Lee Westwood & Martin Kaymer (Europe) v Phil Mickelson & Dustin Johnson (USA)
A BLOCKBUSTER match-up to get the 38th Ryder Cup up and running in grand style: Europe’s number one Westwood and its newest major champion Kaymer against world number two Mickelson and fellow big hitter Johnson.
The bad weather that is forecast for Newport and the Usk Valley throughout the opening day theoretically gives the American bombers an advantage but Kaymer and Westwood are no slouches off the tee either and, more crucially on a TwentyTen course with both the wind and rough up, are more accurate with driver in hand.
Mickelson will likely hit the opening shot of this Ryder Cup out from that first tee box flanked on three sides by grandstands in an electric atmosphere that both he and Westwood, who has been given the privilege of hitting Europe’s first shot by European captain Colin Montgomerie, will relish.
Yet much will depend on the play of both their junior partners and given Kaymer’s steadier play and stronger putting, as well as his besting of Johnson over the final round of the USPGA just over six weeks ago, this is first blood to the home side.
Rory McIlroy & Graeme McDowell (Europe) v Stewart Cink & Matt Kuchar (USA)
EUROPE’S worst-kept secret was the pairing of these two young Irishmen given their obvious rapport and success in matchplay events together. They will face in Kuchar one of the players of the year on the PGA Tour and recent winner of The Barclays, a good putter and birdie machine, which stands him in good stead at Celtic Manor.
Former Open champion Cink will be a good, experienced partner for him but one wonders what else he will bring to the table having not played a fourballs match since the K Club in 2006, when he and JJ Henry earned two halves. For whatever reason, 2008 captain Paul Azinger kept Cink out of the fourballs and played him only in foursomes before he lost his singles match – to McDowell.
And if Kuchar ends up carrying the US team in this fourball, what added pressure will that be for a rookie?
Ian Poulter & Ross Fisher (Europe) v Steve Stricker & Tiger Woods (USA)
THIS will be the first time since Brookline in 1999 that Woods has not played an opening match in the Ryder Cup but that will not matter to the world number one as he resumes Ryder Cup play after missing out on the USA’s success in 2008 through injury.
For all his problems, finally finding a suitable matchplay partner in Stricker, as he did at Harding Park last year in the Presidents Cup, will be a rare ray of sunlight for Woods. Stricker is an ideal better-ball foil for him, straight off the tee, a great ball striker and superb putter, to more than compensate for any Tiger off-day.
The English duo of Poulter and Fisher are also comfortable in each other’s company and great friends too and while both are extremely confident and will relish this match-up, both are capable of having really bad holes during a round, and, against Stricker and Woods, that may prove costly.
Luke Donald & Pádraig Harrington (Europe) v Bubba Watson & Jeff Overton (USA)
AMERICAN captain Corey Pavin threw a curveball when pairing these two rookies together and leaving proven gamers Jim Furyk, Hunter Mahan and Zach Johnson on the bench.
Maybe he was trying to set himself apart from previous captains and if so, he certainly succeeded but in this case it could be for all the wrong reasons. Not only are they two rookies albeit coming into Celtic Manor on the back of very successful years individually, but both are long hitters and neither is noted for their consistent accuracy off the tee. That could prove disastrous at Celtic Manor, however long the TwentyTen course is playing.
Donald and Harrington have nowhere near the distance but they possess plenty of nous with the Englishman transforming himself from mild-mannered gentleman into a Ryder Cup beast every two years. The competition has not gone Harrington’s way in the last two outings but if he wanted to get that monkey off his back of having no wins since Oakland Hills in 2004, he could hardly have been given a better opportunity here, and nice and early with it.