Captain Woods sends himself out in 1st Presidents Cup match

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International Assistant captain K.J. Choi, left of South Korea and Haotong Li of China during a practice round ahead of the President's Cup Golf tournament in Melbourne, Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Andy Brownbill)

MELBOURNE – Tiger Woods deferred the first pick for pairings in the Presidents Cup, and then made sure he was in the opening match Thursday against the Australian who led qualifying for the International team at Royal Melbourne.

Woods is the first playing captain since Hale Irwin in the inaugural Presidents Cup in 1994, and first captain to be pick himself with a wild-card selection after winning in Japan for his 82nd career PGA Tour victory.

Woods said Steve Stricker, one of his three assistants, would serve as captain while he was playing. Stricker was the U.S. captain at the 2017 Presidents Cup.

The Americans are defending champions and had the first pick who they wanted for the first of five fourballs matches. Instead, Woods let International captain Ernie Els start, and Els sent out Marc Leishman with Joaquin Niemann of Chile, one of a record-tying seven rookies on his team.

Patrick Reed, the subject of so much conversation this week from his rules violation in the Bahamas last week, is in the fourth spot with Webb Simpson. They play Hideki Matsuyama and C.T. Pan.

All five of the U.S. partnerships are new for a Presidents Cup or a Ryder Cup.

Dustin Johnson, who competes for the first time since Aug. 25 at the Tour Championship, has played with Matt Kuchar in various team events. This time he will have Presidents Cup newcomer Gary Woodland, giving the U.S. a big-hitting team on the short, fast track of Royal Melbourne. They will face Abraham Ancer and Louis Oosthuizen.

In the other matches, Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay give the Americans an all-rookie team against Adam Hadwin and Sungjae Im, while Bryson DeChambeau and Tony Finau face Adam Scott and Byeong Hun An.