JERSEY CITY, N.J. — The opening ceremony at the Presidents Cup was unlike any other in golf with former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton on the first tee.
The results were all too familiar.
The Americans led at some point in all five of the foursomes matches Thursday at Liberty National. They won the first three. And when they jumped on a ferry to take them across the New York Harbor to their Manhattan hotel, they had the lead.
Behind a new tandem of Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas, and an old one of Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, the Americans jumped out to a 3 1/2-1 1/2 lead. It was the sixth consecutive time they led after the opening session in an event they haven't lost in two decades.
"Jordan mentioned that this first session is pretty critical and we need to go out there and take care of business," Fowler said. "I feel like as a team, we did a really good job of that. If we can do the same thing tomorrow and win another session, it puts us in a great position."
Thomas and Fowler lost only two holes in a 6-and-4 victory over Hideki Matsuyama and Charl Schwartzel. Spieth and Reed improved to 6-1-2 as a tandem in the Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup. Spieth holed a 35-foot putt on the 11th hole right when it looked as if Emiliano Grillo and Si Woo Kim might gain some momentum. Instead, the match was over three holes later, 5 and 4.
Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar remained unbeaten in four matches, not taking the lead until the 16th hole and making it stand in a 1-up victory over Adam Scott and Jhonattan Vegas.
"We've been off to poor starts for a while on Thursdays," International captain Nick Price said. "We have a resilient team. They have this ability to come back and bounce back, and they have done it. They did it last time in Korea."
Indeed, the Americans had a 4-1 lead after the first session two years ago, and that Presidents Cup came down to the final match.
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 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 the presidents, 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 U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka and Daniel Berger.
"Listen, we're a half-point better than last time, so that's a big up for us," Grace said. "We've got a great team. We all want it really badly. ... I'm sure we're going to have a good night and then going to come back tomorrow blazing."
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 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," Schwartzel 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.
The gusts topped 20 mph and felt even stronger on exposed areas of Liberty National, which sits across New York Harbor from Manhattan.
The par-3 10th hole was so difficult to judge the wind that Scott hit a tee shot that sailed over the green into a hazard, while Spieth in the match behind him came up some 60 feet short of the hole in a bunker.
Johnson and Kuchar didn't make a single bogey, remarkable in the format and in the wind, and they still didn't take the lead until Johnson's tee shot on the par-3 16th with a strong wind at his back stopped 5 feet away. Scott came up short, and then missed a 6-foot par putt.
"In alternate shot, in these conditions, not to make a bogey and for us to just win 1 up, that's a heck of a battle that we had with those guys," Kuchar said.
Friday features five matches of fourballs, followed by a full day of foursomes and fourballs Saturday and the decisive Sunday singles.
"There's still a long, long ways to go," U.S. captain and Edgerton native Steve Stricker said. "But we very much liked the day and the way it started."
A capsule look at Thursday's foursomes matches in the Presidents Cup at Liberty National:
Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas, United States, def. Hideki Matsuyama and Charl Schwartzel, International, 6 and 4.
The Americans fell behind early with a wild tee shot on No. 2, though that didn't last long. Fowler pitched in from 70 feet to square the match, Thomas holed a 12-foot birdie putt on the next hole and the Americans were on their way. They were 4 up at the turn. Matsuyama hit his tee shot to 10 feet on the par-3 10th to win the hole and cut the deficit to 3 down, only for Fowler and Thomas to win the 11th with a par, make birdie on the reachable par-4 12th and close them out with a par on the 14th. The International team made just two birdies against five bogeys and a double bogey.
Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar, United States, def. Adam Scott and Jhonattan Vegas, International, 1 up.
Johnson and Kuchar remained unbeaten as a tandem, improving to 3-0-1, and they needed some of their best golf in such tough conditions. They delivered with a bogey-free performance, remarkable for the format and the strong wind. Scott and Vegas birdied the first two holes for a 2-up lead, the Americans answered by winning the next two holes and it was tight the rest of the way. The Americans took their first lead when Scott came up short of the downwind, par-3 16th, and then narrowly missed a 6-foot par putt with Johnson having put his tee shot to 5 feet. Scott made a tough par save on the 17th to extend the match. Needing a birdie to get a half-point on the par-3 18th, Scott's tee shot came up just short in the rough and Vegas couldn't chip in.
Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, United States, def. Si Woo Kim and Emiliano Grillo, International, 5 and 4.
Spieth and Reed improved to 6-1-2 as a team in the Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup, and it was a mismatch against a pair of International team rookies. This was the only match in which the Americans never trailed. Kim hit into the water on the par-5 second hole. Spieth and Reed won four straight holes starting at No. 4, three of them by only making par. Kim hit a superb bunker on the par-3 10th, where the wind caused everyone fits, and Grillo made the par to get to within 2 down. On the 11th, however, Spieth made a 35-foot par putt, while Grillo missed his 12-footer. The Americans went from potential 1-up lead to a 3-up lead.
Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace, International, def. Brooks Koepka and Daniel Berger, United States, 3 and 1.
Oosthuizen and Grace remained undefeated as a Presidents Cup duo, moving their record to 5-0. The Americans started birdie-birdie, and then didn't make another one after the fourth hole. The teams traded conceding holes on the ninth and 10th, and the South African duo took the lead for good when Koepka could only move a wedge from the rough some 10 yards and the Americans concede the 13th. Oosthuizen and Grace went 2 up on the 15th when Koepka missed the fairway and Berger couldn't recover. They closed out the match on the 17th when Berger missed the green.
Jason Day and Marc Leishman, International, halved with Kevin Kisner and Phil Mickelson, United States.
Kisner and Mickelson had five birdies on the front nine and still only had a 1-up lead, and that didn't last. The International team birdied the tough 10th hole and took the lead for the first time when the Americans ran into trouble in the trees. Leishman hit his approach to 5 feet into the wind on the 14th along the Hudson River for another 1-up lead, and it stayed that way until Leishman missed the fairway on the 17th and a bogey squared the match. On the par-3 18th, Mickelson went into a swale behind the green and Kisner putted it from long range to 8 feet. Day came up short into the rough off the lead, and Leishman chipped 18 feet by. Both missed their par putts for the only halve of the opening session.