Phil Mickelson celebrated becoming America's most capped Ryder Cup player with two wins on the opening day in Chicago.
Mickelson teamed up with pumped-up debutant Keegan Bradley to beat previously unbeaten foursomes duo Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia 4&3, then world number one Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell 2&1 in the afternoon fourballs.
The left-hander clinched that with a glorious iron on the short 17th.
Bradley said: "That shot showed why Phil Mickelson is a Hall of Famer - and I've got so much energy I wish I could go 36 (holes) more."
It took the United States 4-2 up with two matches left on the Medinah course. Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar led Justin Rose and Martin Kaymer, while Nicolas Colsaerts and Lee Westwood were one up on Steve Stricker and Tiger Woods.
Both USA and Europe took a point each out of those games to finish the day at 5-3
It was Davis Love's two current major champions who gained their side the momentum after the morning foursomes had been tied 2-2.
Masters winner Bubba Watson, whipping up the crowd even before he hit a shot, and US Open winner Webb Simpson went to the turn in 29 and were a brilliant 10 under par in winning 5&4 over Scot Paul Lawrie and Swede Peter Hanson, like them omitted from the opening session.
Earlier in the day McIlroy and McDowell hit back from a lengthy rules debate to win on the last green against Jim Furyk and last weekend's $11million man Brandt Snedeker.
But after Europe had led in all four games two hours into the eagerly-awaited clash, the Irishmen's victory followed the first-ever foursomes defeat for both Luke Donald - playing in the city that has been his home for the last 15 years - and Sergio Garcia.
After six successive wins in the format for Donald and eight wins and a half for Garcia since he made his debut in 1999, they went down 4&3 to Mickelson and Bradley, while Westwood and Francesco Molinari were beaten 3&2 by Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner.
The absence of Poulter from the afternoon was the big call by Olazabal. He brings more electricity to the match than anybody and had taken his record to nine wins against only three defeats.
Two of those losses came versus Woods, so to grab his scalp was always going to be huge and his key putt on the 16th was greeted by his now trademark "Come On" roar - and a long, cold star from Woods.
Woods hit a spectator on the head for the second day running and he and Stricker were three over par when they lost, easily the worst scoring of the session.
The early dispute was over whether McDowell could take relief from a sprinkler head by the second green.
It would have meant McDowell putting rather than chipping, but with Furyk stepping in and believing it should not be given a second opinion for called for.
"We've been friends a long time," Furyk said at one point to McDowell, but the American also then called for calm when a few boos rang out.
McDowell was eventually told to chip and lost the hole, but he and McIlroy then had six birdies in seven holes, the first of them the result of a genius chip by the 23-year-old from over the fourth green.
Furyk had incurred a penalty on the long 10th when his ball moved as he prepared to chip, but he and his partner fought back to level, only for Snedeker to hit a simply dreadful drive down the last.
There was still work to be done when McDowell hit into the bunker short of the green, but his partner splashed out to five feet and the 2010 match-winner made no mistake.
Donald said of the defeat for him and Garcia, who were looking to make it five out of five together: "We played solid, they just played a little better."
Johnson and Kuchar saw off Rose and Kaymer 3&2, leaving one game - and what a thriller it had become.
Colsaerts made it seven birdies and an eagle when he holed from 10 feet at the 15th, Woods converted a 25-foot chance on the next and then fired in a tee shot to three feet at the next.
Colsaerts, however, rolled in a 22-footer and Woods had to hole to take the game down the last, which ended in a half and Europe took the point.