It began by dawn’s early light and ended in near darkness.
Day 1 of the 39th Ryder Cup is in the books and for those in attendance it was one for the books, unforgettable after Team USA went 2-2 in the morning foursomes and whipped the crowd into a frenzy with an afternoon fourball of birdies and roars, threatening to blow Europe right out of the tournament.
For several hours Friday afternoon, U.S. captain Davis Love looked like a genius, engineering a course that fit his team, and picking a roster that fit his course, as the U.S. nearly swept Session II by taking 3 of 4 points and an impressive 5-3 lead after the first day of play.
Medinah No. 3 looked spectacular on a brisk fall day in front of about 40,000 screaming patrons who were treated to an American team that found sudden life after a week of sluggish preparation and a less-than enthusiastic morning.
Friday afternoon had a completely different feel, with Team USA looking confident and having fun, riding a tidal wave of momentum and answering the eternal Ryder Cup question of whether they could bring the thunder.
And, boy, did they ever bring the thunder with a truly shocking demonstration of team golf that is all too rare for the Americans.
“You’ve got to get the fans involved and we didn’t do a very good job of that right out of the gate,” Love said. “The (fans) were here in the dark this morning, and we came out a little bit flat.”
While it had great personality, it wasn’t pretty early as the first two men to strike a ball in anger — Ryder Cup veterans Graeme McDowell and Jim Furyk — pull hooked it left and into the gallery to begin the day, and it ended with Tiger Woods nearly draining another brilliant putt to halve the final match.
Only 38 percent of Ryder Cup matches have finished on the 18th hole, but it took the entire course to decide the first and last matches Friday — which happened also to be the best matches of the day.
The first bout — which has determined the Ryder Cup winner 62 percent of the time since 1979 — featured McDowell and Rory McIlroy vs. Furyk and rookie Brandt Snedeker, not to mention McDowell’s opening blast.
“I was actually feeling very calm and very cool until I stepped over the ball,” McDowell said of hitting the first shot. “I couldn’t ignore the silence. The silence was deafening, and it made my mind go blank.”
McDowell and McIlroy went 3 up on No. 11 but Furyk and Snedeker fought back to tie it on 16. That came after McDowell saw Furyk drive the par-4 15th and put his in the water attempting the same.
But tied on the 18th tee box, Snedeker lost his drive far right, and Furyk had to chip out of the forest preserve. When McIlroy got the Euros up and down out of a greenside bunker, Europe had the match and its first point.
“Got to 18 with a chance to win the match, which is what you’re trying do,’’ said Snedeker, who did not play Friday afternoon. “Hate to do that to Jim. Under pressure I get quick and stuff happens in my swing.”
There was a point well into the morning foursomes when the U.S. was losing every match. Europe led pretty much start to finish in two and the U.S. didn’t take the lead in the other two until the 10th and 12th holes.
But with the relief that came from knowing they hadn’t been blown out in Session I, Team USA came out on fire in the afternoon, with the lead match featuring Webb Simpson and Bubba Watson, who destroyed Paul Lawrie and Peter Hanson 5&4.
Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson rewarded Love’s confidence by winning 4&3 in the morning over Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia, and then thumping McIlroy and McDowell — the Euros’ power pair — 2&1 in the afternoon.
“I felt young and it felt great,” said Mickelson, who’s Ryder Cup record was 11-17-6 coming in. “I love playing with Keegan.”
Woods and Steve Stricker were awful in the morning alternate shot, losing 2&1 to Ian Poulter and Justin Rose, but playing their own ball Woods and Stricker fought back in wild closing match against Lee Westwood and rookie Nicolas Colsaerts.
“I didn’t play very good this morning at all,” Woods said Friday night. “I was hitting it awful and not doing anything well, but I drove it great this afternoon and was in position, but we ran into a guy who just made absolutely everything.”
Woods made 5 birdies coming home in hopes of a complete afternoon sweep, but Colsaerts stared down the 14-time major winner in a spectacular duel of the flat stick.
“When somebody like Tiger Woods looks at you,” Colsaerts said, “and goes, ‘Great playing, man,’ you understand you’ve done something pretty good.”
By salvaging the final point of the day, Europe can cling to the slim hope of getting back in it Saturday. It is a single point, and a single player, Colsaerts, that could be remembered as crucial before it’s over Sunday night.
“There’s a massive difference between getting a halve and getting a win,” Westwood said. “We need a big day tomorrow, but we are still within touching distance.”
The fans got their money’s worth and then some, and still an hour after the final match concluded, thousands stood in the darkness of the Medinah grounds amid chants of, “USA, USA, USA.’’
They will return Saturday knowing the Americans have a huge advantage, though there is much golf to play and Europe is known for its big Day 2 efforts. In 2010, they erased a 2-point lead after the first full day and took control of the match.
“There’s a long way to go this in this tournament,” said Europe’s Justin Rose, who was 1-1 Friday. “There’s ebbs and flows. Obviously there’s momentum for the U.S. team right now but that could all swing back in our favor tomorrow.
“In Wales (in 2010), the Europeans lost every session except one, so there’s lots of golf.”
This time, however, the U.S. has enormous crowds on its side and the loudest first tee in the history of golf, courtesy of Chicago sports fans who will get many more chances the next three sessions to show the world their stuff.
As for the roars on the greens, that’s entirely up to Team USA.
źHear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.