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With a gesture from Jack, the Americans steal the show

Phil Mickelson, Presidents Cup
Robert Beck/SI
Phil Mickelson and playing partner Woody Austin rallied and halved a point with Vijay Singh and Mike Weir.

MONTREAL (AP) — The Americans got off to a near-perfect start Thursday in the Presidents Cup, getting superb play from veterans and rookies alike in winning 5 1/2 points out of the six alternate-shot matches at Royal Montreal.

And if not for U.S. captain Jack Nicklaus, it might have been worse.

Despite a leaderboard covered with American red numbers, perhaps the most poignant moment of a gray afternoon was Nicklaus instructing Phil Mickelson and Woody Austin to concede a 3 1/2-foot par putt on the 18th hole that assured Mike Weir of Canada and his International team its only point of the opening session.

In a tense battle with only six holes halved, the match was all square going to the 18th when both sides missed the green. Mickelson blasted out to 12 feet, while Weir chipped to 3 1/2 feet above the hole. Austin made the par putt, and before Vijay Singh could spot his ball, the match was conceded.

"Captain Nicklaus was right. It was the right thing to do," Mickelson said.

It was typical of Nicklaus, who famously conceded a putt about the same distance to Tony Jacklin in the 1969 Ryder Cup that allowed those matches to end in a draw. That gesture became a symbol of sportsmanship in match play between countries and continents.

"That didn't surprise me at all with Jack," Weir said. "I guess I'm a little old fashioned that way. It's a gentlemen's game."

Then again, this was only Thursday — and it was clear the Americans were in charge.

The matches began 30 minutes late because of a downpour on the Ile Bizard, and once they began, the Americans wasted no time taking control. Steve Stricker, returning to the Presidents Cup after an 11-year absence, joined with rookie Hunter Mahan for a 3-and-2 victory over the Australian pair of Adam Scott and Geoff Ogilvy.

Tiger Woods and Charles Howell III were in the final match and picked up a 3-and-1 victory over K.J. Choi and Nick O'Hern, with Woods doing most of the heavy lifting and Howell coming up with big putts on the back nine.

It was the biggest blowout in the opening session since the Americans pitched a 5-0 shutout in 2000.

But there were traces of 2005, when the International side failed to win any of the 12 matches that went the distance. Whether it was Ernie Els and Angel Cabrera, or Rory Sabbatini and Trevor Immelman, they sure had their chances.

Sabbatini and Immelman, who lost an early 2-up lead, were all square playing the 18th when Sabbatini hooked his tee shot into the water, leading to a bogey. Zach Johnson played his tee shot well to the right, Stewart Cink found a greenside bunker, and Johnson secured the match with a bunker shot so close it was conceded to par.

Els and Cabrera were run over by Jim Furyk and David Toms, who raced out to a 3-up lead with five holes remaining. But the International team won two straight holes, and Els kept them in the match with a 15-foot par putt on the 16th. And it looked as though they would at least earn a halve when Furyk pulled his tee shot on the 18th into the water.

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