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Stricker pushes U.S. into Cup lead

Veteran gives hosts crucial point on Day 1

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Steve Stricker celebrates his win Thursday. Stricker teamed with Jordan Spieth to beat Ernie Els and Brendon de Jonge 1-up.

JAY LAPRETE / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge Image

Steve Stricker celebrates his win Thursday. Stricker teamed with Jordan Spieth to beat Ernie Els and Brendon de Jonge 1-up.

DUBLIN, Ohio -- The Americans survived a late rally Thursday and put the International team in a familiar hole at the Presidents Cup.

Steve Stricker blasted out of a plugged lie in the face of a bunker to three feet to save par as he and 20-year-old Jordan Spieth hung on for a 1-up win in the final match on the course at Muirfield Village. That win gave the Americans a 31/2-21/2 lead, the fourth straight time they have led after the opening session in the Presidents Cup.

The Presidents Cup at least was close for one day, and it was entertaining beyond the golf.

Former president George W. Bush was on the first tee -- not the greatest omen because he also met with the Americans at Medinah before they coughed up the Ryder Cup -- and Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel made light of their bad haircuts by wearing wigs onto the tee.

Assistant captain Davis Love III found a pet squirrel small enough to fit into his pocket, and Olympic ski champion Lindsey Vonn gave Tiger Woods a brief scare when she put the squirrel on his back.

After all that, the Internationals have never been so happy to be trailing.

The Americans led in every match early in the session and were ahead in five of them when thunderstorms and a few bursts of rain stopped play for 90 minutes. None of the matches had gone more than 10 holes, though the delay at least gave the International team a sense of starting over.

"The break did us really good," Oosthuizen said. "We came back out, felt refreshed and just played well."

Jason Day and Graham DeLaet rallied from 3 down to Hunter Mahan and Brandt Snedeker, winning on the 18th hole when Day made a 20-foot birdie putt. In the best match of the day, Adam Scott and Hideki Matsuyama battled from 2 down to Bill Haas and Webb Simpson with five holes to play to earn a halve when the 21-year-old Japanese star hit his approach to two feet for birdie on the last hole.

Oosthuizen and Schwartzel gave Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson their first loss. The South Africans, best of friends since junior golf, took their first lead on the 11th hole and didn't lose another hole until they had a 2-and-1 win.

The Internationals looked as if they might even pull even at the end of the day. Ernie Els made his first birdie of the round at just the right time, a 12-foot putt on the 17th hole that extended their match with Stricker and Spieth.

Spieth, who overcame a nervous start with several big putts, pulled his tee shot into the water on the 18th. Stricker's approach plugged into the bunker. Brendon De Jonge had a birdie chance from 18 feet, and it looked for a moment like even a par might win the hole and end the match in a halve. Stricker popped it out of the sand and watched it trickle to three feet as he lightly pumped his fist. De Jonge's putt missed and the Americans had the lead.

The Presidents Cup began with fourballs for the first time since 1996, which should have favoured the Internationals. Instead, the Americans won their first fourballs session in 10 years, dating to the second day in South Africa.

Still, this was a moral victory for the International team.

"What we showed today was plenty of heart," Scott said. He said that a one-point deficit was not a problem. "We can make that up with the first match tomorrow."

Muirfield Village was set up for birdies, and there were plenty of them. Ten of the 12 teams were at least 8-under par in their rounds.

The exceptions were Angel Cabrera and Marc Leishman, who were only 3 under in the shortest match of the day. They lost, 5 and 4, to Woods and Matt Kuchar.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 4, 2013 C6

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