Poulter looks to level Tiger score




Ian Poulter, beaten by Tiger Woods in his first-ever Ryder Cup match, finally has the chance for revenge at Celtic Manor tomorrow.

Poulter, who with Darren Clarke was crushed 4&3 by Woods and Chris Riley in Detroit six years ago, will this time be with cup newcomer Ross Fisher – his World Cup partner last November and the other current holder of a World Match Play title.

That was no surprise and nor was the fact that the world number one has been paired with Steve Stricker. They won four points out of four at last year’s Presidents Cup.

But Woods, who missed the 2008 clash through injury, will not be leading things off for America as he did on his three previous appearances.

In a clear sign that he is not the player he was – he has not had a top-three finish since the sex scandal that ended his marriage – Woods and Stricker go out third in the fourballs.

Asked how much Poulter will be relishing the prospect European captain Colin Montgomerie said at the opening ceremony: “Ian relishes every prospect.”

The 38th contest and the first on Welsh soil begans at 7.45am with Lee Westwood and German rookie Martin Kaymer – the two highest-ranked players on the home side – against Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson.

Westwood, returning to the game after seven weeks recovering from a torn calf muscle, and Mickelson, who next Monday will lose the world number one spot to the Worksop golfer, have met four times before.

And Mickelson, winner of the opening match in Woods’s absence two years ago, has lost two, halved one and won only once.

Kaymer, only 25, becomes the first European rookie to play in the first clash since Scot Paul Lawrie – Open champion at the time – partnered Montgomerie in Boston 11 years ago.

Next come Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy against Stewart Cink and Matt Kuchar.

The Northern Ireland duo were many people’s choice to start things off, mainly on the back on winning all three times they played at the venue for Britain and Ireland last year.

But Westwood and Kaymer it is, with Montgomerie pointing out that Kaymer is golf’s most recent major champion. He could have added ’... and winner of his last two tournaments’.

Bringing up the rear for Europe, as widely predicted, are Luke Donald and Padraig Harrington, two of Montgomerie’s three hotly-debated wild card choices.

They will play Mickelson’s fellow left-hander Bubba Watson and Jeff Overton, both cup rookies who American captain Corey Pavin perhaps thinks will be able to handle fourballs better than the one-ball foursomes.

Left out by Montgomerie, but likely to play in the afternoon, are Italian brothers Edoardo and Francesco Molinari, Swede Peter Hanson and Spain’s Miguel Angel Jimenez.

Pavin omits Zach Johnson, McIlroy’s fellow 21-year-old Rickie Fowler and, more surprisingly, Hunter Mahan and Sunday’s £7million man Jim Furyk.

They will also now be expected to enter the action in the foursomes.

Match-by-match analysis of the opening fourballs at the Ryder Cup:

LEE WESTWOOD and MARTIN KAYMER v PHIL MICKELSON and DUSTIN JOHNSON

Europe’s two highest-ranked players – Westwood is third in the world and Kaymer sixth – have been paired together in the opening game.

Westwood, winning his seventh cap, has not played competitively since August 6 because of a torn calf. Uncapped Kaymer, only the second German to represent Europe, has won his last two tournaments, including the USPGA.

Mickelson, going out first just as he did two years ago (in Tiger Woods’ absence, of course), 2004 (with Woods), 1999 and 1997, equals the American record with his eighth cap.

Johnson, who broke the head of his driver in today’s practice, is his 12th partner. The big-hitting debutant could have won the US Open and USPGA this year, but shot a closing 81 at Pebble Beach and incurred a two-shot penalty on the last hole at Whistling Straits.

Westwood and Mickelson have clashed four times, with Westwood edging it with two wins, one half and one loss.

GRAEME MCDOWELL and RORY McILROY v STEWART CINK and MATT KUCHAR

Not out first, as most would have predicted, but still together – US Open champion McDowell on the course where he won the Wales Open in June and 21-year-old fellow Northern Irishman McIlroy.

They won three out of four together for Great Britain and Ireland last year, all at the top of the order, and now McIlroy becomes the youngest player in the match since 19-year-old Sergio Garcia in 1999.

Cink, last year’s Open champion, is a wild card pick for the third time in four matches. Kuchar is one of five debutants.

IAN POULTER and ROSS FISHER v STEVE STRICKER and TIGER WOODS

Poulter and the uncapped Fisher hold golf’s two World Match Play titles and were partners at the World Cup last November.

Two years ago Poulter top-scored with four points out of five, three of them with Justin Rose alongside him.

Stricker becomes the 12th partner for Woods. They won four points of four at the Presidents Cup and are currently ranked first and fourth in the world.

Woods played the first shot of the match on his last appearance four years ago - but hooked it into water. At least there is no lake to find this time.

PADRAIG HARRINGTON and LUKE DONALD v BUBBA WATSON and JEFF OVERTON

Harrington has not won any of his last nine games, but having been given a wild card the three-time major winner was always likely to start.

The same goes for Donald after his second place in America last weekend – even though he was omitted from three out of four fourball sessions in his two matches.

Big-hitting Watson and Overton, who qualified despite not winning a tournament, are both cup rookies. Watson, left-handed like Mickelson, is the player who lost a play-off to Martin Kaymer at the US PGA Championship last month.

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