Paul Azinger’s tactics of playing all 12 of his men on the opening day of the Ryder Cup paid handsome dividends on Friday as the US grabbed a crushing 5.5-2.5 lead over Europe.
It was the first time since 1995 that the Americans have been ahead after the first day and was the perfect answer to Azinger’s demands for a storming start to rock European self-confidence after three straight wins.
The US team captured the morning foursomes 3-1, and with the roars of 40,000 home fans rolling over the Valhalla Golf Club course, they kept up the pressure to add a 2.5-1.5 result in the afternoon four-balls.
The pattern was near identical in each session, with Europe setting the pace early on and the Americans battling back bravely.
“My players have been through some adversity and they faced it head on,” Azinger said, adding that he expected the Europeans “to come out flying tomorrow.”
The star turn for the hosts was the Texan pairing of Justin Leonard and Hunter Mahan, who won both their games.
But there was also an inspirational performance from the partnership of senior team member Phil Mickelson and 23-year-old rookie Anthony Kim, who twice fought back from being three down to win one and halve one.
For Europe, the only full point came from the English pairing of Ian Poulter and Justin Rose. A subdued Sergio Garcia struggled to find his best form.
The only player not to see some action was England’s Oliver Wilson.
For much of the afternoon four-balls Europe led 3-1, which, had it stayed that way, would have seen the teams take their leave level 4-4 at the day’s conclusion.
But that was to reckon without the comeback potential of Mickelson and Kim, who were three down again after just four holes against Irishmen Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell.
The Americans grafted their way back into the match and were level by the 13th. A monster birdie putt by a rejuvenated Mickelson gave them the lead at the 17th and they held on at the 18th to win two up.
Poulter and Rose then led all the way to defeat Steve Stricker and Ben Curtis 4-and-2, but the final two games of the day brought a further 1.5 points for the Americans.
Leonard and Mahan led from the first hole to defeat Spanish duo Garcia and Miguel Angel Jimenez 4-and-3, then in the final match of the day crowd favorites Boo Weekley and J.B. Holmes looked set to make it 6-2 with a win over Lee Westwood and Soren Hansen.
But Hansen chipped in at the 17th to stave off imminent defeat and then both Americans remarkably went in the water off the tee at the last and had to settle for a half.
That meant the Americans had equaled their biggest first day lead since the current format was introduced in 1979 and left Nick Faldo scratching his head over where the European magic has gone.
“We are very down on points, but we are up in spirits,” a visibly drained Faldo said. “Tomorrow will be another day and the guys are still extremely up.”
Earlier, the foursomes had opened in chilly conditions just after sunrise and it was Europe that grabbed the early initiative, standing at one stage three up and level in the other.
But in a gritty display of team matchplay Stewart Cink and Chad Campbell, Leonard and Mahan and Mickelson and Kim all battled back from big deficits to reel in their opponents.
Cink and Campbell eventually edged Rose and Poulter one up, Leonard and Mahan outclassed Paul Casey and Henrik Stenson 3-and-2, and Mickelson and Kim shared the spoils with Harrington and Robert Karlsson.