Tiger Woods might need to save the U.S. at the Presidents Cup

MELBOURNE, Australia -- The first day of the Presidents Cup didn't go as planned for the United States. The romp to victory that was widely expected was derailed for now, and the Americans find themselves in a hole for the first time in seemingly forever in the 13th playing of the competition, trailing 4-1.

You have to go back to 2005 to find the last time the Internationals won an opening session. And that year's second session marks the last time they led.

For captain Ernie Els, it could not have gone much better. Getting out to a lead was imperative and should give his team with seven rookies confidence as well as provide a jolt to veterans such as Adam Scott, Hideki Matsuyama, Louis Oosthuizen and Marc Leishman.

Here are the most important things to emerge from the first day at Royal Melbourne.

1. Tiger needs to play

So much for the notion of Tiger Woods playing just two matches. It's quite conceivable he plays four times now. And who could blame him? He might be the best American player at the moment.

Woods made six birdies, the most of any player, in winning his opening match with Justin Thomas over Leishman and Joaquin Niemann. And that turned out to be an important victory as it was the only one for the Americans as they face that rare deficit.

The U.S. captain will now likely play more than expected, and it would make sense for him to sit out Saturday's morning session, which allows him to captain the team and plan for the afternoon. He put himself in the lineup Friday along with Thomas in foursomes.

2. The International veterans are motivated

The fallout from losing the Presidents Cup has always seemed a bit hollow for the International side. Where is the angst? There is not one nation, or one continent, breathing fire for losing. The players come from different countries, trying to bond for one week every two years in an event that is meant to mimic the Ryder Cup but has yet to bring anywhere close to the same passion.

But Scott seems tired of losing. He's been around for all of these defeats, going back more than a decade. Oosthuizen has seen his share as well, as has Matsuyama. All three were on the winning side of their matches Thursday, with Scott winning for just the fourth time (he was 3-9-3 starting out) in the four-ball competition.

For the International side to succeed, it needs its most experienced players to step up. So far, they have.

3. The Analytics

Despite the 4-1 start, International captain Els did not keep a single team together for Friday's foursomes. Oosthuizen is playing with Adam Scott; Adam Hadwin with Niemann; Leishman with Abraham Ancer; Ben An with Matusyama; and Sung-jae Im with Cameron Smith.

For the second straight day, Hatong Li will sit, and Els would only say "he'll be ready to go Saturday.''

As for the juggling lineup, Els has gone with an analytical approach. Clearly that is in play here.

"We've gone this route, and we keep going,'' Els said. "The guys played well in their respective pairings, and we've got whatever pairings we have. We feel comfortable with them. The guys have practiced this way, so going with that process.''

4. Shaking off the rust

Dustin Johnson had knee surgery in August and hasn't played since the Tour Championship. He is the only member of the U.S. team to skip last week's Hero World Challenge. He said that he is not forcing things by playing this week, that if this were a regular Tour stop, he'd be on the course.

But Johnson was clearly off, and he didn't get much help from partner Gary Woodland in their match against Oosthuizen and Ancer. Both International players competed in last week's Australian Open in Sydney, with Oosthuizen finishing second. Both seemed far sharper than their American counterparts.

They jumped out to a 4-up lead through five holes, and the Americans never got closer than 3 down. With a chance to cut the advantage to two holes at the par-4 11th, Johnson drove the green -- then missed a 3-footer for eagle. Woodland, who was in contention last week in the Bahamas before a poor final round, made just one birdie.

5. The Reality

Teams that have led by 3 or more points following the opening session of the Presidents Cup are 5-0. The best start for the International team prior to Thursday was 3½ to 1½ in 1998 -- the year of the only International victory.

Clearly, it is a big deal for the International side to forget an early advantage.

"It feels good,'' Scott said. "That's what I can tell you. We don't know the results from here on out, but this is a great start. This is a very strong American team with a lot of depth, and they can keep throwing at us every session from here on out and we're going to have to keep throwing it back at them.

"It does feel very good. The guys have really done a fantastic job of getting themselves ready this week on our side. I know we're in it. I think everyone's got a taste for it. We'll look forward to getting out tomorrow and trying to do it again.''