A memorable start that featured the previous three US presidents on the first tee ended with a familiar result in the Presidents Cup. The Americans are out to 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 Presidents Cup and built a 3½-1½ lead Thursday after the opening foursomes matches at Liberty National in Jersey City, N.J.
Phil Mickelson, playing in his 23rd consecutive team competition, ended the tough, wind-swept afternoon by missing an 8-foot par putt, or the US lead would have been even greater. He and Kevin Kisner were 1 down with two holes remaining to Jason Day and Marc Leishman, so a half-point wasn’t bad.
Mickelson’s only complaint was that he botched his selfie with former Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, with barely his head showing.
For the most part, everything else went the Americans’ way.
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 victory over US Open champion 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 the honorary chairman, but this was a first — three US presidents together at this event, sitting together in a box on the first tee and 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. Then to hit that first tee shot with the wind pumping off the right was quite intimidating.’’
The Americans have a 9-1-1 lead in the series, their lone loss in 1998 at Royal Melbourne a few weeks before Christmas.
‘‘We always get ourselves behind a little bit in alternate shot,’’ Day said. ‘‘It would have been nice to be 3-2, but once again, we’re not that far behind.”
Web.com — Sam Saunders, Arnold Palmer’s grandson, shot a 12-under-par 59 in the first round of the Web.com Tour Championship. Saunders closed with six straight birdies at Atlantic Beach (Fla.) Country Club for the seventh sub-60 round in Web.com Tour history. Stephan Jaeger set the tour record of 58 last year in the Ellie Mae Classic at TPC Stonebrae in Hayward, Calif.
The 30-year-old Saunders, who fired a 7-under 28 on the front nine, is trying to regain his PGA Tour card in the four-event Web.com Tour Finals after finishing 129th in the FedEx Cup standings.
European — George Coetzee and Tyrrell Hatton shot 7-under 63s to lead the British Masters, while Rory McIlroy needed the help of a spectator to stay on track in his first round. Coetzee followed up top-10 finishes at his last two events by rolling in six birdies and making an eagle at the par-5 sixth hole to set a clubhouse target at Close House Golf Club in Newcastle upon Tyne.
McIlroy, who was a late entry after failing to qualify for the PGA Tour Championship, shot 67 but only after a spectator found his ball inside the five-minute time limit following a wild drive on No. 17, his eighth hole. The No. 6-ranked McIlroy produced a superb recovery from thick rough to the elevated green and went on to save par, before making three birdies on the front nine.
LPGA — Brooke Henderson and Jodi Ewart Shadoff shot 7-under 65s to share the lead in the New Zealand Women’s Open, leaving home star Lydia Ko five strokes back after the first round in Auckland. The playing partners led by one stroke over Amy Boulden and Belen Mozo, with Brittany Lincicome, Beatriz Recari, and Na Yeon Choi another stroke back after 67s.
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