GLENEAGLES Scotland (Reuters) - Phil Mickelson became the first American to play in 10 Ryder Cups on Friday and duly marked the occasion with a trademark flourish on the final hole to earn a one-up victory with Keegan Bradley against Europe’s strongest team.
After trailing by two after 10, world number one Rory McIlroy and number three Sergio Garcia had fought back to lead by one in the fourth and final fourball of the opening morning’s action as Mickelson looked set to extend his unimpressive Ryder Cup record.
Before this week the five-time major champion had been on the losing side seven times in nine Cups, winning 14 matches but losing an American record 18 - including five in singles.
He was below his best again on Friday as a gusting wind seemed to be effecting his distance judgment, but luckily for the Americans, Europe’s big two were not much better.
Holes were being won with pars -- an unusual occurrence in Ryder Cup fourballs at any time but particularly with the quality 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 reached the 17th it was the only live match remaining, and seemingly every one of the 40,000-plus fans were doing their best to follow it.
That par-three was halved, sending the match up the last and into the magnificent amphitheatre of the 18th green.
The quality of the golf failed to match the surroundings, however, as all four 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.”
The two men had forged a great partnership in 2012, when they won all three of their matches together, and they will get a chance to maintain the run later on Friday when they play Graeme McDowell and debutant Victor Dubuisson in the alternate-shot foursomes format.
Editing by Justin Palmer