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October 10, 2009

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US jumps out to an early lead

THE Americans were in a familiar spot after day one at the Presidents Cup in San Francisco, California, taking the lead after Thursday's opening session of foursomes on the strength of its best players -- Tiger Woods, Steve Stricker and Phil Mickelson.

The International team had to settle for a moral victory, which it gladly accepted.

Two years ago at Royal Montreal, the Americans didn't lose a match on opening day in building a five-point lead, which turned out to be the eventual margin. It was so bad that International captain Greg Norman and Ernie Els thought anything better this year would be considered a good start.

It wasn't looking good. Not with the Americans already up 3-2 in matches, and leading the final match 1 up on the final hole with Justin Leonard only 3 feet away for a birdie to halve the hole.

Everything changed with one putt. After some confusion over whether the putt had been conceded, Leonard's putt spun out of the right lip. The match was halved, although it felt like a full point for the International side. Instead of the US team leading 4-2, it was 3-1/2 to 2-1/2.

"At the end, we were pretty fortunate to have 2-1/2 points," Els said. "That's one of the better starts we've had, believe it or not, for the last three Cups or so. So we are not too despondent about today."

Some of the matches were clean. Woods and Stricker combined to make six birdies against no bogeys -- solid stuff for the difficult alternate-shot format -- and pounded Geoff Ogilvy and Ryo Ishikawa in the shortest match of the day, 6 and 4. It was a powerful tandem of Woods' iron play and Stricker's pure putting.

Some of the matches were sloppy. International pair Mike Weir and Tim Clark, the only partnership without a birdie, still had a 1-up lead with six holes to play until Mickelson and Anthony Kim came to life with four straight birdies for a 3-and-2 victory. It started with Kim's wedge to 3 feet on the 13th hole, and they never let up.

"We needed something to ignite us and that wedge shot did the trick," Mickelson said.

Els and Adam Scott came up with a 2-and-1 victory over Hunter Mahan and Sean O'Hair, while Robert Allenby and Vijay Singh held off major champions Lucas Glover and Stewart Cink, 1 up.

Then came the crazy finish.Retief Goosen and US PGA champion Yang Yong-eun, 3 up after five holes, lost four straight holes at the turn and found themselves in a no-win situation when trailing 2 down with two to play. Somehow, they found a way not to lose.

Goosen holed a birdie putt on the 17th. On the par-5 18th, Leonard hit a beautiful fairway iron onto the green, which looked like a sure birdie. Goosen hit his iron to the right rough, from where Yang chipped to 4 feet and Goosen made the birdie.

Goosen then looked over at Jim Furyk as if wanting to give Leonard the putt since the match was all square, only to realize that the Americans had a 1-up edge. Leonard stood over the putt, ready to celebrate, then missed.


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