Ryder Cup 2012: Keegan Bradley's rookie nerves of steel lead U.S. charge; Colsaerts sparkles in Cup debut

Mike Ehrmann - Getty Images

Keegan Bradley's performance Friday at the Ryder Cup elevated the 26-year-old to rock star status.

On a day when Tiger Woods beaned spectators all over the lot and boom baby Bubba Watson rocked the house from the outset, the remarkable Ryder Cup debuts by Keegan Bradley and Nicolas Colsaerts were the talk of the tourney’s opening matches.

Bradley exploded onto the PGA Tour by winning his first-ever major, last year’s PGA Championship, but his other-worldly performances in both Friday matches launched the 26-year-old Ryder Cup rookie into rock stardom.

The kid with the belly putter and the fire in the belly left Rory McIlroy in his dust as he and Phil Mickelson made mincemeat of Medinah Country Club. The duo romped to a 4&3 rout of Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia in the morning foursomes and salted away a convincing 2&1 advantage over McIlroy and Graeme McDowell in their p.m. Fourball match.

It was the first time Mickelson, playing in his ninth Ryder Cup, had notched two wins on opening day. He put an exclamation point on the team’s spectacular run by stuffing his winning afternoon tee shot on the par-3 17th to three feet, forcing the Macs to concede the hole and the match.

“That baby was all over the flag stick,” an animated Mickelson told ESPN.

Bradley, waving his arms to urge the crowd to bellow its red, white, and blue encouragement, could barely contain his enthusiasm.

“Oh baby,” said Bradley, with a huge grin, “I wish I could go 36 more.”

For sure, the Europeans had seen enough of the Vermont native for one day -- if not the entire tourney.

Conventional wisdom had it that Mickelson would serve as a calming influence on his jumpy young charge -- he of the unblinking, evil-eye putting prep and twitchy swing approach. Instead, it was the youngster, sprinting from shot to shot, who put a bounce in the step of his 42-year-old mentor, who relishes everything about playing with Bradley -- from high-stakes practice rounds to the pressure cooker of one of golf’s biggest events.

"We were just so ready to get on the first tee," an ebullient Mickelson said after sweeping the morning match. “[Bradley] played some of the best golf, and to be his partner was an awesome experience

“I love -- love! -- playing with this man,” said one half of golf’s new power duo. “He's just so much fun, loves the game, and plays with such excitement. And, man, can he roll the rock."

Bradley, who must have enjoyed more life-altering highlights in his two short years in the big leagues than he can count, said his morning round ranked as “one of the most memorable days of my life.”

Only a second 18 with Mickelson could possibly top that.

“I love playing with him,” Bradley said after going 2-0 in his Ryder Cup start. “That lost shot just showed why Phil Mickelson is a Hall of Famer.”

Bradley’s star shone brightly but he was not the only rookie making headlines on Friday.

Jason Dufner took care of business in the a.m., teaming with Zach Johnson for a 3&2 win over Lee Westwood and Francesco Molinari. Webb Simpson combined with Watson to romp to a 5&4 clobbering over Peter Hanson and Paul Lawrie.

And Belgium’s Colsaerts introduced himself to the American audience with huge tee shots and a magnificent touch around the greens.

Colsaerts, the 29-year-old with two European Tour wins, posted an eagle and eight birdies on his way to a 9-under 63 and single-handedly saving the Euros from an afternoon goose egg.

Colsaerts's virtuoso performance carried Lee Westwood to a 1-up win over the Woods-Steve Stricker tandem. Woods continued to hit a bunch of errant shots in the afternoon, but he settled down on his back nine and made a barrage of birdies -- none more clutch than the twisting downhill putt on the 16th to keep his team from going two down with two to go.

He followed that putt, which brought fans to their feet, with a stiffed iron shot to some four feet on 17 for what appeared to be a sure win for the Americans.

But Colsaerts, the upstart with no pulse, had other ideas as he jammed a long-range birdie putt, forcing Woods to make his bird to extend the match. Woods did so, but it was not enough to overcome Colsaerts’ inspired play.

With Dustin Johnson/Matt Kuchar’s 3&2 win over Justin Rose and Martin Kaymer, the Americans will head into the weekend with a 5-3 points edge over their European counterparts.


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