It did not take long for the first potential flashpoint of the Ryder Cup to occur at Medinah today – or for the first flash of genius from world number one Rory McIlroy.
McIlroy and Graeme McDowell were sent out in the first foursomes contest with Jim Furyk and Brandt Snedeker as captain Jose Maria Olazabal looked to get Europe’s defence of the trophy off to a flying start in Chicago.
It fell to McDowell – the man who secured the winning point at Celtic Manor two years ago – to hit the opening tee shot, and the former US Open champion was clearly feeling the pressure as his drive clipped a tree just 100 yards off the tee and flew 30 yards left of the fairway.
McIlroy was able to hit his approach to the edge of the green and McDowell redeemed himself with an excellent chip to save par as the hole was halved, but it was another McDowell chip which caused controversy on the par-three second.
Furyk questioned whether McDowell was entitled to a free drop away from a sprinkler head in the fringe, but seemed to be trying to maintain a good spirit as he stressed: “We’ve been friends for a long time.”
After the referee walking with the match – coincidentally called Chip Essig - turned down Europe’s request, a second opinion was called for but PGA Tour senior referee David Price upheld the initial decision.
McDowell proceeded to hit a poor chip around six feet past the hole and when McIlroy missed, Snedeker holed out for par to give the American pair the lead.
Furyk missed a good chance to rub salt in the wound when he failed to convert a birdie putt from six feet on the third after McDowell had missed from longer range, and Europe were soon level on the fourth when McIlroy chipped in from 40 feet from over the back of the green.
And things quickly got even better as McDowell set up a birdie on the sixth with a superb approach to four feet to edge in front for the first time.
In match two, Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia – unbeaten in four previous foursomes matches together – lost the second hole to a birdie from Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley, but birdied the par-five fifth to get back on level terms.
And in match three, Lee Westwood and Francesco Molinari were one up on Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson after pars were good enough to win the first and fourth either side of a birdie two from the American pair on the second.
Ian Poulter and Justin Rose were also one up on Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker after the top US pair got off to a terrible start.
Woods hit the opening drive but hooked it way left up against a fence, from where Stricker was lucky to be able to take a drop and hit a low pitch out just short of the green. After that hole was halved, Stricker dumped his tee shot on the par-three second into the water to gift Europe the lead.
McIlroy and McDowell were pegged back when they failed to get up and down from a greenside bunker on the eighth - after a run of four straight birdies - but McDowell holed from 20ft on the ninth for another birdie to get back in front.
And the visitors led in all four matches when Molinari holed from 10ft for birdie on the ninth to take himself and Westwood back in front against Dufner and Johnson.
Woods hit another wild drive down the fifth and a poor bunker shot after Stricker had been forced to play another escape through the trees, but the 14-time major winner at least holed from four feet for par to remain just one down to Rose and Poulter.
There were no shortage of incidents in the opening match, with Furyk effectively calling a penalty on himself on the 10th after the ball moved when he took a practice swing beside it.
That meant he was playing his side’s fifth shot instead of their fourth from over the back of the green and, after a poor chip, led to a concession with Europe safely on the green in three.
Poulter and Rose also went two up in the bottom match thanks to a par on the sixth, but the other two matches were back to all square after both American pairs made birdie on the ninth.