Dominant US take charge at Presidents Cup

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MONTREAL, Sep 28 (Reuters) Steve Stricker and rookie Hunter Mahan led the way as Presidents Cup holders the United States dominated opening foursomes to lead the Internationals by 5-{ points to a half.

Although four of the six matches went to the 18th hole, the Americans dashed their opponents' hopes with a series of clutch putts and came close to producing the third clean sweep after the first session in the biennial team competition.

The US surged into a 5-0 lead after the opening fourballs in 1994 and went 5-0 up in 2000 after the opening foursomes.

Bidding for their fifth victory in the Cup's seventh edition, the Americans lit up an overcast Royal Montreal Golf Club with a shining display of golf and sportsmanship.

''Our guys were sensational and they played well down the stretch,'' US captain Jack Nicklaus told reporters.

''Time after time, they just did what they were supposed to do but it was very close and could have gone either way.

''There's a lot of golf to be played and we've got a four-round tournament in front of us, so a lot of things can happen.'' Stricker and Mahan, both in red-hot form on the PGA Tour over the last four months, outclassed Australian duo Adam Scott and Geoff Ogilvy 3&2 in the first match out.

RACED AHEAD The Americans raced three up after five holes and, despite twice having their lead trimmed to one, sealed victory at the par-four 16th where Stricker rolled in an 11-foot birdie putt yesterday.

''We got off to a good start, got up early and played well down the stretch,'' a beaming Stricker told reporters.

In the final match, world number one Tiger Woods and Charles Howell III came back from one down after four holes to beat K J Choi of South Korea and Australian left-hander Nick O'Hern 3&1.

''We got the job done today,'' said Woods after winning his sixth foursomes match out of nine at the President Cup.

''We put the pressure on them a little bit toward the middle part of the round and didn't make any mistakes there. It was a lot of fun.'' Former major winners David Toms and Jim Furyk charged three ahead with a sparkling display before holding off a late fightback by South African Ernie Els and Argentina's Angel Cabrera to win one up.

Three up after 13 holes, the Americans lost the 14th and 15th before triumphing with matching bogeys at the last.

US duo Lucas Glover and Scott Verplank birdied 15 and 16 before winning two up against Australia's Stuart Appleby and South African Retief Goosen in the day's penultimate match.

FLUCTUATING ENCOUNTER Americans Stewart Cink and Zach Johnson edged a fluctuating encounter with South Africans Rory Sabbatini and Trevor Immelman one up after the teams had been level with one hole to play.

In the most gripping contest, Americans Phil Mickelson and Woody Austin halved with Fijian Vijay Singh and local favourite Mike Weir of Canada after going two up early on and trailing by three after 11 holes.

Singh was conceded a par putt from just under four feet at the last after the intervention of Nicklaus.

''Captain Nicklaus said for us to do it,'' Mickelson explained. ''If it was up to me, I don't know. But it was the right thing to do. It was a hard-fought battle.'' Mickelson had holed a 15-footer at the 17th and Austin a 12-footer at the last to earn the half.

The US have dominated the first six editions of the Presidents Cup, winning four times including a thrilling victory in 2005 by 18-{ points to 15-{ in Lake Manassas, Virginia.

The only success for the Internationals came in 1998 when the event was staged in Melbourne. In 2003, the two teams battled to a 17-17 draw in South Africa.

REUTERS BJR RK0958

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