It’s about time. Balls will finally be in the air in about 13 hours when the foursomes get underway with the first match starting at 7:20am. I might stand up in the middle of the press room and perform a cheer. Or not. But wow, now I know what all the veteran scribes were warning me about. The lead-up to the Ryder Cup is a somewhat tedious, drawn-out event. I’m guessing you’re all just as excited for the talk to stop and the golf to commence.
The Pomp and Circumstance Ceremony kicked off with microphone malfunctions. We couldn’t hear Michael Phelps introduce Justin Timberlake, “Team USA Ambassador,” (sorry, it’s going to take more than J.T. to bring sexy to golf). Then, we missed the first 30 seconds or minute of J.T.’s spiel. Thank Goodness it was fixed in time for his reading of an extremely cheesy golf poem. I think it was meant to be parody…you know, like SNL-skit style, but it didn’t work out so well. (And I’m a J.T. fan.) If you missed it, it can be viewed here.
As expected, the entire overdone formalities were cringe-worthy, and seemingly endless with speech after speech, but both captains delivered graceful, nice speeches. European captain Jose Maria Olazabal choked up when one suit spoke about the late Seve Ballesteros, but he got through his own speech without a tear.
Of course, Davis Love III, who is already leading the most-tears-shed-by-a-US-Ryder-Cup-captain category, admitted he was crying when Ollie was talking about Seve. He also got choked up every time he had to say “United States Ryder Cup Team.” But I can’t begin to say how happy I am that DL3 continues to emphasize that these matches is not war or battle (unlike captains of the past).
Still, we couldn’t get through the Pomp without warplanes flying overhead. Sigh.
OK, without further ado, the pairings and matches:
As the captains were announcing the pairings and the match-ups, my instant reaction was that the Americans were going to have a difficult time against some strong European opponents, but that’s simply on paper. It’s hard to foretell the outcomes — well, for the most part — but take my ramblings and predictions for what it’s worth.
(Just to get this out of the way: None of the American players have winning records in the Ryder Cup and there are four rookies on the team. Meanwhile, Europe only has one debutant — Nicolas Colsaerts — and eight of the 11 Europeans have winning records. Of the other three, McIlroy is batting .500. Hanson and Molinari are the two with the losing records.)
*Match 1 (7:20AM): Jim Furyk/Brandt Snedeker vs. Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell
To state the obvious, Snedeker has been playing extremely well for the last 4-5 weeks, and I don’t expect that to change. I like that he’s with Jim Furyk. I’ve been asked on Twitter why a fast player like Sneds would be paired with a slow one like Furyk. Well, nothing bothers Brandt. I watched him play with Webb Simpson several times during the playoffs — including the third round of the Tour Championship where Sneds shot 64 –and nothing phased him. He’s an easy-going guy. Furyk is a quiet but strong leader, which will be helpful for Sneds, one of the four rookies on the American team.
This is what Zach Johnson had to say about Furyk when I chatted with him last week at the Tour Championship:
Jim is tremendous in the team room. I don’t want to say we’re cut from the same mold, but we’re pretty darn close. His resume is thresholds deeper than mine, but he’s also a little older. He’s mentally as strong of a player as I’ve ever seen. I don’t think it’s the shots that he makes or executes — it’s the recovery, it’s the months or weeks of playing poorly and coming up strong — he has a knack of doing that. I like to model my game after someone like him. He just gets it done. He works hard. He works hard at the gym. He works hard at everything.
Jim speaks up if he has to speak up. There are other veterans who don’t speak up. I’m not saying it’s frustrating, but I think they have an opportunity and they don’t, and Jim does.
Interesting enough, when I asked Furyk about his leadership style last Sunday, he used Brandt in an example…:
“It’s not like I’m going to go tell Brandt how to play. He’s going to win the FedExCup. He’s playing super and he’s a great player, so I’ll kinda lead the way and lead him in the right direction, and let him go. Every once in a while, little situations come up and I see a guy hanging his head and sometimes you have to step back out the picture and look around and see the body language, see people. Every once in a while, you pat a guy on the shoulder and say the right thing at the right time and let him know, we’re all in it together. I’ve hit bad shots, I’ve lost a match, I’ve felt like I let the team down. We’re all in it together, it is what it is. We need you to go out there in the next match and play well.
