The opening session of the Ryder Cup was shared 2-2 for the first time since 1997 after an action-packed – and for a moment contentious – morning’s golf at Medinah in Chicago.
World number one Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell hit back from an early, but lengthy rules debate to win on the last green against Jim Furyk and Brandt Snedeker.
But after Europe had led in all four games two hours into the eagerly-awaited clash, their victory followed the first-ever foursomes defeat for both Luke Donald – playing in the city that has been his home for the last 15 years – and Sergio Garcia.
After six successive wins in the format for Donald and eight wins and a half for Garcia since he made his debut in 1999, they went down 4&3 to Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley.
Mickelson became his country’s most capped player by appearing for the ninth time, but it was the cup newcomer who finished things off with a 30-foot putt on the 15th.
Holders Europe then trailed 2-1 when Lee Westwood and Francesco Molinari were beaten 3&2 by Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner – another of American captain Davis Love’s rookies.
It was all eyes then on the bottom game featuring Tiger Woods, but – from the moment he badly hooked his opening drive – he was involved in a battle with his own game as much as Justin Rose and Ian Poulter.
The English pair downed Woods and Steve Stricker 2&1, Poulter producing a key putt on the 16th that was greeted by his now trademark “Come On” roar – and a long, cold stare from Woods.
By then Love had resisted what must have been a temptation to drop Woods for the first time in his cup career, but that surely had to follow if he could not deliver in the afternoon.
All four 24 players were used on the first day – Paul Lawrie, Peter Hanson, Martin Kaymer and first-timer Nicolas Colsaerts coming in for the fourballs in place of Donald, Garcia, Poulter and Molinari and the Americans introducing Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Masters champion Bubba Watson and US Open champion Webb Simpson.
The dispute in the top game was over whether McDowell could take relief from a sprinkler head by the second green.
It would have meant McIlroy putting rather than chipping, but with Furyk stepping in and believing it should not be given a second opinion for called for.
“We’ve been friends a long time,” Furyk said at one point to McDowell, but the American also then called for calm when a few boos rang out.
McIlroy was eventually told to chip, the Northern Irish pair lost the hole, but they then had four birdies in a row, the first of them the result of a genius chip by the 23-year-old from over the fourth green.
From three down with six to go – Furyk had incurred a penalty on the long 10th when his ball move as he prepared to chip – the Americans fought back to level, only for Snedeker to hit a simply dreadful drive down the last.
There was still work to be done when McDowell hit into the bunker short of the green, but his partner splashed out to five feet and the 2010 match-winner made no mistake.
McDowell told his American girlfriend Kristin, attending her first match: “Welcome to the Ryder Cup – hope you enjoyed yourself.
“That match to me just personifies it. You’re playing against two very gutsy players who clawed their way back.
“But we had stacked our team with this finish in mind. I wanted Rory hitting the tee shots on 16 and 18 and our strategy paid off.”
McIlroy added: “Fortunately for us, Brandt didn’t hit the best tee shot on the last.”
McDowell may have shown nerves of steel to win the cup back at Celtic Manor, but they had affected him when he was called on to hit the first tee.
It clipped a tree barely 100 yards off the tee, but Furyk also went badly left to emphasise what stage-fright can do to even the most experienced players.
Poulter took his cup record to nine wins in 12 games, but two of the three defeats had come against Woods and he said: “I never wanted wanted to have another one.”
Woods hit a spectator on the head for the second day running and he and Stricker were three over par when they lost – easily the worst scoring of the session.
They have now lost their last three games together 6&5 (to Westwood and Donald in Wales), 7&6 (to Adam Scott and KJ Choi at last year’s Presidents Cup) and now 2&1, but they had a chance to make amends against Westwood and big-hitting Belgian Colsaerts.
Westwood had not played well alongside Molinari, though, and his tee shot into the water on the driveable 15th – McDowell had done the same – contributed to their downfall.
Johnson and Dufner won when their opponents three-putted the next.
Donald said of the defeat for him and Garcia, who were looking to make it five out of five together: “We played solid. They just played a little better.”
The Americans won seven of the first eight holes as the match resumed.
Lawrie and Hanson were three down after four to Watson and Simpson, McIlroy and McDowell could not stop Mickelson and Bradley going three up after three and Woods got in on the act with an opening 18-foot birdie putt.