Big days from Bradley, Bubba give US 5-3 lead

Associated Press Modified: September 28, 2012 at 9:05 pm •  Published: September 28, 2012
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MEDINAH, Ill. (AP) — Keegan Bradley went from a rookie to a rock star in the Ryder Cup, and Phil Mickelson saw it coming.

Moments after Bradley poured in an 18-foot birdie putt on the second hole Friday morning, Mickelson stood off to the side of the tee box to watch Bradley prepare to smash another drive. He nodded in the direction of Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia, who had never lost a foursomes match.

Mickelson grinned and said, "They're not going to know what hit them."

Turns out he wasn't just talking about one match. Bradley made a 25-foot birdie putt to win the opening match on the 15th hole. Then, Bradley and Mickelson ganged up on Europe's top tandem of Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, winning three straight holes out of the box and closing them out when Mickelson hit a 7-iron to 2 feet on the 17th hole at Medinah.

It set the tone for a day filled with endless cheering and plenty of American red on the scoreboard, giving the U.S. team a 5-3 lead over Europe despite Tiger Woods getting shut out on opening day for the fourth time in the Ryder Cup.

"It could be the best day of my life," Bradley said.

Saturday figures to be a strange day for Woods in the Ryder Cup — his first time in uniform without a tee time. Sticking to his plan, U.S. captain Davis Love decided to bench Woods in the third session of matches to make sure his team is rested for the decisive singles matches Sunday. That ends Woods' streak of playing in 31 consecutive matches.

As for Bradley? His energy is boundless.

Mickelson took Bradley under his wing last year for a series of money games at the majors to prepare the 26-year-old from New England for a stage like this. And did he ever deliver. He was into every shot, cocking his head to the side to read putts, charging up the gallery and Mickelson in a command performance.

"This is literally what I've dreamt about since I was a little kid," Bradley said. "I got to do it next to my idol all day."

He wasn't the only rookie to shine on a mild day in the Chicago suburbs.

Nicolas Colsaerts, the 29-year-old from Belgium, helped Europe avoid getting shut out in afternoon fourballs by single-handedly taking down Woods and Steve Stricker.

Colsaerts made eight birdies and an eagle — a 10-under 62 if he was keeping score on his own. He teamed with Lee Westwood, who was just along for this amazing ride for a 1-up victory that ended 11 hours of action so typical in this high-charged event.

"I don't think there has ever been a better debut than that," Westwood 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 that Woods has played that he lost both matches on the opening day.

There was nothing Woods could do against Colsaerts, the biggest hitter in Europe who isn't too bad with the putter, either.

"Nicolas probably had one of the greatest putting rounds I've ever seen," Woods said, high praise coming from a 14-time major champion.

Woods turned in a mixed performance. He missed a 6-foot birdie putt on the 15th to fall 2 down, and then came back with a bending, 25-foot birdie putt on the 16th and a shot into 4 feet on the 17th that looked as if it might square the match. Instead, Colsaerts rolled in a 25-foot birdie putt for a halve. Woods had a 12-foot birdie putt on the 18th to halve the match, only it caught the left lip.

"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."

Love said he told Woods and Stricker they would be sitting out the foursomes matches Saturday morning, "and I can guarantee you, neither one of them are very happy about it. Not because they are sitting out; because they have to wait till tomorrow afternoon to come back."

Both captains made sure all 12 of their players got into the game early, though European captain Jose Maria Olazabal set himself up for second-guessing when he sat out Donald, Garcia and Poulter for the afternoon matches. They have a combined 31-13-5 record in the Ryder Cup.

Olazabal put Donald and Westwood together for Saturday morning, while Colsaerts will play with Garcia. McIlroy and McDowell will play for a third time, although the Spanish captain said the pairings were not the problem.

"I'm going to make it clear to the boys that they need to step it up," he said. "They need to play better golf, simple as that. There is no secret about this game. You have to make more birdies than your opponent. And if you don't do that, you're going to struggle."

Mickelson set an American record by playing in his ninth Ryder Cup, and he won his opening two matches for the first time in his career. Mickelson came up with some big putts and amazing shots, and the 42-year-old felt about 10 years younger playing alongside Bradley.

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