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September 29, 2012

U.S. extends lead behind Bradley, Mickelson; Johnson back on course

MEDINAH, Ill. | Keegan Bradley continued to emerge as the rock star of the 39th Ryder Cup and the United States extended its lead Saturday morning at Medinah Country Club.

The U.S. took the morning foursome (alternate shot) session 3-1 to extend its lead to 8-4 entering Saturday afternoon’s four four-ball (best ball) matches.

The U.S. won without either Tiger Woods or Coastal Carolina alum Dustin Johnson participating in the morning matches.

As they did Friday, Johnson and Matt Kuchar sat out the morning foursome matches and competed as a team in the afternoon four-ball contests. They teed off against Nicolas Colsaerts and Paul Lawrie Saturday after defeating Justin Rose and Martin Kaymer 3 and 2 Friday.

The Europeans were compliant opponents in the morning, as no European pairing was under par through the first 10 holes of all four matches, and three teams finished their matches over par. Only the Rory McIlroy-Graeme McDowell pairing was par or better at 2 under.

“They know to have a decent chance to win [the Ryder Cup] they have to win this session,” European Ryder Cup Team captain Jose Maria Olazabal said.

In the morning foursomes, Bradley and partner Phil Mickelson won their third consecutive match, trounced Lee Westwood and Luke Donald – two of the top five players in the world rankings – 7 and 6. It matched the largest margin of victory in the history of Ryder Cup team matches.

“To be able to share this experience with Keegan and partake in his great play and experience a Ryder Cup together has been really awesome,” Mickelson said. “We’ve had so much fun, the crowd has provided so much energy and it’s brought our best golf out.”

Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson defeated Colsaerts and Sergio Garcia 2 and 1, Jim Furyk and Brandt Snedeker topped McIlroy and McDowell 1 up, and the European duo of Rose and Ian Poulter defeated Webb Simpson and Bubba Watson 1 up.

Woods was held out of a match for the first time in his Ryder Cup career covering 32 sessions in the morning foursomes. He returned to action in the afternoon four-ball matches with familiar partner Steve Stricker to face Sergio Garcia and Donald.

Other four-ball pairings Saturday afternoon were Watson and Simpson against Rose and Francesco Molinari, and Dufner and Zach Johnson against McIlroy and Poulter.

In the foursomes matches Saturday:

_ Rose-Poulter 1 up over Simpson-Watson: Rose and Poulter won the ninth and 10th holes after being down 1 up to give Europe its only lead of the morning at the time.

It was increased to 2 up when Poulter holed an 18-foot par putt from the fringe on the 12th after he nearly pushed an approach into the water and Rose chipped up.

The Europeans chopped the ball around the green on the par-4 16th for a double bogey to lose to a bogey, and they held a 1 up lead entering 18. Watson hit an approach to 10 feet but Simpson missed the putt over the left lip that would have halved the match.

_ Bradley-Mickelson 7 and 6 over Westwood-Donald: Two of the top five players in the world got waxed by Bradley and Mickelson.

Bradley continued to roll in putts and both players hit quality shots and the Americans played the first 10 holes 6-under par to take a 6 up lead with eight to play.

_ Dufner-Z.Johnson 2 and 1 over Colsaerts-Garcia: Colsaerts couldn’t carry the momentum of his eight-birdie, one-eagle effort in Friday afternoon’s four-ball win.

A U.S. birdie and European bogey in the first five holes gave the Americans a 2 up lead. Dufner and Johnson missed a pair of short putts on holes 6 and 7 to allow Europe to remain just one down.

Colsaerts holed birdie putts between 10 and 15 feet on the ninth and 11th holes to even the match, but Garcia chipped over the 12th green and nearly into pond from a tough lie for a double bogey, and Colsaerts missed a short par putt to lose the 13th hole and fall 2 down.

Garcia chipped in on the 16th to pull within one, but Colsaerts hit his tee shot into the water on the par-3 17th to essentially end the match.

Furyk-Snedeker 1 up over McIlroy-McDowell: Birdies on 1 and 5 gave the U.S. a 2 up lead, and McIlroy and McDowell made pars through the first 13 holes before a birdie on the par-5 14th halved the hole.

A good approach by McDowell set up a birdie putt for McIlroy on 16 that cut the deficit to one, but McIlroy was unable to hole a 15-foot uphill birdie putt on the 17th or a 30-foot birdie putt from the fringe on the 18th after McDowell missed the green from the middle of the fairway, 130 yards from the pin.

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