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Bradley plays and cheers U.S. to the front

Keegan Bradley celebrates on the eighth green during

Keegan Bradley celebrates on the eighth green during the afternoon four-ball matches on the first day of play of The 39th Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Golf Club. (Sept. 28, 2012) Credit: Getty

MEDINAH, Ill. -- Keegan Bradley had done so much to excite and exhort the boisterous U.S. fans that in the end, the only thing left for him to do was become one of them. Bradley bounced toward the 17th green, celebrating the near perfect and deciding tee shot by his partner, Phil Mickelson.

Mickelson hit it within two feet, so close that the opponents conceded the birdie putt, and the match, to cap a perfect day for the American twosome and a very solid day for the U.S. team, which took a 5-3 lead over Europe in the Ryder Cup. "Without a doubt in my mind, it was the greatest shot I've ever seen," Bradley said.

He has a tendency to get excited enough to make comments such as that -- and to get everyone around him pumped up, which he did in his Ryder Cup debut Friday. His outstanding play, his urging on of fans and his high-intensity personality were as responsible as anything for electrifying the atmosphere at Medinah Country Club and putting his team up.

It sure looked as though the guy who used to be the heart and soul of the St. John's golf team had been born for this event. In the morning alternate-shot match, he and Mickelson trounced (4 and 3) Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia, who never had been beaten as a Ryder Cup pairing. In the afternoon, they scored a 2-and-1 best-ball win over Europe's premier duo, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell. Bradley sure brought out the best in Mickelson, his close friend and mentor, who went 2-0 in a day for the first time in his American-record nine Ryder Cup appearances.

"There's a really simple reason why Keegan is perfect for the Ryder Cup," Mickelson said. "It's because the more pressure the situation, the better he plays, the better he sees the shot, the better he focuses, the better the result. And there's no higher pressure situation than the Ryder Cup."

Bradley ate all of it up, like the peanut butter and jelly sandwich he washed down with Gatorade (what's more American than that?) on the way up the 15th fairway in the morning match. He detoured to the gallery, where he high-fived people who were holding a huge American flag. Once he reached the green, he made a 25-foot clinching putt and celebrated heartily.

"It was one of the best days of my life," Bradley said. Reflecting on Mickelson's shot in the afternoon, the New England native added: "We were running down the fairway, we had our arms around each other, we were screaming. It was like a Patriots game out there. It was just a moment that I'll obviously never forget the rest of my life."

His mother, Kaye, attributed Bradley's disposition to his days as a youth skier. "Standing on top of that slope, looking down, you have to have nerves of steel," she said after having walked the course for both matches.

The Americans' margin would have been even larger if not for European rookie Nicolas Colsaerts of Belgium, who made eight birdies and an eagle (with no help from Lee Westwood) to hold off Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker, 1-up.

"Nicolas probably had one of the greatest putting rounds I've ever seen," said Woods, who made seven birdies of his own in the match, but could not avoid going 0-2 for the day.

For the first time in his career, Woods will be benched this morning. "We just don't want guys to be worn out," captain Davis Love III said.

That is a reflection of the stakes, and the depth of the U.S. team. Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson, the reigning Masters and U.S. Open champions, were held out Friday morning before routing Paul Lawrie and Peter Hanson, 5 and 4, in the afternoon.

"Seeing [Keegan] getting so excited this morning when Bubba and I were eating lunch got us that much more pumped up," said Simpson, a longtime friend of Bradley.

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