MELBOURNE — Ernie Els is bracing for an American resurgence Friday during the second session of this 13th Presidents Cup. He knows his International team might have stirred the heavily favored Americans out of their slumber after taking a surprising 4-1 lead Thursday at Royal Melbourne.
“We have to keep our jets down. There’s a long way to go, and we know they’re going to come back strong,” said the International captain, who obviously was pleased with his team’s first-day effort, which he called “heroic against a strong American team.”
Interestingly, as historically effective as his team performed, Els stuck to his game plan and broke up every pairing from the first day with the format changing from four-ball to foursomes. It’s a bold strategy that is not without risk.
“We’ve gone this route, and we keep going,” said Els, who is relying heavily on statistical analytics to make his pairings, an approach the European team used effectively against the United States a year ago in a Ryder Cup route outside Paris.
Perhaps to quell an early U.S. uprising, Els is marching out his veterans in the first foursomes match, putting together Adam Scott and Louis Oosthuizen to counter the U.S. pair of Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar, who went 2-0 in foursomes two years ago at Liberty National and halved a foursomes match together here in 2011.
Scott, 39, and Oosthuizen, 37, have never been paired in match play. Both men played splendidly on Thursday in victory.
Woods, the playing captain for the U.S., waited until the fourth foursomes match to venture out again as a player, rejoining Justin Thomas, the only winning pair on the first day. Woods is 11-4-1 in foursomes in the Presidents Cup. They face Byeong Hun An and Hideki Matsuyama.
“As far as the timing of when I went out there, it was based on what we thought would be best for the guys leading off playing in foursomes. We've had a thought process of this kind of going into it,” Woods said.
In the day's second match, Adam Hadwin and Joaquin Niemann take on Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay, one of three U.S. pairings that remain intact from the first session, despite the Americans’ disappointing showing. The other is Webb Simpson and Patrick Reed, who are in Match 3 against Marc Leishman and Abraham Ancer.
The final match features Sungjae Im and Cameron Smith against Gary Woodland and Rickie Fowler.
Haotong Li is the only player on either team to be omitted from the first two sessions, but Els said he’ll be ready to go when called upon.
“This is the plan, and they are on board, and I think we’ve gained a lot of confidence out of what we’ve done so far,” Els said. “They’re playing at a high level.
Woods wasn’t about to panic despite the biggest first-day deficit the U.S. has ever faced.
“We’re excited about getting out there tomorrow and winning some matches, and turning this thing around. We've got an amazing lineup going out there tomorrow, and the guys are all fired up and ready to go.”
Match 6: Louis Oosthuizen/Adam Scott (INT) vs. Dustin Johnson/Matt Kuchar (USA), 11:02 a.m. Australia/7:02 p.m. ET Thursday
Match 7: Adam Hadwin/Joaquin Niemann (INT) vs. Xander Schauffele/Patrick Cantlay (USA), 11:15 a.m. Australia/7:15 p.m. ET Thursday
Match 8: Marc Leishman/Abraham Ancer (INT) vs. Webb Simpson/Patrick Reed (USA), 11:28 a.m. Australia/7:28 p.m. ET Thursday
Match 9: Byeong Hun An/Hideki Matsuyama (INT) vs. Justin Thomas/Tiger Woods (USA), 11:41 a.m. Australia/7:41 p.m. ET Thursday
Match 10: Sungjae Im/Cameron Smith (INT) vs. Gary Woodland/Rickie Fowler (USA), 11:54 a.m. Australia/7:54 p.m. ET Thursday