2012 Ryder Cup: The day Keegan Bradley won the hearts of Americans

Ross Kinnaird - Getty Images

Behind a stellar and emotional performance from rookie Keegan Bradley, Team USA has earned a 5-3 advantage over Europe after Day 1 at the Ryder Cup.

Day 1 of the 2012 Ryder Cup is in the books, and in surprising fashion the United States has jumped out to an impressive 5-3 lead on Europe at Medinah Country Club near Chicago. Still, two days remain -- 20 possible points -- before one team can retain (Europe) or win back the Ryder Cup (U.S.), however, the first-day momentum as made the Americans the favorite to pull out the victory entering the weekend.

Surprisingly, Team USA's early advantage wasn't spurred on by 14-time major champion Tigers Woods (loser of both of his Friday matches) or FedEx Cup champion Brandt Snedker (loser of his early-morning match), but a bunch of young guns including Webb Simpson, Bubba Watson and Keegan Bradley.

[Complete SB Nation coverage of the Ryder Cup]

Despite the impressive nature of Simpson's and Watson's play in their tandem 5-and-4 victory over Paul Lawrie and Peter Hanson in an afternoon four-ball match, it was the St. John's University grad, Bradley, who stole the show and won the hearts of Americans on Day 1.

The winner of the 2011 PGA Championship paired with one of America's most veteran Ryder Cup players, Phil Mickelson, earned two full points for Team USA. The duo downed Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia in their early-morning alternate-shot match (4-and-3) and defeated Europe's power pair of Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell in afternoon's best-ball format (3-and-2).

In the morning, Bradley rolled in a 28-footer on Hole No. 15 to put the dagger in seemingly an unbeatable European duo of Donald and Garcia -- before Friday, the pair had never lost an alternate-shot match together. The putt sent the Chicago-based crowd in a fourth-quarter-touchdown-like frenzy (video via DeadSpin) and set the tone for Team USA for the remainder of the day.

In the afternoon, he kept his first-pumping attitude and deadly putting stroke going helping America knock off Europe's most star-studded pairing, McIlroy and McDowell, which earlier in the day defeated Jim Furyk and Snedeker (1-up) in alternate shot.

Bradley's play was impressive but what truly inspired Team USA -- most importantly his partner Mickelson -- was the 26-years-old's attitude.

Fresh off an early-morning victory, the Ryder Cup rookie and nine-time participant together spoke to ESPN and it was clear both were having fun and were a perfect combination of excitement (Bradley) and "oh shucks" experience (Mickelson).

During the quick exchange, Mickelson admitted Bradley was so excited to play in his first ever Ryder Cup that the rookie was at the practice range over two hours before his 7:35 a.m. tee time.

From there, Bradley stole the show by following long-and-straight drives and heat-seeking putts with fist pumps and awkward high fives with his 42-year-old teammate . It seemed like every second, Bradley showed some emotion that, somehow, fueled Mickelson with premium gas which helped him play some of his best golf of the year -- did you see that shot over the trees at No. 12 or the dagger on 16?

"Oh baby, I wish I could play 36 more," said Bradley after his afternoon victory.

At one point Friday, Bradley's antics were so popular that he was trending worldwide on Twitter and forced ESPN studio host Scott Van Pelt to tweet this:

Before the 2012 Ryder Cup, not many Americans knew a lot about the Woodstock, VT native. But if the United States ends up winning, earning just its second Ryder Cup victory in six tries, Bradley's Friday heroics will be remembered as one of the keys.

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