Even though Rory and Graeme are probably the favorites in this match, I think it’ll be closer than we think.
WUP Crystal Ball Reading: Halved.
*Match 2 (7:35AM): Phil Mickelson/Keegan Bradley vs. Luke Donald/Sergio Garcia
Sorry, but Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia? The word “insurmountable” comes to mind. Ironically, Luke, a Northwestern alum, is the hometown favorite in Chicago. He also has a really good Ryder Cup record. Donald is 8-2-1 (Win-Loss-Halved). In Foursomes he’s undefeated with six wins. As partners in this format, Luke and Sergio are 4-0.
They’ve both also played well at the last two majors held at Medinah. Obviously it’s setup completely different, but still counts for something, right? Sergio finished 2nd to Tiger in the ’99 PGA Championship, and Luke and Sergio tied for third in the ’06 PGA Championship, which Tiger also won.
In Phil’s Ryder Cup career, he’s 0-4 against Sergio Garcia. Phil doesn’t have the best RC record: 11-17-6 (most losses in American RC history, but not a complete negative since it means he’s played in a lot of matches and made a lot of teams). Keegan is a rookie and he didn’t play very well in the playoffs. We’ll see. Maybe they’ll pull this one out, but Luke-Sergio are strong favorites and even though they’re on “foreign soil”, they have a massive fan base here. (Sergio received the loudest cheers at the RC Gala.)
WUP Crystal Ball Reading: Europe wins point (in routing)
*Match 3 (7:50AM): Jason Dufner/Zach Johnson vs. Lee Westwood/Francesco Molinari
Westy and Molinari are both excellent ballstrikers — two of the best in the game, but as good as Molinari hits the ball, he’s equally bad on the greens. I’m not confident in his putting and Westwood’s chipping — their short game combined have the potential of being confused with that of a 15-handicapper. I’m not sure the pair can hole enough putts to beat Dufner and Zach, who are both consistent, steady players.
Zach is one of the best putters on Tour (10th in strokes gained putting stat), while Dufner hits a lot of greens (4th in greens in regulation on Tour). Sounds like a killer combo.
WUP Crystal Ball Reading: USA wins point.
*Match 4 (8:05AM): Steve Stricker/Tiger Woods vs. Ian Poulter/Justin Rose
While Stricker-Tiger were a successful pair at the 2010 Ryder Cup (and the 2009-2011 Presidents Cup), Poulter and Rose will give them a good fight. As we know, Poulter lives and dies for the Ryder Cup, and he has a damn good record in match play. In the three teams he’s been on, his record is 8-3. When Poulter and Rose have been partnered, they’re 2-1. Poulter has only lost three matches in his career, but two of them have been to Tiger. The plot thickens!
I really hope Stricker and Tiger romp them, but given all the hoopla over Stricker’s putting, he hasn’t putted amazingly this season. He’s ranked 65th in strokes gained putting (last year he was 2nd). This might surprise you, but Tiger is 35th in that stat. Woods has also been driving the ball well and his ballstriking overall has been excellent. Plus, it’s more than stats — it’s also about chemistry and we know Tiger-Stricker are comfortable together.
WUP Crystal Ball Reading: Halved.
Friday Morning Foursomes score: USA: 2, Europe: 2
As for the discussion over DL3 sitting two major champions, Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson, who will likely play together in the afternoon, along with Players champ Matt Kuchar, it’s much ado about nothing. Webb is a Ryder Cup rookie. Though he and Bubba teamed up well at the Presidents Cup last year, that was more of a hit and giggle. I think they’re better suited for fourballs, anyway. Meanwhile, from what I saw in Wednesday’s practice round, Kuchar wasn’t hitting it very well, particularly off the tee. His coach Chris O’Connell has been by his side dutifully on the course and at the range. Kuchar is an excellent scrambler, though, and he’ll likely play fourballs in the afternoon matches with Dustin Johnson.
After the pairings were announced, Davis Love visited the press room and he gave every indication that all 12 American players will see action on Friday.
Alright, your turn. Predictions? Musings? Thoughts? Shoot.