Woods and Jim Furyk teamed up for a 1-up victory over Colin Montgomerie for the United States' only win of the morning better-ball session.
Asked to recount the reception he got as he walked to the sunsplashed first tee -- the standing ovation, the hugs from his own partner, Lee Westwood, as well as opponents Phil Mickelson and Chris DiMarco, Clarke said he'd better not.
'I'd probably wail,' he said. 'It will stay with me forever. It was amazing. Hugs from Phil and Chris, my partner, the reception I got. I'll never forget that.'
He knew the first shot was going to be a tough one, but he nailed it -- 305 yards down the fairway en route to a birdie and a 1-up lead.
The rest of the match was tight, but the Europeans never trailed. When Clarke knocked his eagle putt close to the hole on No. 18, the Americans conceded, and Clarke teared up. Some questioned captain Ian Woosnam's choice to put Clarke and Westwood on the team -- the two captain's picks. Nobody questioned it after this.
'It's his commitment,' Woosnam said of Clarke. 'He's just ready to play every single day.'
That win gave Europe the lead after the first session for the fourth straight Ryder Cup. The Europeans are trying to win for the fourth time in the last five tries.
Europe's other morning victory came from the latest edition of the 'Spanish Armada' -- Sergio Garcia and Jose Maria Olazabal -- who had no trouble beating David Toms and Ryder Cup rookie Brett Wetterich, 3 and 2.
Stewart Cink and J.J. Henry halved their match against Robert Karlsson and Paul Casey.
The United States' only victory belonged to Furyk and Woods. The world's best player earned an opening-day point for the first time since 1999, despite a slow start that included a hooked tee shot into the water on No. 1.
'I was struggling,' Woods said. 'I didn't warm up particularly well. Starting off on the first hole, I snapped one in the water. It was nice to have a steady partner like Jim. He was in just about every hole.'
Indeed, Ryder Cup victories are often the result having the right partners, and Woods had a good one in Furyk. The former U.S. Open champion birdied the opening hole after Woods was in the drink, then made a 25-footer at No. 9 to give the Americans the lead for good.
Montgomerie long has been Europe's ringleader, and the Europeans thought if he and Padraig Harrington could knock off Woods, as they did when Woods paired with Mickelson in 2004, the momentum could build to another victory.
It wasn't to be, even though the Europeans shaved the Americans' 3-up lead to 1-up after 16 holes. Montgomerie made a nice run at a 40-foot birdie putt in an attempt to tie the match on 18, but it scooted past.
'We had opportunities and just didn't take them,' said Montgomerie, who fell to 19-9-5 lifetime in Ryder Cup matches.
Woods improved to 8-11-2 and then headed out for the afternoon alternate-shot match, where he and Furyk took on Garcia and Luke Donald. This one started poorly, too, when Furyk's tee shot stymied Woods against a tree and Woods had to chop a left-handed shot back into play. The Americans lost that hole.
In the Garcia-Olazabal better-ball match, Wetterich and Toms both went in the water on the 13th and made bogey, giving Europeans a 2-up lead, and Garcia increased it to 3 up with a 12-foot birdie on the 15th.
'Today there was one secret, and that was Sergio,' Olazabal said. 'It was just wonderful to see him play. He was just awesome.'
Woods wasn't quite awesome but still figured out a way to win, which certainly brought a sigh of relief from the American contingent. In 2004, he paired with Mickelson and lost twice on the first day, a harbinger in Europe's 18 1/2 -9 1/2 romp at Oakland Hills.
'We wanted to put up some red numbers,' Furyk said. 'We know that when you get behind in this tournament, it's tough to come back.'
The rest of the afternoon matches shaped up like this: Chad Campbell and Zach Johnson, both on the bench for the Americans in the morning, against the all-Irish team of Harrington and Paul McGinley; Cink and Toms against David Howell and Henrik Stenson, two Europeans ranked in the top 12 who were both left out of the lineup in the morning; and the Mickelson-DiMarco pair against Westwood and Montgomerie.