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US leads but Woods falters

TIGER Woods' year continues to lurch back and forth from the promising to the demoralising with giddying haste. Yesterday he was on the wrong end of a record-equalling scoreline in the Presidents Cup in Melbourne.

Despite the US team taking a comfortable 4-2 lead after the opening foursomes, Woods' showing on the Royal Melbourne layout will leave US captain Fred Couples with much to think about.

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Together with Steve Stricker he supposedly formed the crack US pairing who, two years ago in this Ryder Cup clone, went all four matches unbeaten. A lot has changed since 2009, and this time their undefeated run lasted just 12 holes as they went down 7&6 in the opening foursomes to Adam Scott and K J Choi. It would have done absolutely nothing for Woods' mood that Scott's caddie just happens to be Steve Williams, who two weeks ago today referred to the former world No 1 as "that black arsehole".

The eyes of golf were inevitably on the body language between the two on the first, but in the event it predictably turned out just as the game's etiquette demands. Woods made the first move shaking Williams' hand. A little over two hours later they were touching palms again after a loss which was the biggest since Kenny Perry succumbed by the same margin to David Frost in the first match between the US and the Internationals (minus Europe) 17 years ago.

Woods, a much-criticised wild-card selection by Fred Couples, and Stricker did not make a single birdie or win a hole. Much will be made of Williams supposedly "beating" his former boss, but this was about Scott turning it on and Woods turning it off. As Couples moved to split up Woods and Stricker for today's fourballs - Dustin Johnson being Woods' new partner - Tiger's third place in last week's Australian Open seemed a long time ago. In 112 matches of various matchplay formats, Woods had never suffered a defeat as resounding as this.

"We were just slightly off and on a golf course like this it doesn't take much," said Woods referring to the wonderful layout of Royal Melbourne. At least his team took a 4-2 lead into today's second session.

In Malaysia, Padraig Harrington did a rather better job of sending out reminders of his past predominance. A seven-under 64 put the defending champion in second place at the Johor Open, one behind the Dutchman Joost Luiten. It was the Dubliner's best round of a mediocre season during which he has slipped out of the world's top 50.