Oct 2 (Reuters) - Fabulous shot-making and theatrical one-upmanship fuelled a sensational start to Sunday's deciding singles on an ideal, sun-splashed day in the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National.
A brilliant duel in the lead match between the hottest players on each side, American Patrick Reed and Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, set the tone and they were all-square through nine holes in a match that was anything but ho-hum.
With 10 matches in their early stages on the course, Europe led in five, the United States were ahead in one and four were all square with the margins close in all of them.
The U.S. side, which began the day with a 9 1/2 to 6 1/2 lead, needed five points to claim the golden trophy, while Europe needed seven and half to retain the Cup and extend their hold on the competition for a fourth consecutive time.
With a gentle breeze playing on a warm day, birdies were flying all over the massive layout, but none in more spectacular fashion than in the McIlroy-Reed clash.
World number three McIlroy had four birdies in a row and five in six holes from the third, while Reed eagled the fifth hole before running off three birdies himself.
Reed drove the 303-yard par-four fifth hole and rolled in a seven-footer for the eagle that began his torrid streak.
The eighth hole produced an outstanding Ryder moment.
McIlroy rolled in a 40-foot bomb of a putt for birdie and roared in delight, playing to the suddenly silenced, pro-American crowd by putting his hand to his ear and shouting, "I can't hear you, I can't hear you," in extravagant fashion.
Reed, the most demonstrative of the U.S. players, proceeded to match McIlroy by pouring in his 20-foot birdie putt to an explosive celebration by the crowd, and wagged his finger at McIlroy and waved his arms to whoop up even louder cheers.
As he walked off the green, Reed was met by a smiling McIlroy, who bumped fists with his American rival in a classic Ryder Cup tableau.
Spanish rookie Rafa Cabrera-Bello enjoyed the biggest margin of the early going, leading PGA Championship winner Jimmy Walker 2-up through six holes.
Back to back birdies by Henrik Stenson gave him a 1-up lead over Jordan Spieth through nine holes, and Ryder rookie Thomas Pieters of Belgium was one-up after eight against JB Holmes.
England's Justin Rose and Rickie Fowler were all square through seven, and U.S. veteran Phil Mickelson was knotted with Spanish stalwart Sergio Garcia after six holes.
Editing by Andrew Both