Ryder Cup captains Colin Montgomerie and Corey Pavin have announced their pairings for the opening fourball (otherwise known as best ball) matches on Friday morning. And here it goes.
First match: Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson vs. Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer.
No surprises with the Johnson/Mickelson team, as Phil said early on that he wanted to play with DJ — the two play a lot of practice rounds together and their personalities are compatible (Lefty analyzes everything, DJ is laidback and doesn’t mind constant chatter). The long-hitting Americans are both high-risk, high-reward type of players, where they can make eagle or double-bogey at any given time. I guess you put them together and hope for the eagles. Meanwhile, Westwood, who is returning from an injury, and Martin Kaymer, the most recent major champion, are the more consistent from tee to green. Butch Harmon called this “the match of the century.” Maybe a bit of an overstatement, but bring on the hype.
Second match: Stewart Cink and Matt Kuchar vs. Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell.
Captain Pavin forgot to introduce Cink when he announced the American team in the opening ceremony — it was a little awkward and embarrassing. The Georgia Tech duo will face the formidable team of Europe’s Northern Irishmen. Rory is the young, bright star and good friends with McDowell, the US Open champion. Cink, a captain’s pick, doesn’t have the best Ryder Cup record and Kuchar is a rookie, but coming off a fantastic season with the most consistent stats on the PGA Tour.
Third match: Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker vs. Ian Poulter and Ross Fisher.
Like Johnson/Mickelson, the Woods/Stricker pairing was no surprise. For so long, it was difficult for captains to find Tiger a partner that was compatible (and one that he could stand playing with) — and then Stricks came along and it was a match made in heaven. If Tiger and Stricker play like they did together at the ’09 Presidents Cup, where they were undefeated, they will be difficult to beat. Poulter, who won the WGC Match Play event earlier this year, has played on two Ryder Cups with a 5-2-0 record, while Fisher will be making his debut.
Fourth match: Bubba Watson and Jeff Overton vs. Luke Donald and Padraig Harrington.
This American rookie pairing has a lot of people thinking, “Huh?!?! What are we missing, Corey?” Watson and Overton are probably the biggest wildcards on Team USA (and by wildcard, this has nothing to do with captain’s picks) and they’re going to have to find a way to control their nerves on Friday morning. Who’s teeing off first? Probably a game-time decision — the guy who can keep his breakfast down. However, I did see the Overton/Watson pairing coming, as I noted in this post last week, because it minimizes the damage. Someone also accidentally let it slip that Overton knew who he was playing with in the opening matches…Meanwhile, although he was a captain’s pick, Donald is a very strong matchplay player with a record of 5-1-1 in the Ryder Cup. Harrington is another captain’s pick and seasoned veteran, who hasn’t had the best year, but he’s a grinder. It’s tough not to see the Europeans having an edge in this match. But you never know, Watson/Overton might surprise everyone.
Your thoughts on the opening matches and pairings? I’m a little shocked Hunter Mahan is sitting out. Assuming he’s paired with Zach Johnson, I’d think Mahan/Johnson would play over the rookie duo of Overton/Watson. Some are also surprised that Captain Pavin has Jim Furyk on the bench. Now Furyk doesn’t have a particularly outstanding Ryder Cup record (8-13-3), but then again, who does? (Mahan is the only one with a winning record). Borey Pavin obviously knows something we don’t, but we’ll never know with his tight-lipped captaining style.
Meanwhile, on the European side, I’m floored that the Brothers Molinari aren’t playing on Friday morning. But again, Monty’s captain for a reason, right?
The coverage will air on ESPN beginning at 2:30am on Friday. Yeah, I’ll be awake.