MEDINAH, Ill. — Bubba Watson implored the crowd surrounding the first tee to continue screaming even as he was teeing off, and the roars fueled by the play of the United States team never faded Friday afternoon at Medinah Country Club.
The U.S. dominated three of the four afternoon four-ball matches after the morning foursome matches were split to take a 5-3 lead after the opening day of the 39th Ryder Cup.
“As the sun came out we just got better and better,” U.S. team captain Davis Love III said. “It’s nice to see the scores like 5 and 4 and 4 and 3, it’s nice to get on a roll like that.”
The Americans won three of the four Friday afternoon four-ball (best ball) matches for the first time since 1995.
“For right now, for this moment … we are just going to enjoy the fact that we had a fun, successful day,” Phil Mickelson said.
The U.S. lead comes despite Tiger Woods losing two matches with partner Steve Stricker.
World No. 1 Rory McIlroy fared better by splitting his two matches with partner Graeme McDowell. Their 1 up win came in the morning foursomes (alternate shot). Little went right for the Europeans after noon.
Led by Watson and Webb Simpson, who teed off first in the afternoon matches and opened up a three-hole lead through four holes, the U.S. won seven of the first nine holes played in the afternoon.
The American teams of Watson and Simpson, Mickelson and Keegan Bradley, and Coastal Carolina alum Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar all had at least three-hole leads through seven holes and their advantages were never truly challenged.
Watson and Simpson discarded Paul Lawrie and Peter Hanson 5 and 4, Johnson and Kuchar dispersed of Justin Rose and Martin Kaymer 3 and 2, and Mickelson and Bradley defeated McIlroy and McDowell 2 and 1 in what looked to be the marquee matchup of the afternoon after both twosomes won Friday morning.
While Watson and Simpson recorded the most resounding win of the day and the largest margin of victory for the U.S. duo since ’95, the team’s most dominant player Bradley, a Ryder Cup rookie and the 2011 PGA Championship winner.
He teamed with Mickelson to comprise the only pairing to win two matches Friday.
They handed both Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia their first losses in Ryder Cup foursomes with a 4 and 3 win in the morning. Donald had been 6-0 and Garcia 8-0-1 in the format. Then they took down the powerful Northern Ireland pairing.
“Oh baby, I wish I could go 36 more,” Bradley said. “… It was one of the most memorable days of my life so far.”
He’ll likely have the opportunity to play another 36 Saturday based on his play in his Ryder Cup debut. Bradley made six of his duo’s nine birdies in four-ball and was the dominant player in their foursomes match, which included five U.S. birdies to two for the Europeans. And he showed unbridled passion all the while.
“Keegan is perfect for the Ryder Cup because the more pressure the situation, the better he plays, the better he sees the shot, the better he focuses, and the better the result,” Mickelson said. “And there’s no more pressure situation, no higher pressure situation than the Ryder Cup. . . . He’s got such great, positive energy.”
A frenzied crowd was behind the Americans all day, encouraged by Watson. With the crowd standing and cheering in the bleachers around the first tee, Watson pumped a drive deep down the middle of the first fairway and kept his pink-shafted driver raised toward the crowd as he leaned over to pick up his tee. He waived his arms while walking off the tee box to encourage the cheering to continue.
“I figured if I was going to play bad today I’d better have fun on the first hole at least,” Watson said. “So I just got the crowd into it. Just did it for fun. And then somehow I played good after that. It’s The Ryder Cup. Why not have fun?”
Perhaps the day’s most resounding ovation came when Mickelson hit his tee shot within 2 feet of the pin on the 193-yard par-3 17th hole to close out McIlroy and McDowell 2 and 1. McIlroy planned to attempt a 10-foot birdie putt to continue the match before Mickelson’s laser.
“Without a doubt in my mind, it’s the greatest shot I’ve ever seen. It never left the flagstick,” Bradley said. “We were running down the fairway, we had our arms around each other, we were screaming; it was like a Patriots game out there. It was just a moment that I’ll obviously never forget the rest of my life.”
Nicolas Colsaerts of Belgium, the only Ryder Cup rookie on the European Team, single-handedly salvaged Europe’s sole point in the afternoon by carrying his partnership with Lee Westwood, who went without a birdie the entire match.
“We ran into a guy who made everything today,” Woods said. “I don’t know what he shot. He was like 7-under through 10. I quit counting after that.”
Colsaerts made eight birdies and an eagle to keep Europe from becoming the first team to be swept in a four-match afternoon session since 1989.
“There’s a massive difference between getting a half and getting a win – 5 ½-2 1/2, or even 6-2 as it could have turned out at one point during the day would have been disastrous,” Westwood said. “We would have hoped for better at the start of the day, and we need a big day tomorrow; but we are still within touching distance there if we do have a good day. So it was vital to win that match.”
The morning foursome matches were split 2-2. Mickelson and Bradley defeated Donald and Garcia 4 and 3, and Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson defeated Westwood and Francesco Molinari 3 and 2.
McIlroy and McDowell defeated Jim Furyk and Brandt Snedeker 1 up after squandering a three-hole lead with six to play and winning the 18th hole, and Ian Poulter teamed with Rose to defeat Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker 2 and 1.
“We are going to relish this moment and kind of enjoy today because we have a two-point lead,” Mickelson said. “But we know that [Saturday] is a big day. We know the Europeans are going to come out hungry and ready to play, and we know how good they are, so we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
In Saturday morning’s foursomes, Simpson and Watson will face Rose and Poulter, Bradley and Mickelson will face Westwood and Donald, Dufner and Zach Johnson will face Colsaerts and Garcia, and Furyk and Snedeker will take on McIlroy and McDowell.
Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.