U.S. off to another strong start in Presidents Cup, losing only one of five matches

A memorable start that featured the previous three U.S. presidents on the first tee ended with a familiar result in the Presidents Cup. The Americans are out to another big lead in the event they haven't lost in nearly two decades.

PGA champion Justin Thomas made his professional team debut with a short day of work as he and Rickie Fowler lost only two holes in a 6-and-4 victory. Jordan Spieth holed a 35-foot putt that sent him and Patrick Reed to another victory. Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar remained unbeaten.

The Americans won the opening session for the sixth straight time in the Presidents Cup and built a 3 1/2-1 1/2 lead Thursday after the opening foursomes matches.

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.

Mickelson's only complaint was that he botched his selfie with former Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, with barely his head showing.

For the most part, everything else went the Americans' way.

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.

The stars on this day didn't hit a shot.

The leader of every country where the Presidents Cup is held are invited to be honorary chairman, but this was a first — three U.S. presidents together at this event, sitting together in a box on the first tee and then posing with the trophy, the players and their wives.

“I was looking forward to this Presidents Cup for a very long time, and I didn't expect all the presidents to be there,” Charl Schwartzel of South Africa said. “Just to get to meet them was a dream come true for me. Then to hit that first tee shot with the wind pumping off the right was quite intimidating.”

Wind gusts topped 20 mph and felt even stronger on exposed areas of Liberty National, which sits across New York Harbor from Manhattan. The par-three 10th hole was so difficult to judge the wind that Adam Scott hit a tee shot that sailed over the green into a hazard, while Spieth in the match behind him came up some 60 feet short of the hole in a bunker.

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

Friday features five matches of fourballs, followed by a full day of foursomes and fourballs Saturday and the decisive Sunday singles.

Saunders shoots a 59 at Web.com Tour Championship

Sam Saunders, Arnold Palmer's grandson, shot a 12-under 59 on his home course Thursday in the first round of the Web.com Tour Championship.

Saunders closed with six straight birdies at Atlantic Beach Country Club — the Jacksonville-area club where he has a membership — for the seventh sub-60 round in Web.com Tour history.

Stephan Jaeger set the tour record of 58 last year in the Ellie Mae Classic at TPC Stonebrae in Hayward, California, and Notah Begay III, Doug Dunakey, Jason Gore, Will Wilcox and Russell Knox also shot 59.

Saunders had 13 birdies and a bogey. Opening on the 10th hole, he birdied the first three holes, added a birdie on 14, bogeyed the par-three 15th and birdied 15 and 18 to make the turn in 5 under. He birdied No. 2 and Nos. 4-9 for a seven-under 28 on his final nine.

The 30-year-old Saunders is trying to regain his PGA Tour card in the four-event Web.com Tour Finals after finishing 129th in the FedEx Cup standings. He entered the week 24th in the race for 25 PGA Tour cards with $27,900 in the first three events. He tied for 11th in the Nationwide Children's Hospital Championship, tied for 40th in the Albertsons Boise Open and missed the cut in the DAP Championship.

Fellow Atlantic Beach member Steve Wheatcroft and Matt Atkins were tied for second at 62, and Tyler Duncan and Ben Silverman shot 63.

Wheatcroft entered the week 23rd with $29,025 after finishing 179th in the FedEx Cup standings. Duncan came into the tournament 13th with $43,158, more than enough to secure a card.

Atkins and Silverman have already earned PGA Tour cards as top-25 finishers on the Web.com Tour's regular-season money list. They are trying to improve their status.

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