MEDINAH, Ill. — For all the fist pumps and cheers, all the rallies and runs, one scene may have captured the first day of the Ryder Cup matches on a classic fall Friday.
Having just watched 42-year-old Phil Mickelson seal their 2 & 1 four-ball victory over Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell with a seeing-eye tee shot to 2 feet of the watery par-3 17th hole, 26-year-old Keegan Bradley, who called it the greatest shot hes ever seen, wrapped his left arm around his partners neck.
Mickelson, inspired by Bradleys contagious enthusiasm and cheerleading, threw his arm over his partners shoulder and for a moment they rode the cheers down the hill together.
Led by Mickelson and Bradleys sun-up to sun-down performance in two victories, the U.S. team opened a 5-3 lead after the first day of the Ryder Cup. The Americans took three of four afternoon four-ball matches to win a session they had won just three times in the previous 15 Ryder Cups. It was the first time in nine Ryder Cups that Mickelson won two matches on the same day.
How good were the Americans Friday afternoon?
Webb Simpson and Bubba Watson played their first 10 holes 8 under par, throttling Paul Lawrie and Peter Hanson 5&4. Bradley and Mickelson took out the European power pair of McIlroy and McDowell and the Dustin Johnson-Matt Kuchar pairing bumped off Justin Rose and Martin Kaymer 3&2.
The only negative after lunch was a 1-up loss by Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker to Nicolas Colsaerts and Lee Westwood and even that had a touch of optimism. After what he called an awful morning performance with Stricker in a foursomes loss to Ian Poulter and Rose, Woods made seven birdies in the afternoon, including five on the back nine. Woods 15-foot birdie putt to square the match on the 18th hole burned the right edge.
Colsaerts was so nervous in his first Ryder Cup match that he made eight birdies and an eagle to single-handedly take down the American pair.
One of the greatest putting rounds Ive ever seen, said Woods, who made a mid-day swing change after a quick conversation with his coach Sean Foley.
At the center of the American success were Mickelson and Bradley. When they beat Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia 4&3 in their morning foursomes (alternate shot) match, it was critical to the American cause because Donald and Garcia were a combined 14-0 in Ryder Cup foursomes play.
The pair played to their strengths. Mickelson hit scattershot drives through and into many of Medinahs massive trees but continually found a way to stay in the hole. Bradley practically bled adrenalin and emotion, calling on the crowd to help, slapping hands with Mickelson and reveling in what he called perhaps the best day of my life.
Theres a simple reason why Keegan is perfect for the Ryder Cup, Mickelson said. The more pressure the situation, the better he plays. Theres no more pressure situation, no higher pressure situation than the Ryder Cup.
Simpson and Watson set the afternoon tone with their spectacular performance after sitting out the morning session.
I dont think its fair to say we helped the other guys win but in this kind of format, every time we got to the green, we had 30 seconds to spare (to) look and see the other guys playing well. It made us want to keep playing well, keep making birdies and see how soon we could get the W, Simpson said.
Love was delighted by his teams start.
We played as a team today. Thats all we wanted and we got off to a good start, Love said.
On the flip side, European captain Jose Maria Olazabal found his team forced to rally on Saturday because of what happened Friday afternoon. Happy with a 2-2 split in the cool, breezy conditions Friday morning, Olazabal said the first two afternoon matches set a negative tone for his team.
Im going to make it clear to the boys they need to step it up, Olazabal said. They need to play better golf. Simple as that.