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  • Associated Press U.S. player Dustin Johnson reacts to his putt on the ninth hole Thursday. Johnson and Matt Kuchar remained unbeaten in four matches.

Friday, September 29, 2017 1:00 am

US bolts out front in Presidents Cup

DOUG FERGUSON | Associated Press

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 31/2-11/2 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.

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 Americans have a 9-1-1 lead in the series, their lone loss in 1998 at Royal Melbourne a few weeks before Christmas.

Today 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 Steve Stricker said. “But we very much liked the day and the way it started.”