Invincibles no more. Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald lost their unbeaten foursomes record yesterday and were promptly left out of the afternoon's fourball matches. The American kryptonite was fired by Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley. Bradley sealed the 4&3 victory with a dead-eye 25-foot putt that looked like it was going nowhere other than the middle of the cup the second the ball left his putter. "Keegan! Keegan!" they chanted turning Medinah into a 1970s Liverpool Kop revival. "Man, can he roll the rock," Mickelson said of his rookie partner, who until yesterday had never even played foursomes.
Bradley had a sensational rock'*'roll debut. First he rocked his opening drive what seemed like 70 yards past Donald's ball. Then he rolled in a curling 20-foot birdie at the second. Nerves? What nerves? Back on the tee of that par three, there was nothing but a lake leading to the green. "Get in the water!" yelled a yahoo.
But at least it was a refreshing change from "Get in the hole", the most tedious waste of oxygen on golf. Garcia almost obliged leaving Donald to balance on the grassy knoll of a bunker while playing his shot from the sand on a downhill lie with water all around him. It's the sort of shot that weekend hackers would thin into the lake all day long. Donald damn near holed it. It made no difference when Bradley holed his birdie putt. "Eew-Ess-A! Ewe-Ess-A!"
The banter from the fans started around the first tee. Two years ago, the smattering of American fans at Celtic Manor were teased by the home fans. "One song, you've only got one song," went the football chant as the Americans failed to get their "Ewe-Ess-A! Ewe-Ess-A!" heard above the din. Revenge came yesterday morning as four-times major champion Mickelson and his partner Bradley, the 2011 US PGA Championship winner prepared to take on Garcia and Donald, who had a Ryder Cup history of four victories and no defeats in foursomes. Donald had six wins overall and no defeats while Garcia was eight and zero, as they say here. But in the major championships, Donald and Garcia have a combined total of no victories. "Major winners! Major winners" came the best ever American Ryder Cup chant. It was no doubt music to the ears of the home team players. But it also doubled as a vicious taunt to the Spaniard and the Englishman. How's that for a nasty early-morning alarm call?
But it was all so different on the front nine. The early American lead was pegged back by the fifth hole. Bradley hit a wild tee shot into the crowd, which smacked an American spectator on the solar plexus. Mickelson lolloped over: "Just so you know, so that's it's clear," Mickelson said addressing the fan loud enough for everyone else to hear, "it wasn't me that hit that." Much laughter abounded at this Mickelson love-in.
His caddie was next on the scene to hand a ball over the fan whose only injury was a dent on his entry badge hanging around his neck. "Keegan Bradley, Jupiter, Florida," said the caddie, Jim Mackay, as if suggesting that's where the lawyers should send the letter if the fan wants to sue.
Mickelson played one of his miracle shots slicing an iron under the branches of a tree and running his ball almost onto the green. The Americans lost the hole but the fans were still whooping and hollering after King Phil, the People's Champion. He high-fived fans on the way from greens to tees and blinded them with that trademark flash grin from his perfect white tombstone teeth. His wife, Amy was high-fiving fans along the way. Everyone loves Phil and Amy, even the Europeans dressed as Knights of the Round Table and leprechauns were yelling after her. It felt like the royal couple were on a walkabout.
The US captain, Davis Love, had stressed the importance of grabbing momentum early and getting the fans involved. But the silence was deafening as this match marched off the seventh green. Mickelson glanced up at the giant leaderboard next to the green. He saw a sea of blue numbers as Europe were leading in all four matches.
But it all changed with that extraordinary run from the 12th. "Only really gave them one hole, on the 12th," said Donald. "They made some great birdies." Garcia lamented that bogey at the 12th. "Luke hit a great putt that lipped out unfortunately. If theirs doesn't go in, maybe a different story, but that's the way match play is. You need momentum and we didn't have it today."
The Americans found momentum at the 13th and kept it. Bradley hit his tee shot at the par three to 15 feet and Mickelson smacked him on the bottom. Someone should tell Amy about this burgeoning bromance. Mickelson holed the putt but didn't get his backside slapped. "He was just really fired up," Mickelson said of Bradley. "He played some of the best golf and to be his partner was an awesome experience. I love playing with this man."
Bradley returned the compliment. "I feel so comfortable out here with Phil because I know wherever I hit it, he's going to be able to get it up and down or close for me. It was one of the most memorable days of my life," he said.
This was a stellar performance from Bradley who, at times, carried his illustrious partner who these days holds his putter with a strange cross-handed grip that looks like he is trying to tickle a salmon out of a stream.
It was a Stella performance from the Chicago crowd, too, many of whom were breakfasting on beer and pretzels. Garcia likened the atmosphere to a World Cup final. "For the most part they were okay. A couple of comments here and there, but you can't control everyone," Garcia said. "It's loud, it's raucous, it's what you expect from a Ryder Cup," Donald added. "It's always tough to play away from home but the boys are hanging in there."
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