Sunday, December 17, 2017
Golf

With three former presidents in attendance, U.S. grabs Presidents Cup lead

JERSEY CITY, N.J. — A memorable start that featured the previous three U.S. presidents on the first tee ended with a familiar result in the Presidents Cup: The Americans have another big lead in the event they haven't lost in nearly two decades.

PGA champion Justin Thomas made his professional team debut with a short day of work as he and Rickie Fowler lost only two holes in a 6-and-4 victory. Jordan Spieth holed a 35-foot putt that sent him and Patrick Reed to another victory. Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar remained unbeaten.

The Americans won the opening session for the sixth straight time in the Cup and built a 3½-1½ lead Thursday after the opening foursomes matches.

Phil Mickelson, playing in his 23rd consecutive team competition, ended the tough, wind-swept afternoon at Liberty National by missing an 8-foot par putt, or the U.S. lead would've been even greater. He and Kevin Kisner were 1 down with two holes left to Jason Day and Marc Leishman, so a half-point wasn't bad.

Mickelson's only complaint: He botched a selfie with former Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, with barely his head showing.

The lone bright spot for the International team was Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace, who improved to 5-0 as a tandem. The South African duo pulled away for a 3-and-1 win over former FSU stars Brooks Koepka and Daniel Berger.

The stars on this day didn't hit a shot.

The leader of every country where the Presidents Cup is held are invited to be honorary chairman, but this was a first — three U.S. presidents together at this event, sitting together in a box on the first tee, then posing with the trophy, the players and their wives.

"I was looking forward to this Presidents Cup for a very long time, and I didn't expect all the presidents to be there," Charl Schwartzel of South Africa said. "Just to get to meet them was a dream come true for me."

But the loudest cheers weren't for the presidents but for greats Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, who along with Arnold Palmer were the sport's original Big Three. Palmer died a year ago Monday.

Clinton has been the only sitting president to attend the matches, in 2000. That might change. The PGA Tour was preparing for a visit by President Donald Trump on Sunday, though it hasn't been confirmed.

PGA EUROPE: George Coetzee and Tyrrell Hatton shot 7-under 63 for a one-shot after the first round of the British Masters in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, England. Rory McIlroy shot 67 but only after a spectator found his ball inside the five-minute time limit after a wild drive on No. 17, his eighth hole. He saved par, before making three birdies on the front nine.

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