MEDINAH, Illinois (Reuters) - The United States and Europe split the opening foursome matches at the 39th Ryder Cup on Friday after a gripping, birdie-filled session that tested the nerves and skill of every player.
Despite trailing early on in all four alternate-shot encounters, the Americans fought back to tie the scores at 2-2 after the morning session.
They earned their first point when Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson beat Britain’s Luke Donald and Spaniard Sergio Garcia 4&3, then a second when Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner defeated Englishman Lee Westwood and Francesco Molinari of Italy 3&2.
Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell came through for Europe when they edged Furyk and Snedeker one up after a tense, fluctuating battle in the top match before Ian Poulter and Justin Rose squared the ledger by beating an out of sorts Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker 2&1.
Cup rookie Bradley drained a 30-foot birdie putt at the par-four 15th as the U.S. duo came from one down after eight holes on a cool, breezy day at Medinah Country Club.
It was the first time Donald and Garcia had been beaten in foursomes matches together dating back to the 2004 Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills.
“He played some of the best golf and to be his partner was an awesome experience,” Cup veteran Mickelson told reporters about his partner Bradley.
“I love, love playing with this man. He’s just so fun, loves the game and plays with such excitement and man, can he roll the rock.”
U.S. captain Davis Love III has set up Medinah’s par-72 No. 3 course with virtually no rough in a bid to create a birdie fest this week and both teams took advantage in the first session.
Mickelson and Bradley made a good start after being sent out in the second match, going one up on Donald and Garcia after four holes before losing momentum.
The Europeans won the fifth and sixth holes to gain the lead before Bradley sank a six-footer to birdie the ninth to level the match.
However the Americans took control after the turn, going three up after Mickelson drained a 15-foot birdie putt at the 13th before Garcia missed a three-footer for par at the 14th.
Donald missed the green well to the left off the tee at the driveable par-four 15th and Bradley secured the first point for the U.S. with his monster birdie putt.
“I feel so comfortable out here with Phil because I know wherever I hit it, he’s going to be able to get it up and down or close for me,” said Bradley. “It was one of the most memorable days of my life so far.”
World number one McIlroy and fellow Northern Irishman McDowell had been three up after 12 holes before the Americans pegged them back with three consecutive birdies from the 14th.
McDowell, who secured the winning point for Europe at Celtic Manor two years ago, wrapped up victory by sinking a five-foot par putt on the 18th green after both teams had trouble reaching the green.
“That match to me just personifies the Ryder Cup,” said McDowell. “We played some great golf to go three up, and then you’re playing against two very gutsy players who clawed their way back to all square coming down the last two holes.”
The final encounter had been heavily anticipated with Stricker and Woods having compiled a 6-2 record in team play at the Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup but they struggled against good friends Rose and Poulter.
With chants of “Ole, Ole, Ole” ringing out across the course, Rose drained a curling 15-foot birdie putt at the fourth to put the Europeans one up and they maintained control for the rest of the match.
Woods was woefully erratic off the tee and struck a spectator on the head with a wayward drive at the par-five seventh, the bystander having to wipe the blood away with a towel.
Though the Americans fought back from three down after 12 holes, Rose ended the match with a superb chip from behind the green to within inches of the cup at the par-three 17th.
Editing by Julian Linden