Davis Love’s two current major champions and a pumped-up Keegan Bradley more than made up for the struggles of Tiger Woods as the United States threatened to take a grip on the Ryder Cup in Chicago today.
After the morning foursomes had been tied 2-2, Masters winner Bubba Watson - whipping up the crowd even before he hit a shot – and shock US Open winner Webb Simpson led a fourball charge.
On a Medinah course set up for low scoring they birdied eight of the first 10 holes to be six up on Scot Paul Lawrie and Swede Peter Hanson, like them omitted from the opening session.
Bradley then continued his earlier form to put himself and Phil Mickelson, with nine appearances in the match now America’s most capped player in history, four up after eight holes against world number one Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell. He had contributed four of their six birdies.
Behind them Justin Rose and Martin Kaymer trailed by two to Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar after six, but Woods – perhaps lucky not to be dropped for the first time after a defeat to Rose and Ian Poulter full of wild shots and missed putts - and Steve Stricker were level at the same point against Westwood and Belgian debutant Nicolas Colsaerts.
Earlier in the day McIlroy and McDowell hit back from a lengthy rules debate to win on the last green against Jim Furyk and last weekend’s £7million man Brandt Snedeker.
But after Europe had led in all four games two hours into the eagerly-awaited clash, the Northern Irishmen’s 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 Mickelson and Bradley.
Westwood and Francesco Molinari were beaten 3&2 by Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner, another of American captain Love’s rookies, but then Rose and Poulter won 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.
All four 24 players were used on the first day, but Love had resisted what must have been a temptation to bench Woods.
“He considered changing, for sure,” he admitted. “But I had some good inside information and thought that once they (Woods and Stricker) started better-ball they would get back on their games.”
The early dispute had been 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, lost the hole, but he and McDowell 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 of tee shots 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 shot.
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.
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.”