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MEDINAH, Illinois (Reuters) - World number one Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell gave Europe their first point of the 39th Ryder Cup on Friday only to fall to Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley in the fourballs as the U.S. took a 5-3 opening day lead.
The Northern Irish duo, sent out first by Europe captain Jose Maria Olazabal, had lost a three-hole lead in the foursomes before snatching a victory for Europe at the 18th hole as the teams finished the morning tied 2-2 at Medinah.
The European tandem claimed their point from Americans Jim Furyk and Brandt Snedeker when McIlroy blasted out of a bunker to five feet and McDowell sank the par putt for a 1-up victory.
"It was a great game of golf, it really personified the Ryder Cup this morning," McDowell said.
"We played some great golf to be three-up and two very gutsy players come back at us with a few birdies and we're playing these last two holes all square and having to hit some quality shots down the stretch."
The U.S. partnership of Mickelson and 2010 PGA Championship winner Bradley, who trounced the previously unbeaten duo of Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia in the morning, held off the leading European pair with a birdie barrage in the afternoon.
The Americans combined for nine birdies, with Mickelson capping the onslaught by knocking his tee shot tight to the pin on the par-three 17th for the clincher.
"They got off to a very fast start, and at the end of the day we just gave ourselves too much to do," said McIlroy, who were four holes down at the eighth.
McIlroy had put his tee shot at 17 in birdie range but had to concede after Mickelson's brilliant tee ball.
"It was a fantastic shot, especially when he had to," the mop-haired Irishman said. "We thought a couple of birdies the last two holes might pull off a half, but Phil was obviously thinking otherwise."
In the morning, a run of six birdies in seven holes from the fourth boosted the Northern Irishmen, who led by three holes through the 12th.
That streak was started by a chip-in by McIlroy from behind the green at the fourth.
The Americans, however, fought back and ran off a string of three successive birdies from the 14th to level the match, setting up the dramatic finish at 18.
"It was a great match," said 23-year-old McIlroy. "They came back at us."
McDowell praised his playing partner.
"My job is easy. I'm playing alongside the greatest player on the planet right now," said the 2010 U.S. Open champion.
Editing by Frank Pingue and Nick Mulvenney