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Kim, Mickelson ignite long-dormant Ryder Cup effort on day one; U.S. seizes three-point lead

Photo: Fred Vuich/Pitchmark Productions

Phil Mickelson and Anthony Kim won 1 1/2 points on Friday.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Golf is an individual sport, but at nearly every Ryder Cup, two men come together like ham and eggs or peanut butter and jelly to become a revelation of chemistry that flavors the entire event.

The 37th Ryder Cup at Valhalla may be remembered for the happy recipe of Phil Mickelson and rookie Anthony Kim. Twice on Friday, they came back from 3 down, beating Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell 2 up in the afternoon best-ball matches and tying Harrington and Robert Karlsson in the morning foursomes.

"I love playing with this guy right here," Mickelson said. "Anthony has got this youthfulness to him, and he has a lot of game and we had a lot of fun."

With its lead twosome going unbeaten on the day, copping a halve and a win, the U.S. stormed to a 5 1/2 to 2 1/2 lead. Friday marked the first time the Americans have led after day one of the Ryder Cup since Oak Hill in 1995.

In one day, Mickelson earned as many points as he did in 2006 or 2004 combined, when he went 1-7-1 (W-L-T). He and Kim waved miniature American flags after going back onto the course to cheer on their teammates.

In other matches:

• Justin Leonard and Hunter Mahan won their second point of the day with a 4-and-3 dusting of Spaniards Sergio Garica and Miguel Angel Jimenez. Garcia went without a win on Friday.

• Ian Poulter and Justin Rose recovered from a morning collapse to defeat Steve Stricker and an off-form Ben Curtis, 4 and 2. It was Europe's first win of the day, and it came at 6 p.m. local time.

• J.B. Holmes and Boo Weekley elicited huge roars in the anchor match, surviving a bad start to halve their match with Soren Hansen and Lee Westwood.

Winning Ryder Cups is often a matter of finding the right two-man teams, and as badly as the Mickelson-Tiger Woods pairing faired in 2004, Mickelson-Kim has been a resounding success in '08. The veteran lefty, a hot-and-cold enigma in this event, fed off Kim's enthusiasm, while the excitable rookie took to Mickelson's leadership.

Harrington and McDowell went 3 up through 4 holes, but Mickelson made six birdies to overcome the Euro's sizzling start. Kim contributed four birdies, two of them with his partner out of position, and immeasurable enthusiasm.

"He held me up when I wasn't playing so well," Kim said. "So it was a really fun day. It's definitely lived up to the hype."

Harrington, arguably the hottest player in the game after winning the British Open and the PGA Championship, was exhausted after failing twice to beat the USA's lead team.

"It's been a lot of work for a half a point today," he said.

More troubling for Europe was that Garcia wasn't himself, so much so that captain Nick Faldo decided to bench him for Saturday morning's foursome matches. (Westwood will also sit out Saturday's early matches.) On Friday morning, with Westwood, Garcia failed to win a foursomes match for the first time in nine tries. In the afternoon, he partnered with countryman Jimenez and quickly fell behind to the hot Leonard and Mahan.

The Americans, both from Dallas, both with enviable putting strokes, birdied the first four holes. While they kept the pressure on, Garcia didn't respond as he usually does, even hitting one of his worst shots ever in this event, a wedge into the water short of the 13th green.

Leonard and Mahan went nine under through 15 to become the day's most prolific U.S. team, and the first American duo to win its first two matches since Corey Pavin and Lanny Wadkins in 1993. Leonard salted away their second win of the day with a chip-in birdie, his fifth, on 15.

"My cheeks are sore from smiling all day long," said Leonard, who had never won a match in two Ryder Cups coming into today. "This is a lot different than my other Ryder Cup experiences."

Holmes and Weekley weathered a front-nine birdie barrage by Lee Westwood, who made four straight 3s from the second through the fifth holes.

"The Dukes of Hazard vs. Fleet Street," NBC's Johnny Miller said of the anchor match, and it featured copious theatrics from Weekley. He encouraged fan participation from the very first hole, and glared at Westwood after reaching the watery, par-5 seventh hole in two.

The Southern tandem birdied 7, 8, 9, 10 and 12 to take their first lead of the day. Weekley ran around the course heating up the crowd and generally taking to the Cup as Garcia has: emotionally.

The large gallery responded with calls of "Boo, Boo, Boo," and loosed the biggest roar of the day when Weekley curled in a long, snaking birdie putt on the 12th hole. He stormed around the green, raising his arms and carrying on so maniacally he could have swallowed his chewing tobacco.

Westwood shook his head, a fitting reaction on a day to forget for Team Europe. It was a day that gave new life to the red, white and blue, which partied like it was 1999, the last time an American team won the Cup. In the end it was just one good day, but it felt like a lot more than that.

"Well, they played exceptional golf," Faldo said. "At the end of the day, that's just the facts of where the score is."

 

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