McIlroy relishing perfect match

Rory McIlroy got the partner and the match-up he wanted as opposing captains Paul McGinley and Tom Watson served up a fascinating opening session to the 2014 Ryder Cup this morning.

After a successful summer of four tournament victories, two of them majors, McIlroy’s dream season continued when he got his wish to partner Sergio Garcia in the final fourballs match of the morning’s play against unbeaten American duo Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley.

World number one McIlroy, 25, and third-ranked Garcia, 34, both have scores to settle with their American rivals, having lost to them with different partners at Medinah two years ago. Europe may have had the last laugh with their miracle comeback in the Sunday singles but Mickelson and Bradley dispatched Garcia and Luke Donald 4&3 in the opening, alternate shot foursomes session and then took care of McIlroy and Graeme McDowell in the first afternoon’s fourballs, 2&1.

Now the Irish-Spanish partnership have a chance to make amends in the latter, betterball format, and following yesterday’s opening ceremony, both players were unable to contain their excitement.

“Anyone in the team is great, but I couldn’t ask for a better partner,” Garcia said. “It’s going to be a great match.”

The feeling was mutual, with McIlroy adding: “Sergio is one of my closest friends on Tour and we always got along well. I think that it was only a matter of time before we got together in Ryder Cup and played, and what a great way to start against Phil and Keegan.

“So it’s an exciting match. I couldn’t ask for a better partner. He’s playing fantastically well. I know that I can rely on him and he’s such a solid player. So just excited.”

McIlroy is no stranger to exuberant playing partners having teamed up with Ian Poulter at Medinah when the Englishman imposed his will on the competition as they defeated Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson to spark the mother of all comebacks on the Saturday evening but they also face similarly excitable opponents and he said they would not be taking their challenge lightly against a US duo unbeaten in three matches on Bradley’s debut two years ago.

“They are a very strong pairing, never been beaten before together, and we’re looking to hand them their first defeat tomorrow morning. We just have got to control what we can, go out there, play, put two balls in play, give ourselves two looks at every hole and if we can do that, put the pressure on them early, get the crowd behind us.”

It is a dream Ryder Cup match-up golf fans crave, just not necessarily at the time they expected it. McGinley and Watson both saved their best pairings for last yesterday when McIlroy and Garcia were widely expected to lead from the front, and the surprises did not stop there.

McGinley, who has consistently preached his adherence to a winning European template, sending out four brand new combinations and breaking up the successful Justin Rose/Ian Poulter partnership. Rose will instead partner Henrik Stenson in the opening match against Masters champion Bubba Watson in a reprise of his successful Medinah partnership with Webb Simpson. Poulter has been chosen as the experienced hand on rookie Stephen Gallacher’s shoulder against a surprise pairing from Watson, rookie duo Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed.

Match two, meanwhile, throws together US Open champion Martin Kaymer with Thomas Bjorn, making his first Ryder Cup appearance in 12 years, against Rickie Fowler and rookie Jimmy Walker.

“The template doesn’t mean pairings have to be the exact same pairings,” McGinley said. “Ian Poulter is a very experienced player now. There’s going to be a big atmosphere in that group. Obviously Stevie being Scottish, and Ryder Cup being here in Scotland, it’s going to bring a big atmosphere. We’ll need a guy with a big attitude for that, and I think Ian fits that bill. Justin and Henrik spent a lot of time together at Lake Nona (Florida) over the years, know each other very, very well. And you have Sergio and Rory who have formed a real bond and friendship and respect for each other’s games, too, during the summer period. Things evolve and move.”

The opening fourballs

Europe names first (world rankings in brackets)

MATCH 1, 7.35am

Justin ROSE (6) & Henrik STENSON (4) v Bubba WATSON (7) & Webb SIMPSON (33)

Verdict: EUROPE

MATCH 2, 7.50am

Thomas BJØRN (30) & Martin KAYMER (12) v Rickie FOWLER (10) & Jimmy WALKER (19)

Verdict: USA

MATCH 3, 8.05am

Stephen GALLACHER (34) & Ian POULTER (37) v Jordan SPIETH (13) & Patrick REED (27)

Verdict: EUROPE

MATCH 4, 8.20am

Sergio GARCIA (3) & Rory McILROY (1) v Keegan BRADLEY (26) & Phil MICKELSON (11)

Verdict: EUROPE

Friday Fourballs verdict: EUROPE 3 USA 1

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