Golf: US captain Tiger Woods picks himself to lead off Presidents Cup defence

US team captain Tiger Woods looks on ahead of the 2019 Presidents Cup golf competition at the Royal Melbourne Golf Club in Melbourne, Australia, on Dec 11, 2019. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MELBOURNE (AFP) - Captain Tiger Woods will lead from the front when the United States begin their Presidents Cup defence. On Wednesday (Dec 11), he picked himself and Justin Thomas for the opening fourball match at Royal Melbourne.

The 43-year-old Woods and world No. 4 Thomas will tee off first on Thursday against Australian Marc Leishman and Chilean rookie Joaquin Niemann for Ernie Els' International team.

"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," said Woods.

"I got a chance to play all of yesterday. Played a little bit today. Just to try to get a feel for this golf course.

"It is quick and it has dried out and hopefully the forecast will hold for each and every day. The preparation is very simple."

Vice-captain Fred Couples said ahead of the draw that he expected Woods would play at least three matches over the four days of the biennial matchplay showdown.

Woods has a record of 24 wins, 15 losses and one half in matches at the Presidents Cup, second only to Phil Mickelson's record of 26 wins.

Steve Stricker will be captain while he is on the course.

Woods resisted any temptation to leave Patrick Reed on the sidelines for the first day's pairings after a row sparked by the two-stroke penalty for moving sand and improving his lie in the Bahamas last week.

But International captain Els did omit Australian Cameron Smith who became embroiled in the squabble by calling Reed a cheat.

China's Li Haotong and Americans Rickie Fowler and Matt Kuchar are the other player to miss out on Thursday's action.

Reed will partner Webb Simpson against Japan's Hideki Matsuyama and Taiwan's debutant CT Pan in match four on a course that has a reputation for having some of the fastest greens in the world.

Canada's Adam Hadwin and South Korea's PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Im Sung-jae tee off second against Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay.

They will be followed by veteran Australian Adam Scott, like Woods in his ninth Presidents Cup, joining South Korea's debutant An Byeong-hun against Bryson DeChambeau and Tony Finau.

The final match pits another newcomer in Mexico's Abraham Ancer and experienced partner Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa against the big-hitting duo of US Open champion Gary Woodland and former world number one Dustin Johnson, who is playing his first event since knee surgery in September.

Els has a young team with five of his seven rookies employed on the opening day and said leaving out Smith in front of his home fans was part of the bigger picture.

"I'll tell you Sunday night what exactly has been transpiring, but we have a system we are following, and I can't let anything out of the bag more than that," he said.

"But there's enough Australians out there tomorrow to rally a lot of guys."

The International team having only won the title once, but that was in 1998 at Royal Melbourne, and both captains have good memories of the famous sandbelt layout.

Els holds the course record of 60 set in 2004 while Woods sank the winning putt for the United States at the venue in 2011.

The Americans, who won the 2017 event on home soil 19-11, hold a proud record of 10 wins, one draw and just one defeat.

Friday's second day will see five foursomes, or alternate shot, matches.

Saturday is a crunch day with four fourballs and four foursomes matches before 12 singles clashes on Sunday.

With one point awarded for a win in each match the first team to 15 1/2 points will secure the cup.

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