Opening pairing announced for Presidents Cup

MELBOURNE, Australia — Not only is U.S. captain Tiger Woods playing in the Presidents Cup on Thursday, but he’s also in the first match.

Woods picked himself to play with Justin Thomas against the International team of Marc Leishman and Joaquin Niemann at Royal Melbourne. They will tee off at 5:32 p.m. ET Wednesday (9:32 a.m. local time Thursday) in the four-ball competition better known as best ball.

“I think from our side, we had a game plan, who we wanted to start out, and we were committed to putting Justin and myself out there, and that’s who we’re rolling with,” Woods said.

Woods, who is the first playing captain in the competition since the inaugural Presidents Cup, has a 24-15-1 record in eight appearances in the event. He said his assistant, Steve Stricker, will take over the captain duties and be allowed to give advice while he is playing. Stricker was the U.S. Presidents Cup captain in 2017 and is the 2020 Ryder Cup captain.

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After winning the Masters in April and the Zozo Championship in October, Woods picked himself among four at-large selections last month. The long flight from the Bahamas and playing a tournament last week — Woods finished fourth at the Hero World Challenge — were things he had to deal with this week in being ready to play. Because of that, Woods played just six holes Wednesday after playing all 18 on Tuesday.

“Just try to get a feel for this golf course,” Woods said. “It is quick, and it has dried out, and hopefully the forecast will hold for each and every day. The preparation is very simple.”

The tournament consists of five four-ball matches Thursday, five foursomes (alternate shot) matches Friday and four matches of each format on Saturday before all 12 players compete in singles on Sunday. The competition consists of 30 points, with the first team to 15½ the winner.

Unlike the Ryder Cup, teams share the Cup if there is a tie.

The other matches are: Americans Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay against Adam Hadwin and Sung-jae Im; Americans Bryson DeChambeau and Tony Finau against Adam Scott and Ben An; Americans Webb Simpson and Patrick Reed against Hideki Matsuyama and C.T. Pan; and Americans Dustin Johnson and Gary Woodland against Abraham Ancer and Louis Oosthuizen.

“We’ve had game plans. Obviously we’re not going to reveal any of them, but we’ve had options for each and every player,” Woods said. “They have given their opinion of who they think is best suited for him, and it’s more than just one option. We’ve had numerous options for each and every player and in case different scenarios happen as the week goes on.”

Rickie Fowler and Matt Kuchar will sit out Thursday for the Americans, and Haotong Li and Cam Smith will sit out for the International team. Every player is required to play at least once prior to Sunday singles.

International captain Ernie Els is trying to break a seven-match losing streak to the American side, which holds a 10-1-1 overall record in the competition. The International’s only victory came at Royal Melbourne in 1998.

“We’ve had a plan, and this is the way we figured it,” Els said. “We’ve got a system that we are following.”

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