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Opening match shows what Ryder Cup is all about

Furyk, Snedeker make thrilling comeback from 3 down, only to be heartbroken by final-hole bogey

Teddy Greenstein

On Colleges, On Golf

5:44 PM PDT, September 28, 2012

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Jim Furyk and Brandt Snedeker kept fighting, and their gallery kept growing.

What started as friends and family expanded to include an NBA icon, teammates Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley and the First Couple of Chicago golf, Luke and Diane Donald.

What they saw was incredible theater.

Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell so throttled the Americans for 12 holes — winning five, halving five and losing two — that you half-wondered if Furyk and Snedeker would fold like the White Sox. Thanks for playing!

But then the Euros made bogey on No. 13. Furyk hit a perfect drive on the 313-yard, risk-reward 15th, nearly reaching the front of the green. McDowell responded by splashing one into the pond, right after a clown in the gallery screamed: "Get in the water!"

The lead had been trimmed to one.

Then Furyk hit a shot that was better than perfect. With 206 yards left to the elevated 16th green — and a breeze in his face — he stuffed a 2-iron hybrid.

This was Furyk's Sergio moment. At the same hole in the 1999 PGA Championship, Sergio Garcia closed his eyes, blasted a 6-iron from the root of a tree and scissor-kicked his way up the fairway to get a view.

Furyk skipped to his left to check out his masterpiece, then pumped his fist.

"I was trying to land the ball 5 yards on the green," he said. "I was a little nervous that I hit it too well. It landed 4 (yards) on."

So he missed his landing spot by 3 feet. OK, less than perfect.

The Euros conceded the putt, so the match was all square entering the 17th.

"I know we were giving our team a push," Furyk said. "When they see 3 down and then all of a sudden even, I know they're excited."

After Furyk and McDowell hit their tee shots on No. 17, the gallery walked down a steep hill toward the green. Michael Jordan offered a stabilizing hand to Tabitha Furyk, telling Jim's wife she would not take a tumble "on my watch."

Jordan, by the way, wore baggy jeans, begging the question: Doesn't Medinah have a no-denim rule for its members?

They halved the hole, sending the alternate-shot match to the 18th tee. All square.

Snedeker marched to the tee. He's the Mark Buehrle of the PGA Tour, a man who could complete 18 holes in the time it takes Kevin Na to pull the club back.

Larry Snedeker, the proud father who walked with the match, said Brandt's pace is a result of golf clubs around Nashville, Tenn., "that didn't want kids to play. If they did, they better not hold anybody up."

The elder Snedeker said when U.S. captain Davis Love III asked Brandt if he wanted to play first Friday morning, he replied: "I wanna go!" That way, there would be no players in front to hold him up.

Turns out he could have used some extra time to gather himself before hitting perhaps the biggest tee shot of his life. His drive on 18 sliced into the trees, settling 30 yards outside the fairway.

"Just an awful swing at the wrong time," he said. "I hadn't hit a shot that bad since I can remember. It's Ryder Cup pressure."

Said Furyk: "Welcome to the Ryder Cup. We're all that way. I know Graeme was nervous. And Rory made a very tentative swing, but it turned out better."

While McIlroy's drive stayed inside the tree line, Furyk had to punch out. Snedeker then hit an approach to 18 feet, and Furyk slightly under-read his right-to-left par-saving putt. The Euros scratched out a par to claim a 1-up victory.

That's how cruel the Ryder Cup can be. You fight. You claw. You make back-to-back-to-back birdies sandwiched by pars to tie the match. And then you have nothing to show for it.

"It sucks," Snedeker said. "It sucks really bad. I'm not happy with myself right now, but we're a team. Hopefully they can pick me up."

Wish granted. The Americans won three of four afternoon matches to take a 5-3 lead into Saturday.

tgreenstein@tribune.com

Twitter @TeddyGreenstein