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Ryder Cup: Americans take 5-3 lead after first day

Updated: September 29, 2012 12:51AM

Bubba Watson didn’t want the usual golf hush on the first tee. He urged the crowd to cheer, then boomed the ball down the right side with serious hang time.

‘‘It’s the Ryder Cup,’’ Watson said. ‘‘Why not have fun?’’

Behind the 16th green, after Jim Furyk had stuck a dazzling shot to set up a birdie that would tie the formidable duo of Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, who had been 3 up four holes earlier, a Chicago sports icon couldn’t contain himself.

‘‘Here we go, baby! Here we go!’’ Bulls legend Michael Jordan said, sporting a six-championship grin.

The remarkable thing about the Ryder Cup is that no matter how high the hoopla bar is set, the biennial intercontinental showdown always finds a way to meet expectations.

Opening Day of the 39th Ryder Cup once again delivered Friday for 40,000 spectators at Medinah and millions more TV viewers.

It was an especially glorious day for Team USA, which holds a 5-3 lead as it tries to wrest the Ryder Cup from Team Europe for only the third time in the last nine meetings. Considering how strong Team USA looked in going 3-1 in the afternoon best-ball matches, Team Europe should be pleased to be down by only two points.

It’s not that Team Europe didn’t play well. It simply was outplayed by an emotionally charged Team USA, which embraced the pressure and the challenge with terrific performances.

‘‘There’s a lot of golf left,’’ Phil Mickelson said. ‘‘We are going to relish this moment, but we know the Europeans are going to come out hungry and ready to play [Saturday]. And we know how good they are.’’

A Ryder Cup star was born. First-timer Keegan Bradley not only played excellent golf, but he lit a fire under Mickelson, who had a history of underachieving in the Ryder Cup. Mickelson went 2-0, the first time he has done that on Friday in his nine Ryder Cups.

‘‘I’m having a blast playing with Phil,’’ Bradley said. ‘‘Being able to walk down the fairway with him and do this is a dream come true. Oh, baby. I wish I could go 36 more.’’

Bradley and Mickelson started Team USA’s day right by knocking off Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia, who had been a combined 14-0-1 in alternate-shot play.

‘‘I love playing with Keegan,’’ Mickelson said. ‘‘He played so good all day, it kept me up the whole time.’’

After winning their last four holes in the morning, Bradley and Mickelson won their first three in the afternoon. They went on to defeat Team Europe’s premier duo of McIlroy and McDowell, two U.S. Open winners from Northern Ireland.

‘‘They got off to a very fast start,’’ McIlroy said. ‘‘We were trying to claw our way back, but Keegan and Phil were just too strong.’’

Team USA captain Davis Love III, who had ordered short rough to encourage his long-hitting team to fire away, got his wish for a birdie fest.

Supposedly designed for the U.S. bombers, the historic Medinah No. 3 course really was set up for birdie fans.

The pumped-up Watson and Webb Simpson birdied eight of their first 10 best-ball holes, Mickelson and Bradley six of their first eight and Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar five of their first seven as Team USA went 3-1 in the afternoon best-ball matches.

Tiger Woods, who lost both of his matches, made seven afternoon birdies after a sloppy morning. But Nicolas Colsaerts, a Ryder Cup rookie from Belgium, had an amazing eight birdies and the only eagle of the day to lead Team Europe to its only point in the afternoon.

‘‘I didn’t play very good this morning,’’ said Woods, who credited an adjustment suggested by swing coach Sean Foley for his better play in the afternoon. ‘‘I really hit it well this afternoon, but Nicolas probably had one of the greatest putting rounds I’ve ever seen.’’

That kept Team Europe close. But Team USA has to like where it’s sitting — more because of the way it’s playing than because of its two-point lead.

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