MEDINAH, Ill. — Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson took down Europe’s best team, Jason Dufner played like a Ryder Cup veteran alongside partner Zach Johnson, and what looked like a potentially grim morning for the home team turned into a small moral victory as the U.S. and Europe played to a 2-2 tie in the early matches at the 39th Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club.
Ryder Cup rookie Bradley, playing alongside his frequent practice-round partner and mentor Mickelson, made his last of a handful of birdie putts, a 25-footer, on the short, par-4 15th hole to close out Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia, who had been 4-0-0 when paired together in foursomes in past Ryder Cups. The home crowd loosed a huge roar as the U.S. earned the first point of the matches and Bradley and Mickelson embraced and high-fived.
“I feel so comfortable out here with Phil because I know wherever I hit it, he’s going to be able to get it up and down, or close for me,” Bradley said after the Americans’ fifth birdie against just one bogey. “It was one of the most memorable days of my life so far.”
Dufner, another Ryder rookie (one of four on the U.S. team), warmed to the event with back-to-back birdie putts on nine and 10, as he and Johnson reversed an early 1-down deficit to take a 2-up lead with three to go when Lee Westwood drove into the water on 15. That would all but seal the fate of the European tandem, despite Francesco Molinari’s clutch front-nine putting. The Americans won, 3 and 2.
“I really like this format, this environment,” said Dufner, who closed out the Europeans after Johnson had splashed out of the greenside bunker to within three feet on the par-4 16th hole.
“Obviously, they played very solid golf,” Molinari said. “We made a couple of mistakes on the back nine, and they just played very well, so we need to congratulate them.”
Steve Stricker and Tiger Woods never found any rhythm, with Woods especially struggling with his game. They lost, 2 and 1, to Ian Poulter and Justin Rose in the anchor match. Suddenly wild off the tee after a year in which he seemed to rediscover his game, Woods hit a tent, a fan and a tree.
Still, U.S. captain Davis Love III refused to sit the second-ranked player in the world, sending Woods back out with Stricker again for the four-ball matches in the afternoon to face Europe’s only Ryder Cup rookie, Nicolas Colsaerts, and Lee Westwood in the anchor match.
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The most explosive match of the morning was the first, in which Jim Furyk and Brandt Snedeker challenged a ruling on the second hole of their face-off with Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy; took a 1-up lead when Europe bogeyed the hole; and then looked on as McIlroy chipped in and the Mac Attack made six birdies in seven holes to take a 2-up lead through 10 holes. When Furyk and Snedeker bogeyed the par-4 11th hole, their second straight bogey, they were 3 down.
That set the stage for a near epic comeback. The Europeans bogeyed the par-3 13th hole, but still took a 2-up lead into the short, par-4 15th when McDowell found the water with his tee shot, all but giving the hole to the Americans. Furyk and Snedeker were 1 down and pulled even with Furyk’s majestic approach shot to within three feet for birdie — the Americans’ third straight birdie — on the par-4 16th hole.
After both teams made par on the tricky, par-3 17th, Snedeker blew his tee shot way right on 18, leading to a bogey. Less than a week removed from winning $11.44 million at the Tour Championship, Snedeker made as if to snap his driver in two, flexing the shaft. McIlroy’s drive glanced off the top of a tree and came to rest just off the fairway, and McDowell, after hitting their approach into the left greenside bunker, made a six-footer for par to close out the match and win, 1 up.
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“That match to me just personifies the Ryder Cup,” McDowell said.
Stricker and Woods, so formidable in past Ryder and Presidents Cups, never led in their morning match and were constantly out of position. Rose, on the other hand, made a long birdie putt on the fourth hole, and Poulter was his usual Ryder Cup self. He holed a bunker shot for birdie to win 11 and rolled in a clutch par save on 17 as the Euros wrapped up the 2-and-1 victory.
Heading into the afternoon tied at 2-2 felt like a rare moral victory for both sides.