Ryder Cup 2012: Power Ranking the Best Performances from Day 1
A few weeks ago in one of my Ryder Cup preview articles, I said I couldn't think of two players more compatible for a Friday and/or Saturday pairing than U.S. team members Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley.
Of course, it didn't take a lot of research for me, or anyone else for that matter, to formulate that pairing. Mickelson has been mentoring Bradley for some time now, playing practice rounds with the PGA Tour's reigning Rookie of the Year and offering a valuable and constant flow of advice and guidance.
Bradley looks at Mickelson as his idol. Mickelson sees in Bradley an enthusiasm and passion for the game that only makes him a better player. It seemed like a natural fit for U.S. team captain Davis Love III to pair them in what could be a formidable duo.
That turned out to be precisely the case on the opening day of the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club as Mickelson and Bradley teamed to win two matches, and the United States jumped out to a 5 to 3 lead over the European squad.
The World Golf Hall of Famer and his protege topped my power ranking of the best Day 1 performances at the 2012 Ryder Cup.
1. Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley
Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley not only dominated their opening day matches, they beat the best Europe had to offer.
In the morning foursomes competition where the players hit alternating shots, Mickelson and Bradley cruised past the previously undefeated (in Ryder Cup play) twosome of Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia 4 and 3.
Then in the afternoon four-ball session, they took on Europe's "A Team" of Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, winning the first three holes with birdies and leading by as much as 4-up through eight holes, then hanging on for a 2 and 1 win.
It was the first time Mickelson has won two Ryder Cup team matches in the same day, and he could barely contain his excitement afterward:
"[Keegan] played some of the best golf and to be his partner was an awesome experience. 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."
Bradley became one of nine Ryder Cup rookies since 1979 to win each of their first two team matches.
It seems to be a given that Mickelson and Bradley will see full action again during Saturday's play. I'm sure if Davis Love could send them back out tonight under a lighted golf course he would. One thing's for sure—the two are slated to play in the Saturday morning foursomes competition, taking on Lee Westwood and Luke Donald.
2. Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson
It seemed odd that the reigning Masters and U.S. Open champions were sitting during the morning foursomes competition, but Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson patiently waited, then unleashed a 5 and 4 beatdown on Paul Lawrie and Peter Hanson.
It was the largest margin of victory for the United States in a team match since 1995.
Watson and Simpson continued their success from last year's President's Cup matches and were clearly feeding off the energy from the 40,000-plus fans in attendance. On the first tee box, Watson and his caddie urged the crowd to cheer while he was hitting his opening shot.
"I just did it for fun. And then somehow I played good after that. But you know, I just did it for the fun of it. It's the Ryder Cup. Why not have fun? We made it here and you've got to enjoy your time here and have fun playing golf."
Watson and Simpson were 6-up after eight holes and played the first nine holes in 7-under par.
As was the case with Mickelson and Bradley, Davis Love has these two matched up again. On Saturday morning, Watson and Simpson will play against Justin Rose and Ian Poulter in foursomes competition.
3. Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson
Like Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson, the tandem of Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson had just one opportunity to put points on the board for the American team. They did their damage in the morning foursomes session, however.
Dufner and Johnson looked impressive in disposing of Lee Westwood and Francesco Molinari 3 and 2.
"It was a matter of just really going about our plan," Johnson said in his post-round presser. "We played every practice round together. We know how to approach it. You know, we talked a little bit here and there, but for the most part we're just hitting shots. I think Jason said it best: We're not trying to put a score up there, we're just trying to hit shots and make some putts if possible. It was a tough match, no denying that, but once again, I think we just stayed in the moment really well."
This steady twosome will see foursomes action again Saturday morning as they take on Nicolas Colsaerts and Sergio Garcia.
4. Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar
In terms of major championship credentials, the pairing of Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar didn't have the clout of Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson, but they did also find themselves waiting until the afternoon four-ball competition to get in on the action.
And like Watson and Simpson, they made the most of their opportunity by coming from behind to lead for most of the match and impressively beat Martin Kaymer and Justin Rose 3 and 2.
Kuchar made four straight birdies from holes No. 4 through No. 7 to help the U.S. go from all square to 3-up while Johnson picked up the pace for the team on the back nine with birdies on Nos. 14 and 15.
"It's a lot of fun playing with Dustin. I think we combine very, very well. We teamed up well. We've teamed up well in the past. It's fun to have a guy like him that can take advantage of holes. My job was to play steady and make some putts."
5. Nicolas Colsaerts and Lee Westwood
Nicolas Colsaerts almost single-handedly defeated the U.S. pairing of Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker in the afternoon four-ball session.
It was a narrow 1-up victory thanks to Tiger's seven birdies, but Colsaerts made eight birdies and an eagle to record the most impressive individual performance of the day. Westwood didn't do a lot to help his partner but he didn't really need to. Colsaerts hit the ball long and straight, he hit a lot of greens, and he made a lot of putts.
If I were power ranking individual performances, Colsaerts would be at the top. In the team aspect, however, the victory served as Europe's only bright spot of the afternoon session to keep them within two points of the U.S. squad.
Afterward, Westwood referred to the victory as "massive" for Team Europe:
"If we would have lost, it would have been difficult to come back. We've still got our backs against the wall, but two down after the first day—it could have been worse."