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U.S. rides flock of birdies to Ryder Cup lead

American rookies play a big role in 5-3 edge at Medinah. Tiger Woods loses both matches and will take a seat for the first time.

September 28, 2012|By Jeff Shain
  • Bubba Watson lines up a putt along with teammate Webb Simpson, who combined for 10 birdies in 14 holes in afternoon play Friday.
Bubba Watson lines up a putt along with teammate Webb Simpson, who combined… (Jose M. Osorio / McClatchy-Tribune )

MEDINAH, Ill. -- Maybe it had something to do with Bubba Watson encouraging fans to hoot and holler as loudly as possible while he piped his first drive.

Pretty soon, partner Webb Simpson rolled home a four-foot birdie putt. Two holes later, Watson drained a 25-foot steamer. Simpson birdied the next two.

Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley caught the fever, dropping birdies on their first three holes. Even Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker, so shaky in their opening match, had a birdie/birdie start to their afternoon. By then, the U.S. fans needed no encouragement.

"I've never been to a tournament in my life where the crowd was so loud," said Simpson, whose near-record romp over Scotland's Paul Lawrie and Sweden's Peter Hanson set the tone as the Americans won three of four best-ball matches for a 5-3 lead.

"We just had a blast. We got off to a good start and we did what we do best — we had fun. And luckily the birdies kept rolling."

For the Americans, it was 35 in all — an average of nearly nine a match. Simpson and Watson combined for 10 in only 14 holes.

Though Ryder Cup records don't show the highest birdie count ever recorded in a session, Friday afternoon had to be somewhere near the top.

"This has been one of the biggest highs that we've had," said Mickelson, who went 2-0 on opening day for the first time since his 1995 Ryder Cup debut.

Bradley and Mickelson stayed hot with nine birdies, notching their second victory with a 2-and-1 win over world No.1 Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell. Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar followed with seven birdies for a 3-and-2 win over Justin Rose and Martin Kaymer.

Woods got into the act with seven birdies — plus two from partner Stricker — though they fell short of the colossal debut of Nicolas Colsaerts. The Belgian Bomber went 10 under on his own ball with eight birdies and an eagle to salvage a 1-up win for Europe.

"It was a great team effort," said Woods, on the losing end of two of the three European points. "Some of these matches weren't that close. They got off to quick starts early and got up on that board, and that was nice to see."

With so many Americans playing so well, Love was moved to give Woods an unprecedented morning off — leaving his name off the lineup for the first time in eight Ryder Cups.

Friday's surge followed a 2-2 tie in the morning session, in which the Americans turned around two alternate-shot matches after the scoreboard briefly showed Europe leading in all four.

In all, Love's four rookies combined for a 4-1 record Friday. The only loss came from Brandt Snedeker, who with Jim Furyk battled back from a 3-down deficit to send the match to the 18th hole before falling to McIlroy and McDowell.

"We showed a little nerves this morning right out of the box," Love said. "But I'm proud of the whole team. They played very, very well and stuck together well."

Watson and Simpson went 3-1 as a tandem at last year's Presidents Cup and, after sitting out the morning, quickly made up for lost time. Seven birdies in the first eight holes forged a quick 6-up advantage.

"When you have a partner that you think can make every putt, it makes it a lot easier," said Watson, who threw golf etiquette to the wind when he encouraged fans to cheer as he struck his opening tee shot.

Deadpanned Hanson: "The train left on the front nine."

The European duo heated up with four birdies after the turn, keeping them from suffering the biggest blowout in any Ryder Cup paired match. The mark remains at 7 and 6, first achieved in 1979 by Tom Kite and Hale Irwin and matched by Paul Zinger/Mark O'Leary in 1991.

jshain@orlandosentinel.com

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