James Lawton: Bradley and Mickelson prove an irresistible force
Man from Vermont and his childhood idol are proving to be the most compelling American pairing since Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers as they beat all before them
Keegan Bradley has arrived among the legends of American golf more stealthily than Jack Nicklaus or Tiger Woods but at the age 26 his timing could hardly have been more inspired. The morning the Tiger was stood down for the first time, 15 years after his debut, the wild-eyed, passionate charger from Vermont took his domination of the 39th Ryder Cup to another astonishing level. Even more than an arrival marked by smoke and thunder, it was a claim of ownership – and a rebuke to a generation of American golfers who repeatedly failed to get either their heads or their hearts around a challenge that in recent years has become one of the most demanding in all of sport.
As he did so, you could think of all of the great names from either side of the Atlantic, including the late Seve Ballesteros, and still finish a long iron away from Bradley's impact on this historic contest – and the somewhat jaded spirit of his celebrated but distinctly under-performing partner Phil Mickelson.
Together they not so much beat Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, who are respectively ranked three and four in the world, they gave the distinct impression that they were playing a different and infinitely more animated game.
On his own Bradley seemed to fill every corner of the long and beautiful course with the excitement of a young man fulfilling, moment after moment, shot after shot, a great ambition of an intensely committed professional life.
Bradley and Mickelson won 7 and 6 and matched only for the second time the biggest foursome victory in the 85-year-history of the tournament achieved by major title winners Hale Irwin and Tom Kite 33 years ago, to take maximum points from their three matches.
Their victims, who on Friday also included world No 1 Rory McIlroy, US Open winner Graeme McDowell and Ryder Cup luminary Sergio Garcia, are from the flower of European golf but then it has become impossible not to believe that this chemistry between Bradley and his boyhood idol Mickelson has created a force beyond resistance – at least for the duration of a contest in which America have increasingly taken control.
The 1985 US captain Lee Trevino, who at the peak of his rivalry with Nicklaus threw a rubber snake from his bag on the first tee of a play-off, has always admired a man with an eye for the jugular and yesterday he led the acclaim for an instant American hero.
"Some time ago I told Davis Love (the American captain) this guy Keegan is going to be your killer. Listen I played in six of these babies and I know he is the guy with the hatchet."
There were other, somewhat less violently couched tributes. Johnny Miller, who once briefly challenged the establishment of Palmer and Nicklaus, declared, "Keegan Bradley has become an All-Star." One American commentator declared, "If Mickelson is the Seve of the American team, maybe he has found his Jose Maria Olazabal."
Others, watching the celebrations that came at roughly the rate of one every two birdie-bearing holes, might have been more inclined to nominate them as the most compelling American pairing since Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. What isn't in dispute, though, is the re-activation of Mickelson's attempts to bring a little more lustre to his Ryder Cup reputation.
Mickelson was asked if the cohesion and mutual warmth they had generated in the last few days was possibly the greatest ever seen in the history of the Ryder Cup. He agreed that on the American side it might well have been unique.
"Well, maybe it hasn't been seen before on the American team. The European side has had some great team-mates with Seve and Ollie and some others but to be able to share this experience with Keegan and to participate in his great play and experience the Ryder Cup together has been really awesome.
"We've had so much fun. The crowd has provided so much energy – and it's brought our best golf out." Bradley, who last year won his first major title with an apparently nerveless recovery of four shorts in the last round, believes that his work with Mickelson may have shaped the rest of his competitive life. "I admired him when I was a boy and to get to work with him now, to see his talent close up, is just an inspiring experience."
His performance certainly provided a spectacular level of evidence.
Donald and Westwood were engulfed – as has been the fate of anyone standing in the face of this eruption of both aggression and at times quite stunning performance.
Captain Love suspended the assault after the morning triumph, electing to return Woods to the action for the afternoon four-ball and plainly holding back Bradley and Mickelson for another massive injection of momentum today.
This, at least to a degree was at the request of Mickelson, who said: "I think the record shows that when players play every game their performances can tend to drop off. I think it's good that Bradley and me can reflect on what has been achieve and get some rest for last big effort."
Their captain certainly accepted the proposition readily enough – and no doubt with considerable gratitude. He said: "They have produced an amazing effort and I'm sure they will come back with just as much appetite tomorrow. They just couldn't have given us any more."
Nor could Keegan Bradley have anticipated days which have carried quite so dramatically into the heart of American sport.
He has claimed his place both with the quality of his game and the depth of his passion. For America in the Ryder Cup, it is a new and utterly beguiling dimension.
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