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Mickelson, Bradley drive USA to 5-3 lead
Posted 9/28/2012 7:36 PM ET

MEDINAH, Ill. -- Whether it blew in off Lake Michigan or shot up from the South Side of Chicago, a whirlwind of momentum swept over Medinah Country Club about three hours after the sun came out and carried the USA to a commanding lead after the opening day of the Ryder Cup.

Led by the free-wheeling tandem of Phil Mickelson and rookie Keegan Bradley and a wrecking ball named Webb Simpson and Bubba Watson, the Americans stormed back from an early morning deficit Friday to take a 5-3 lead against Europe in the 39th Ryder Cup. After falling behind 1 down in every match on a chilly autumn morning, the USA earned two wins before noon and dominated the afternoon by winning three of four matches.

Tiger Woods, however, did not win a single point as he and Steve Stricker lost both of their matches. Woods, who sprayed shots all over Medinah in a 2-and-1 morning loss with Stricker to Ian Poulter and Justin Rose, made seven birdies in the afternoon. But he couldn't overcome the lone European highlight, rookie Nicolas Colsaerts. The man known as Muscles from Brussels made eight birdies and an eagle as he and Lee Westwood won 1 up. But the USA's mark of 3-1 in the fourball session reversed a recent trend in the format: The Americans were 3-10-1 in fourball in the last four contests.

"Nicolas probably had one of the greatest putting rounds I've ever seen," Woods said. "I didn't play very good this morning at all. I was hitting it awful and not doing anything well. But I hit it good this afternoon. I drove it great this afternoon and was in position, but we ran into a guy who just made absolutely everything."

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Europe, which has won six of the last eight contests, needs 14 points to retain the Cup it won in 2010 in Wales. The USA needs 14½ to gain possession.

"It seemed like as the sun came out, we just got better and better," said U.S. captain Davis Love III, who got four wins from three of his four rookies -- Bradley, Simpson and (Jason) Dufner. "It's just nice to see those scores, those 5 and 4s and 3 and 2s, and it's nice when you get on a roll like that.

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"Everybody kept calling them rookies, but they're proven PGA Tour winners and FedExCup winners and guys that have played very, very well lately. So we weren't considering them rookies except in the Ryder Cup, and we showed a few nerves this morning right out of the box. But I'm proud of the whole team. They played very, very well and stuck together well."

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No two more so than Mickelson and Bradley, who shared hugs and high-fives all day. The two took down the undefeated tandem of Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia 4 and 3 in the morning foursomes, then kept up their fist-pumping ways and dusted world No. 1 Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell 2 and 1 to complete a dream start for the two.

It was the first time since 1999 that Mickelson won back-to-back matches and the first time he won both matches on the first day in his Ryder Cup career. Mickelson ended the second match when he knocked a 7-iron to tap-in range on the 185-yard 17th hole; Bradley ended the first with a 25-footer for birdie on the driveable par-4 15th.At one point, the two won seven holes in a row -- the last four to beat Donald and Garcia, who were a combined 14-0-1 in foursomes before Friday, and the first three against McIlroy and McDowell.

"We were trying to claw our way back, and we played some good stuff on the way in, but Keegan and Phil were just too strong this afternoon," McIlroy said.

Mickelson came into the Ryder Cup with an 11-17-6 record but has been energized by Bradley since the two played their first practice round Tuesday, so much so that he felt like a kid again.

"This is one of the most emotional days playing in a Ryder Cup that we'll ever have," Mickelson said. "It gets emotion out of every player, good or bad, and this has been one of the biggest highs that we've had. I just love playing with Keegan. He's just played so good all day and it's just kept me up the whole time. His energy is so positive, it's so good. This morning, watching him drive it and be so far up and in the fairway, it's just ultimately going to wear (the opponent) down after a while because we are hitting such short irons into these greens from the middle of the fairway. And his putter is off the charts.

"I felt young and it felt great. I love playing with Keegan. I would say to him a couple of times, 'I need a little pep talk,' and he would give me something, get me boosted right up and I would end up hitting a good shot."

Bradley was on such a high after the second match ended that he wanted to go and play another 36.

"I just love every second of it," Bradley said. "And being able to walk down the fairway with Phil and do this is a dream come true. It's another moment in my life that I can't believe I'm a part of. I can't imagine a much better day. This is literally what I've dreamt about since I was a little kid. And I got to do it next to my idol all day."

Simpson and Watson obliterated Peter Hanson and Paul Lawrie with 10 birdies in 14 holes in a 5-and-4 rout, seven of the birdies coming in the first eight holes. In three matches of foursomes including the 2011 Presidents Cup, Simpson and
Watson are 3-0 and have yet to play the 16th hole in of the three matches.

"I think they were 9 under for the first 10 holes. Me and Paul, we didn't play good enough to jump on that (birdie) train," Hanson said. "Six down after 10, that was kind of hard. I think we ran into a bit of a wall. We just couldn't jump on the train. That birdie train left."

Matt Kuchar and Dustin Johnson lost the first hole but stormed back with four birdies in a row starting at the fourth hole and finished off Justin Rose and Martin Kaymer 3 and 2 to provide the other afternoon point for the USA.

In the morning foursomes, Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson took control with two birdies and zero bogeys after making the turn to win 3 and 2 against Westwood and Francesco Molinari.

Jim Furyk and the USA's fourth rookie, Brandt Snedeker, almost made the morning comeback even more memorable in their opening-match duel against McIlroy and McDowell. With five holes to play, Snedeker and Furyk were 3 down but won three consecutive holes with birdies to even the match. A poor drive by Snedeker, however, led to a bogey and McDowell knocked in a 5-footer for par to win the final hole and Europe's first point.

One hole into the leadoff match, there was a stressful situation between the teams of Furyk-Snedeker and McDowell-McIlroy. The mood of the match turned when McDowell was looking for a free drop after his ball came to rest near a sprinkler head by the second green. But Furyk wouldn't have any of it and said no free drop should be given. The two had a slightly heated discussion and the first of numerous rules decisions in the morning was made. McDowell asked for a second opinion, got turned down again, chipped away and McIlroy missed a par putt to go 1 down.

ESPN golf analyst Paul Azinger remarked, "I think (Furyk and Snedeker) ticked off the Good Humor men," on the second hole.

There was nothing funny about McIlroy's and McDowell's play as they made five birdies in a six-hole stretch to take command. McDowell made a huge 15-footer for birdie to earn a half on the 14th hole and the two remained 2 up.

But another momentum change occurred and McDowell had to hole a gutsy putt on the last green to earn a full point.

"The match epitomized what the Ryder Cup is all about," McDowell said. "We got a healthy lead and they came right back at us. There was lots of tense moments and great passion in the match. It was a great game against two really great competitors."

Europe gained its other point in the anchor match as Poulter and Rose defeated Stricker and Woods.

"I noticed the board; I'm not going to lie to you," Zach Johnson said. "The one thing I did notice, though, it was very early in the match. This is not a sprint by any means, it's a marathon. You've just got to stick to your routine, stick to your process."

Posted 9/28/2012 7:36 PM ET
Keegan Bradley reacts after making a birdie on No. 8 on his way to a victory with partner Phil Mickelson against Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell.
Brian Spurlock, US Presswire
Keegan Bradley reacts after making a birdie on No. 8 on his way to a victory with partner Phil Mickelson against Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell.