GLENEAGLES Scotland (Reuters) - Phil Mickelson became the first American to play in 10 Ryder Cups on Friday and duly marked the occasion with the sort of day that sums up his long association with the competition -- won one, lost one.
Before this week the five-times major champion had been on the beaten side seven times in nine Cups, winning 14 matches, but losing an American record 18, including five in singles.
That record now reads 15 and 19 after a day when Mickelson struggled to find his best game but, typically, hung in there.
Captain Tom Watson had no hesitation in pairing him with Keegan Bradley after the two gelled so well two years ago, winning all three of their matches together.
They were lined up against Europe’s strongest team in Friday morning’s final fourball match - world number one Rory McIlroy and number three Sergio Garcia - but the contest lacked star quality.
Holes were won with pars -- an unusual occurrence in Ryder Cup fourballs at any time, particularly with the pedigree of this group -- but that merely added to the growing tension.
Mickelson had missed a tiny putt on the 15th to gift Europe a one-shot lead, only for Bradley to eagle the 16th after a stupendous second and level up.
By the time the players halved the 17th, it was the only live match remaining and seemingly every one of the 40,000-plus fans in Gleneagles were doing their best to follow it up the last, where the four players zig-zagged their way from rough to bunker down the 513-yard par-five.
Mickelson, a smiling, relaxed presence all afternoon, is not a man to be put off by a bit of sand, however, and duly splashed out his third to within two feet.
McIlroy had a horror hole and when Garcia could only muster a par, the 44-year-old rolled his in for a one-up victory that gave the U.S. a 2-1/2 - 1-1/2 lead as they seek their first win on foreign soil since 1993.
“Well, we didn’t have our best stuff there, it was tough conditions and we gave a few holes away, but we were able to keep the match close,” Mickelson said.
“The eagle that Keegan made on 16 was just huge because it gave us a huge momentum boost coming down the stretch. Even though we fought it for a few holes, we were able to hang in there until it turned and those shots that Keegan hit on 16 were just stupendous.”
Forty minutes later they were out again to take on Graeme McDowell and debutant Victor Dubuisson but this time they were never in the game.
Three down after seven, they did muster a mini-fightback by winning the next two holes, but Dubuisson in particular played beautifully as Europe regained control and won 3 & 2.
”We had a great morning match but this last one stung a little bit,“ Mickelson said. ”We needed that point and we’ll have some work to do tomorrow.
Mickelson’s coach Butch Harmon said he felt his charge had “run out of gas” in the afternoon. Mickelson was quick to disagree.
“I don’t know if that’s the description I would use, I didn’t feel like I was out of energy, but I stopped hitting good shots,” he said.
“I didn’t play very well in the afternoon. I ended up not making putts that I normally would make and hitting some shots that I haven’t been hitting. I didn’t play the best.”
Of more importance to Mickelson was the fact that Tom Watson also felt he was tired and left him, and Bradley, out of Saturday morning’s fourballs.
”It’s really just common sense I think,“ said the captain. ”They played 36 holes. They are tired, give them a break in the morning, get their legs back.
“They may not go together, but they will go in the afternoon.”
Editing by Tim Collings