Uncharted Territory

Phil Mickelson and Woody Austin, Presidents
Robert Beck/SI
Phil Mickelson and Woody Austin halved their match against Vijay Singh and Mike Weir.

MONTREAL — The International team wore black for the first round of the Presidents Cup. That was oh-so-appropriate because they were attending their own funeral.

The International players didn't win a match in what was truly a Black Thursday for them. It might have been a shutout if not for a magnanimous gesture by the U.S. captain, Jack Nicklaus, who strongly suggested that Phil Mickelson and Woody Austin concede a four-foot par putt to Vijay Singh on the final green. Austin had just holed a clutch par putt from eight feet, and Singh's putt to halve the match was no gimme. If he'd missed, the Internationals were skunked. Nicklaus said he merely asked Mickelson and Austin what they wanted to do with Vijay's putt. He'd made his point.

There was no chance that Mickelson, who had a famous flap with Singh about wearing metal spikes at the Masters, would have given him anything but grief until Nicklaus went into statesman mode. Phil and Vijay go together like Michigan and Ohio State. But Nicklaus's sporting gesture looked like a good call at the end of the day with the Americans leading by a stunning 5-point margin, 5 1/2-1/2.

It was a hard-fought match that nobody deserved to lose, and the draw allowed Mike Weir, the pride of Canada, to escape with half a point.

"You can't win on the first day," said Gary Player, the International captain.

But you can come close to losing, and that's exactly what the International team did. They've got 28 more matches to play, including six best-ball matches on Friday, but they have a very big hill to climb.

The Americans have rarely enjoyed a match-play day like this one. At the Ryder Cup, it's usually the Europeans who come out of the starting gates quickly. A 5-point lead? This is uncharted territory for the U.S.

There were heroes galore for the U.S. Start with Steve Stricker and Hunter Mahan, who took on Adam Scott and Geoff Ogilvy, perhaps the opposing side's best team. The Americans were 3 up through five holes, but they lost most of that lead on the back before rallying on Stricker's putter. The par-4 15th was a pivotal hole in many matches, including this one.

Poor second shots by Ogilvy and Stricker led to tricky bogey putts for both teams. Scott missed from eight feet, and Stricker holed a seven-footer to put the Americans 2 up with three to play. Stricker holed an eight-foot birdie putt at 16 to end the match, 3 and 2.

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