Saturday, April 21, 2018

United States takes 5-3 lead over Europe in Day 1 of Ryder Cup

MEDINAH, Ill. — Keegan Bradley made Friday at the Ryder Cup feel like the best day of his life, and it wasn't too shabby for the rest of the Americans, either.

Bradley led a strong performance by rookies on both teams at Medinah Country Club by teaming with Phil Mickelson for two wins against Europe's best two partnerships. Even with Tiger Woods getting shut out on opening day for the fourth time, the United States took a big step toward regaining the Cup by taking a 5-3 lead.

Over the previous 20 Ryder Cups, teams that led by two or more points after two sessions went on to win two-thirds of the time (8-for-12).

Four of the five rookies on the U.S. team contributed. Only Brandt Snedeker, who opened the day as Jim Furyk's partner in the first alternate-shot match, came away empty-handed.

And without Nicholas Colsaerts' one-man show — he made eight birdies and an eagle on his own ball — the Europeans would have been shut out in the afternoon session.

"They're proven tour winners and FedEx Cup winners and guys that have played very, very well lately," U.S. captain Davis Love said of his group. "So we weren't considering them rookies, except in the Ryder Cup."

Mickelson and Bradley have known each other for six years. They met during a Mickelson family skiing trip to Jackson Hole, Wyo., where Keegan's father, Mark, works as a ski instructor in the winter and golf pro in the summer. Last year the veteran took Bradley under his wing for a series of money games at the majors to prepare him for a stage like this.

And did Bradley, 26, deliver. He was into every shot, cocking his head to the side to read putts, and he charged up the gallery and Mickelson, 42, with fist pumps, cheer encouragements and hugs.

"This is literally what I've dreamed about since I was a little kid," Bradley said. "I got to do it next to my idol all day. … It could be the best day of my life."

Bradley holed a 25-foot birdie putt in morning foursomes to hand Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia their first loss in Ryder Cup foursomes. Next up were Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell for four-ball, and the Americans won the first three holes. Right when Europe was trying to rally, Mickelson closed it out with a 7-iron to 2 feet that was conceded for birdie.

He barely had time to react before Bradley was at his side, throwing an arm over his shoulder and howling with joy.

"It was a really big deal," Mickel­son said, "because he's got such great, positive energy."

Colsaerts helped Europe avoid getting shut out in four-balls by single-handedly taking down Woods and Steve Stricker. He made eight birdies and an eagle, 10-under 62 if he was keeping score on his own. He teamed with Lee Westwood, who was just along for the ride for a 1-up victory. "We ran into a guy who made everything (Friday)," Woods said.

Woods and Stricker also lost to Ian Poulter and Justin Rose in morning foursomes, making this the fourth time in the seven Ryder Cups in which Woods has played that he lost both matches on the opening day.

Mickelson set an American record by playing in his ninth Cup, and he won his opening two matches for the first time. But Bradley was the rock star of this day, maybe never more than in the morning on No. 15. When he spotted fans holding a large American flag on the left side of the gallery, he jogged over to them for high-fives, waited for Mickelson to play a wedge into the green and then holed a 25-foot birdie putt.

His caddie, Steve Hale, swung the flag stick around like a baton until Mickelson's caddie reminded him to put it in the hole for Donald to play a bunker shot.

"There's a simple reason why Keegan is perfect for the Ryder Cup," Mickelson said. "The more pressure the situation, the better he plays."

>>Fast facts

Ryder Cup

U.S. vs. Europe, Day 2, Medinah (Ill.) Country Club

TV: 8 a.m., ESPN

Today's format: Foursomes (alternate shot) in morning, four-ball (better ball) in afternoon

Weather: Sunny, mid 50s to low 70s, light wind

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