U.S. Ryder Cup team rides wave of momentum
MEDINAH, Ill. – Racing through the dark, fans jostled one another on their way to the fencing around the first tee box at historic Medinah Country Club just west of Chicago. The bleachers filled up under the glow of cell phone screens. Hot chocolate and coffee outnumbered the Stella tall boys nearly five to one.
The partisan crowd came early, and ready, to cheer the United States Ryder Cup team out to a fast start. Unfortunately, the morning foursomes for the U.S. team quickly turned Medinah largely silent, with the occasional European chant ringing through the oaks.
Through the first hours of the first matches, Europe took control.
World number one Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell were three holes up through 11 holes on Jim Furyk and Brandt Snedeker.
Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia were 1-up on Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley through eight, as were Lee Westwood and Francesco Molinari on Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson.
And U.S. captain Davis Love III's anchor duo – Madison's Steve Stricker and Tiger Woods – were 3-down to Ian Poulter and Justin Rose through 12.
"You've got to get them involved," Love III said of the home fans. "We didn't do a very good job of that right out of the gate this morning. They were here in the dark, and we came out a little bit flat right in the beginning."
Then, as the morning turned to the early afternoon, something happened.
Mickelson and Bradley heated up on the back nine, winning five of their last seven holes to dispatch the previously unbeaten team of Garcia and Donald for the first point of the tournament.
Their exuberance ignited the crowd, and the cheers bounced around the tree tops. It pushed Dufner and Johnson to the same sort of run – winning four of their last eight holes.
"Those roars are good to hear, I'm not going to deny that," Johnson said. "There's some bass to them."
That, in turn, pushed Snedeker and Furyk, as they won three of their next four holes to draw even to the 18th before losing 1-up. Stricker and Woods made it a match as well, going to the 16th with a chance to win or halve the match before falling 2 & 1.
Europe may have hung on to those matches, but the momentum shifted under its feet as quickly as the ripples moved across Lake Kadijah, one of the major hazards within Medinah.
Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson, the reigning Masters and U.S. Open champions, were sent out first in four-ball in the afternoon by Love in an effort to push those whitecaps of momentum into a tidal wave.
And unlike their counterparts in the morning, the Americans sustained the torrent.
Watson and Simpson began their match by encouraging the crowd to cheer during the swashbuckling Watson's tee shot – an unusual tactic that set them off to a 10-under-par score through 14 holes and utter decimation of Paul Lawrie and Peter Hanson, 5 & 4.
"The train left on the front nine," Hanson said. "Me and Paul, we didn't play good enough to jump on that train."
Mickelson and Bradley then took an immediate lead on McIlroy and McDowell and led by as many as four holes before winning 2 & 1.
Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar followed with a convincing 3 & 2 win of their own over Rose and Martin Kaymer.
That left Woods and Stricker, who didn't play badly in their match against Westwood and rookie Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts, but the 29-year-old Colsaerts literally beat the American pair by himself.
Colsaerts made eight birdies and an eagle while winning five holes on his own to give the Europeans a 2-up lead with three to play.
The 0-2 finish on Friday marked the fourth straight non-victory for Woods and Stricker in international competition after starting their partnership 6-0.
"We didn't contribute anything today, but we've got a couple more days yet so we can't hang our heads and keep fighting," Stricker said. "The rest of the team played great."
At that point, however, it didn't matter. The U.S. ended the first day up 5-3 and with Europe on its heels.
"This is one of the most emotional days playing in a Ryder Cup that we'll ever have," said Mickelson, who is playing in his record ninth competition. "It gets emotion out of every player, good or bad, and this has been one of the biggest highs that we've had."
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