The visitors got off to a stunning start, going ahead in all four matches as the alternate shot encounters reached the turn.
But the Americans then began to turn on the style, with Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley beating Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald thanks to a run of four consecutive holes won from the 12th - three with birdies and one with a par - as they produced a 4&3 victory to win the first point of the event.
Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell had looked on the verge of scoring that first point as they reached three up after 11 holes, but a run of four birdies in a row from Jim Furyk and Brandt Snedeker saw them claw their way back into it.
With McDowell having driven into the water on 15 and Furyk's amazing approach to 16 setting up a birdie the momentum all seemed with home side.
But when Snedeker hoiked his drive into the trees on the last it resulted in a bogey, and with Europe riding their luck to save par after McIlroy's drive bounced out of the trees the match was won one-up and the score was 1-1.
Just a few moments later the USA were 2-1 ahead as a combination of poor putting and a wild drive into the lake on 15 saw Lee Westwood and Francesco Molinari lose 3&2 to Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson.
Ian Poulter and Justin Rose had looked certain to finish off Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker as they moved three up after the 12th hole.
But Woods - who had been in appalling form, driving into the trees and fluffing chips regularly - found a couple of shots from somewhere to set up a par on the brutal par-3 15th and a birdie on 15 to keep the match alive.
Poulter held his nerve, however, holing a superb 10ft par putt on the 16th to remain two up with two to play, and he and Rose closed out the match on the next as Rose chipped stone dead from the back of the 17th green.