and Fred Couples in the opening match. Bringing up the rear were Mike Weir and Trevor Immelman, who birdied four of their first five holes in alternate shot for a dominant victory over David Toms and Stewart Cink.

When the first day of matches ended, the International team had a 3½-2½ lead.

One point isn't much, especially with 28 matches left until the cup is awarded.

"It's like a mile race and you're 50 yards ahead," International captain Gary Player said. "This is as close as it can be without being a tie."

But considering how the International team typically starts at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club, it was cause for celebration. In three previous trips to this golf course on the shores of Lake Manassas, the Americans have twice led 5-0 and once led 4-1 after the opening day.

"Some places it could have been worse," U.S. captain Jack Nicklaus said. "Some places it could have been better. Tomorrow is another day."

Scott and Goosen got this day off to a resounding start.

It started with a simple halve on the third hole, when Goosen hit a 60-foot putt to a hole location that was a few feet below a steep ridge. The putt was struck with such perfect pace that it settled 16 inches for the cup for a conceded birdie. Then, it was a matter of waiting for Woods and Couples to self-destruct.

A poor chip by Woods cost them the fourth hole. Couples missed a 4-foot birdie putt so badly that it never touched the hole, falling two behind on the sixth. And when Scott made a 10-foot birdie putt on the par-3 seventh that juts out into the lake, the International team already was 3-up.

"The first match out is always important, no matter who you're playing," Scott said. "Gary wanted Retief and I to go out and give the guys something to see."

It was only the third time in 36 matches at the Presidents Cup or Ryder Cup that Woods was beaten without getting to the 16th tee. Neither he nor Couples played well.

"I was outclassed by three guys, and I couldn't help Tiger at all," Couples said.

It was the marquee match of the day, and the anticipation built as former Presidents Bush and Clinton stood on the first tee amid the wives and the heads of six major golf tours around the world.

Nicklaus was hopeful of securing an early point. Instead, he motored around in a cart and watched the International team ahead on the leaderboard throughout the day.

"It set the stage for them being ahead," Nicklaus said. "It's the difference in them being ahead. We were hoping for the same situation."

The Americans kept it close behind Scott Verplank and Justin Leonard, who grew up in Dallas and have similar games. They recovered from a rocky start, then poured it on with three straight birdies to start the back nine and won, 4 and 2, over Peter Lonard and Stuart Appleby.

Phil Mickelson already atoned from his 0-5 performance two years ago in South Africa, teaming with Chris DiMarco for a 1-up victory over Nick O'Hern and Tim Clark.

Jim Furyk turned in another gutty performance, even if it was worth only a half-point. He pulled a muscle near his rib cage on the first shot he hit, and spent the rest of the sunny afternoon getting it worked on by a therapist while Fred Funk was taking his turn.

"I had some spasms," Furyk said. "I'm glad it was alternate shot. I could watch Fred hit it down the fairway on half of the holes, and I was getting therapy."

What hurt Furyk the most was seeing a 20-foot birdie putt to win the match turn away at hole, and they had to settle for a halve against Vijay Singh and Mark Hensby.

The International team took the lead right when it looked as if the United States had some hope. Kenny Perry rolled in a 30-foot birdie putt over the ridge on the 17th hole, and it appeared he and Davis Love III would go to the 18th with a chance to get a halve. But then U.S. Open champion Michael Campbell poured in a 12-foot birdie on top of Perry, leading he and Angel Cabrera to a 2-and-1 victory.

The most impressive performance came from Weir and Immelman, the Canadian having one of his worst years on tour, the South African playing his first Presidents Cup as a questionable captain's pick.

They were 6 under through 13 holes when the match ended, an astounding score for alternate shot. And they never came seriously close to making a bogey.

"I don't think it was anything Stewart or David did," Weir said. "We just got off to a hot start and from there, we didn't make any mistakes. So it was hard for those guys to get back in the match, because we were playing really well."

So was the rest of the International team, giving it a rare lead on opening day at RTJ.

Next up is six matches of better ball on Friday, and a few changes in the order. Woods will play with Furyk in the sixth match because Nicklaus wants to give Furyk as much time to heal his ribs.

Two matches feature four of the best tandems from the first session - Cabrera-Campbell against Mickelson-DiMarco, and Weir-Immelman against Leonard-Verplank.