Budding bromance: Mickelson, Bradley thrive together

Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley of the USA celebrate on the 17th green after winning their Friday four-ball match during the 2012 Ryder Cup.

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MEDINAH, Ill. – Forget the Tiger-Rory bromance.

It’s the budding relationship between Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley that may be the key to the American side regaining the Ryder Cup. On the first day of the 39th biennial competition, they played like a match made in heaven.

Jillian Stacey, Bradley’s girlfriend, certainly liked their chemistry: “They look at each other like they are in love,” she said.

Who could blame them for making googly eyes at each other after first knocking off Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia, who were unbeaten as a team, in foursomes and then downing Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell in the afternoon. It marked the first time Mickelson has won both sessions in his Ryder Cup career.

Mickelson made only three of the team’s nine birdies in their afternoon four-ball match. But he saved the best for last, sealing victory in dramatic fashion with a 7-iron tee shot at the downhill, 193-yard par-3 17th at Medinah that covered the flag and planted a foot from the hole. The World No. 1 and his fellow countryman, hats in hand, conceded the birdie to complete a 2-and-1 victory for the American duo.

Out rushed Amy to give her man a long hug and a big smooch. But once he left her embrace, Mickelson wrapped his arms around Bradley.

“I just love playing with Keegan,” Mickelson said. “His energy is so positive.”

Before McDowell and McIroy had digested their lunch, they faced a deep deficit as the U.S. team began with a birdie barrage. Bradley started it off, canning a 12-foot putt at the first. Then Mickelson walked in an 8-footer at the par-3 second hole. After Bradley nearly drove the 391-yard third hole, he got up and down from the left greenside bunker to give the U.S. a 3-up lead.

“I felt young and it felt great,” Mickelson said of partnering with the 26-year-old Bradley. “I would say to him a couple of times, ‘I need a little pep talk,’ and he would give me something, get me boosted right up and I would end up hitting a good shot.”

The course setup, with Medinah's rough trimmed to Augusta-like length, fits Mickelson, the three-time Masters champ, to a tee. Though he said he didn’t enjoy having to play his own drive in the afternoon four-ball session as much, Lefty crafted a spectacular recovery shot time and again when his tee shots veered off line. At the par-5 seventh hole, Mickelson sprayed his second shot left of the green, prompting a radio commentator on the BBC feed to say, “What amazes me is how (Phil) ever managed to get a tan. He’s always in the shade.”

The U.S. looked to be made in the shade when, in typical Phil fashion, he pitched to 8 feet past the hole and drained the putt for birdie. For Phil, it all seemed routine. He fired his “What’s all the fuss about?" smile, and the U.S. won the hole when McDowell lipped out a 5-footer.

One hole later, Bradley poured in a 20-foot birdie putt at the par 3 to stretch the U.S. lead to 4 up.

“I felt so good about that putt,” Bradley said. “Phil was on a similar line, and I told him, ‘I’m going to make it,’ and it was just one of those putts that you barely have to read. You’re just excited to go hit it.”

Bradley reacted by, in his words, “going crazy.” He pumped his fist, slapped hands with Mickelson, and whipped the crowd into a frenzy. How jacked up was Bradley? His sister, Madison, American-flag earrings bobbing up and down, waved a small flag practically in his face to grab Bradley’s attention. He stormed by without even noticing her.

McDowell and McIlroy managed to slice the deficit to 3 down at the turn by winning the ninth hole, but they never mounted a serious charge.

“We started a little sluggishly,” McIlroy said. “Keegan and Phil were just too strong this afternoon.”

There was more Mickelson magic later, and Bradley, for one, said he has come to expect it.

“I told him, ‘I know I’ve played too many matches against you where you hit it in the woods and I think you’re done and you hit some big, high fade to 2 feet,’ ” Bradley recalled. “I saw him do that a few times today.”

None topped the approach shot Mickelson hit after a crooked drive headed some 50 yards left of his target. Mickelson’s hybrid threaded a thicket of trees, landed softly and stopped 6 feet from the hole.

“We don’t even know how he did it,” the BBC Radio reporter gushed.

But for sheer brilliance, nothing compared to Mickelson’s knockout punch at the 17th.

“It was the best shot I’ve ever seen in my life,” Bradley said. “That shot just showed why Phil Mickelson is a Hall of Famer.”

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