On paper it was a match that the United States should never have won yet Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley defied the record books and ripped the heart out of Jose Maria Olazabal’s side by consigning Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia to their first defeat in a combined 15 foursomes matches with a thrilling 4 and 3 victory.
Olazabal expected unwavering consistency from his foursomes rocks, who had played and won their five previous matches together.
Yet they had no answer to the passion and putting brilliance of rookie Bradley, who gifted Mickelson just his third win from 12 foursomes spanning nine Ryder Cups with a nerveless, passionate display that gave the USA first blood in the 39th Ryder Cup.
“He played some of the best golf and to be his partner was an awesome experience,” Mickelson gushed. “I love, love playing with this man. He’s just so fun, loves the game and plays with such excitement and man, can he roll the rock.”
“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,” Bradley said. “It was one of the most memorable days of my life so far.”
He was also grateful that the Europeans gave away soft bogeys at the 12th and 14th that proved fatal when coupled with brilliant American birdies at the 13th and 15th in a spectacular four-hole winning streak that gave him his first Ryder Cup point.
“We played solid,” Donald said disconsolately. “They just played a little better. Obviously only really gave them one hole on 12, and otherwise they made some great birdies. Making birdie, the 2 on 13; they played solidly and we just didn’t quite make enough putts.”
Garcia was unbeaten in nine previous foursomes matches while Donald counted his six previous matches as wins. Four of those had come alongside the Spaniard in a seemingly unbeatable partnership that began at Oakland Hills outside Detroit in 2004.
The match began to cheers of “We’ve got Leftie” from a raucous Chicago crowd. But it was 26-year old rookie Bradley, all angled-eyebrows and enthusiasm who turned out to be their ace in the hole.
Garcia hit a poor tee shot to the par three second, one-hopping into the sand as Mickelson finished 20 feet away, hole high.
While Donald splashed out superbly to a few feet, the 2011 US PGA champion gave the putt his cock-eyed stare and rolled it home for birdie with the first of many fist pumps.
The 2011 US PGA champion had blasted his opening drive down the middle of the first fairway and he continued to impress despite the fact that it was Europe who squeaked into a one up lead with 10 holes to play.
Momentum turned the European’s way at the par-five fifth, where Bradley’s hooked tee shot struck a spectator in the chest and finished behind oak trees in the rough.
“Just so we’re clear, it wasn’t me that hit that shot,” Mickelson told the gallery with a grin before manufacturing a low cut under the trees that finished just short of the green.
But it was Europe who claimed the win with Donald lipping out from 45 feet for eagle after Bradley had chipped weakly, leaving Mickelson a 15 footer for a half that raced past the cup.
When the Americans three-putted the sixth to go one down, it appeared that Europe’s golden boys were on course for yet another foursomes victory.
But Mickelson and Bradley refused to waver and turned for home all square when the left-hander hit a wedge to nine feet at the ninth and Bradley calmly slotted home the birdie putt.
Momentum was shifting and Europe’s demise began at the 476-yard 12th where Donald missed the green from 187 yards and then lipped out from eight feet for par.
“Luke hit a great putt that lipped out unfortunately,” Garcia said of the momentum shifting loss at the 12th. “You need momentum on your side and unfortunately we didn’t have it today.”
Buoyed by the crowd, the American pair won the next three holes to close out the match by 4 and 3.
At the par-three 13th, Bradley choked down on a fairway wood and hit a glorious approach to 10 feet. Donald bunkered his tee shot short and while Garcia came out to four feet, Mickelson delivered a perfect putt.
A bogey six at the 14th left Donald and Garcia two down with four to play but Bradley was not going to go away without a win on his Ryder Cup debut and it all ended in a cacophony of noise at the driveable, 320-yard 15th.
Garcia bunkered his approach from the left rough and Bradley didn’t disappoint with his trusty belly putter, ramming home a 25 footer for birdie and victory before fist-pumping like a man possessed as his caddie whirled the flagstick around his head in triumph.