GLENEAGLES, Scotland — The start of this Ryder Cup was a lot like how the last one ended.
European blue filled the scoreboard Friday afternoon at Gleneagles with strong finishes that Europe is renowned for in these matches. Rory McIlroy knocked in a 40-foot birdie putt across the 17th green, and Sergio Garcia followed with a 5-wood out of the rough and onto the 18th green to set up another birdie as they rallied to earn a halve that felt like it was worth much more.
As for the Americans?
They squandered a good start and faced another deficit, along with more questions about who played — and who didn’t.
Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed made their Ryder Cup debuts by handing European stalwart Ian Poulter his worst loss ever — and his first loss in eight matches — by building a 6-up lead through 11 holes and winning, 5 and 4, to take the early lead in morning fourballs matches.
That didn’t last long — and neither did the young Americans. Spieth and Reed sat out in the afternoon.
Europe won three matches and halved the other — its best record ever in foursomes — to build a 5-3 lead.
“For our guys to react the way they did, for all four matches to be up after six holes — there was blue on the board for every single match — was a terrific response,” captain Paul McGinley said. “It shows a huge amount of character that we have on the team, huge amount of talent that we can come out with such strong pairings in the afternoon and a great response and resilience.”
Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley became the first U.S. partnership to start out 4-0 with a great finish of their own — Bradley’s eagle putt on the 16th hole and Mickelson’s timely tee shot that set up a birdie from the bunker on the 18th hole — to beat Garcia and McIlroy in fourballs.
But they faltered badly in foursomes, leading to some second-guessing of Watson’s decision to send them out again and leave Spieth and Reed on the bench.
Even the 65-year-old captain had his doubts.
“I thought at the time it was the best decision not to play them,” Watson said.
Spieth said he was told that the morning performance would dictate who played in the afternoon, and he was “100 percent certain” he and Reed would be going back out. Reed, the former University High standout, pleaded his case with Watson, though both later said they were willing to do whatever Watson wanted.
“When I told Patrick that he wasn’t going to play in the afternoon — it was comical at the time, not so comical now — I said, ‘How does that make you feel?’ He said, ‘Well, I’m all right with it.’ He said, ‘Well, really Captain, I’m not all right with it. I said, ‘That’s the way I want you to be.’
“You’re going to be second-guessed,” Watson said. “And obviously, you’re going to second-guess me on that decision.”
McIlroy was on the verge of becoming the first No. 1 player in the world to lose both matches on the first day of the Ryder Cup since Tiger Woods in 2002. He came up with enough key shots and big putts — none bigger than on the 17th — to earn a half-point.
“For the team, it was huge,” McIlroy said. “Personally for Sergio and I, just nice to be able to walk away from today with at least something.”
Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson, the leadoff match in the morning chill and a 20-mph wind, won both matches without trailing a single hole. Victor Dubuisson and Jamie Donaldson made strong rookie debuts for Europe.
Jimmy Walker and Rickie Fowler delivered momentum for the Americans in the morning and lost it in the afternoon. Walker twice holed out to win holes and picked up a vital half-point with a birdie on the 18th against Martin Kaymer and Thomas Bjorn. The American tandem had a 2-up lead against Garcia and McIlroy and couldn’t hold it. Fowler’s 15-footer to win the match on the 18th hole missed badly.
Europe hasn’t lost on home soil since 1993 — the last time Watson was U.S. captain — and is coming off a victory two years ago at Medinah when they won the last two holes in three singles matches for the greatest comeback by a visiting team.
One of the questions that week was whether Mickelson and Bradley, who had gone 3-0, should have sat out the final team sessions. This time, the question was whether Bradley and the 44-year-old Mickelson should have sat out in favor of the youngest pairing in Ryder Cup history — the 21-year-old Spieth and 24-year-old Reed.
Mickelson asked to sit out two years ago — not Friday.
“I didn’t feel like I was out of gas as far as out of energy,” Mickelson said. “But I stopped hitting good shots.”