Gleneagles, Scotland — For the first time in eight years, Europe is ahead after the first full day of play at the Ryder Cup.
Europe grabbed a 5-3 lead after Friday's two sessions at Gleneagles — even though big guns Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Ian Poulter contributed only half a point.
But it was an improbable half point that felt like a win, gave the home side a momentum boost and could prove decisive in the final outcome as Europe bids for its eighth victory in 10 Ryder Cups.
"We've seen in the Ryder Cups over the years how important momentum switches are and how it can really have a domino effect," European captain Paul McGinley said. "So when the surge came from America at the end of the session this morning, for our guys to react as well as they did in all four matches, shows real strength of character."
The last time the Europeans led after the opening day was at the K Club in Ireland in 2006. They went on to win 18 ½-9 ½. The Americans led after the first full day in each of the last three Ryder Cups.
Trailing the United States 2 ½-1 ½ after the morning fourballs, the Europeans won three of the alternate-shot matches in the afternoon. More dramatic was the late rally by McIlroy and Garcia, who came from two shots down with two to play to halve with Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker.
McIlroy made a 30-foot birdie putt at the 17th and Garcia hit a beautiful approach from the rough on the 18th to set up another birdie.
"That was probably as good as a win, to come back from where they were," McGinley said.
The No. 1-ranked McIlroy and No. 3 Garcia had lost their fourballs match in the morning, beaten 1-up by Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley. Until the late comeback, it looked like McIlroy would become the first No. 1 player to lose two Ryder Cup matches on the same day since Tiger Woods in 2002.
"Sergio and I battled for all 36 holes out there today," McIlroy said. "It was a long day for both of us, and just glad that we were able to contribute something to the cause today."
He called the half-point a "mini-victory."
"It definitely is a huge halve in terms of momentum for the European team going into tomorrow," McIlroy said. "It was huge. For Sergio and I, it's just nice to be able to walk away from today with at least something."
The afternoon began with Lee Westwood and Jamie Donaldson pulling Europe level by beating Jim Furyk and Matt Kuchar 2 up. Westwood, playing in his ninth Ryder Cup, enjoyed his role as mentor to the Welsh rookie.
"I love it, kind of watching somebody take to it like a duck to water," he said.
Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson won their second match of the day, beating Hunter Mahan and Zach Johnson 2 and 1. Rose said he wouldn't complain if he's picked to play in both sessions again on Saturday.
"There's so many good players on this team but you can only field eight a day," he said. "So if that's what's called of us, we'll be up for it."
Graeme McDowell and French rookie Victor Dubuisson secured the final point, defeating Mickelson and Bradley 3 and 2. It's the first time Mickelson and Keegan have lost together in the Ryder Cup after four straight wins.
"Very fortunate to be playing alongside a player who I think really is Europe's next superstar," McDowell said of the 24-year-old Dubuisson, the youngest player on the team. "I really believe that. He was awesome today. He didn't miss a shot."
In the morning, the Americans seemed to strike a big psychological blow by taking down McIlroy and Poulter. Three rookies played a huge part in the U.S. effort.
In a stunning performance, 21-year-old Jordan Spieth and 24-year-old Patrick Reed — the youngest pairing in Ryder Cup history — beat Poulter and Scottish rookie Stephen Gallacher 5 and 4.
U.S. captain Tom Watson had singled out Poulter as the one player the Americans wanted to target — even more than McIlroy. Poulter had won seven consecutive Ryder Cup matches and was the catalyst of Europe's remarkable comeback in Medinah two years ago. This was Poulter's heaviest ever Cup defeat.
"We couldn't manage to get it done today, so it's a shame," said the Englishman, who went without a single birdie. "We don't hole enough putts, that simple."
Watson said he was proud of his rookies, but decided not to send them out for the afternoon foursomes, something which proved to be a mistake.
"I said, 'I know you're going to be mad at me, but you'll be playing tomorrow for sure,'" Watson said.
Europe 5, United States 3
United States 2½, Europe 1½
Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson, Europe, def. Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson, United States, 5 and 4.
Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker, United States, halved with Thomas Bjorn and Martin Kaymer, Europe.
Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, United States, def. Stephen Gallacher and Ian Poulter, Europe, 5 and 4.
Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson, United States, def. Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy, Europe, 1 up.
Europe 3½, United States ½
Jamie Donaldson and Lee Westwood, Europe, def. Jim Furyk and Matt Kuchar, United States, 2 up.
Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson, Europe, def. Hunter Mahan and Zach Johnson, United States, 2 and 1.
Jimmy Walker and Rickie Fowler, United States, halved with Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia, Europe.
Victor Dubuisson and Graeme McDowell, Europe, def. Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley, United States, 3 and 2.