For the second match running the Ryder Cup will kick off tomorrow with the clash everybody wanted to see.
At 8am on the first tee of the K Club west of Dublin the first-ever staging of the contest in Ireland will start with Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk against Colin Montgomerie and local hero Padraig Harrington.
Two years ago in Detroit only one of the names was different – Furyk stands in now for Phil Mickelson – and Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington struck a huge blow for Europe when they beat the top two players in the world.
Two days later the Americans suffered their heaviest-ever defeat by 18-9. They have been itching for revenge ever since.
“The first point is important, so I think you want to lead with your best,” said Lehman, who expected Ian Woosnam to send Montgomerie and Harrington out top just as much as Woosnam expected Woods and Furyk to be there.
The Welshman stated: “My motto is ’I’m very scared of anybody, not even Tiger Woods’. Let’s get this match started.
“Monty always just seems to raise his game for this tournament. He stands on that first tee and changes into a different person.
“I think Monty and Padraig will be up for it.”
Woods said: “We’ve got two of Europe’s best. Hopefully we’ll get the momentum on our side early.”
Montgomerie’s reaction to the draw was predictable for a player who has lost only two of his last 18 cup games.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” commented the 43-year-old Scot. “I wanted to partner Padraig again. It’s almost my role to lead us out. Whether I play again I don’t care – to start off this thing is great.”
The second game of the opening fourballs session is the one that produces the biggest surprise of the two line-ups.
New World Match Play champion Paul Casey is partnered not by Luke Donald or David Howell – ninth and 13th in the world and therefore two of Woosnam’s top four players – but by uncapped Swede Robert Karlsson. Donald and Howell are left out completely.
They play wild card Stewart Cink and one of the their four rookies, JJ Henry, followed by Spaniards Sergio Garcia and Jose Maria Olazabal against David Toms and Brett Wetterich, another of the little-known Americans.
Finally – and no surprise in this at all – it is Mickelson and Chris DiMarco against Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke, remarkably part of the action less than six weeks after his wife Heather lost her battle with cancer.
Donald and Howell can expect to be brought in for the afternoon foursomes, but when Paul McGinley and Henrik Stenson play is harder to say, while Lehman has Scott Verplank, Chad Campbell, Zach Johnson and Vaughn Taylor waiting in the wings.
Both captains have stated it is their intention that everybody plays at least once before Sunday’s singles.
“Obviously it’s a very, very hard job to leave anybody out of our team,” commented Woosnam. “I’ve got nine players in the top 25 in the world and Stenson (11th), Donald and Howell are right up there.
“It’s difficult to tell them players they are not playing. Everybody is playing well, someone is going to be dropped.”
He added that the Casey-Karlsson combination was something he decided only on Wednesday night.
“Casey has just won the World Match Play and Robert is playing exceptionally well. They hit the ball extremely long and I think length is a big thing on this course.”
After all the recent rain – and the likelihood of much more to come – Lehman is of like mind on that and said it was a factor in bringing in Wetterich, the fourth longest hitter on the US Tour this season with an average of 308.7 yards.
Lehman said at the start of the week he knew his opening fourball pairings and he confirmed he had not had a late change of mind.
Woods and Furyk and Mickelson and DiMarco were near-certainties right from the time they were united by Jack Nicklaus in last year’s Presidents Cup. In seven games they did not lose once
Lehman is not gambling therefore in the same way that Hal Sutton did two years ago with Woods and Mickelson. It might have been his dream pairing, but the two have never been the best of buddies and it turned into a nightmare.
They also lost to Clarke and Westwood before Sutton not only split them, but dropped Mickelson.
Garcia and Olazabal are not joined at the hip in the way Olazabal and Seve Ballesteros were, but Woosnam hopes they can gel in the same fashion.
Clarke and Olazabal appeared to spend as much time joking and playing when they practised together today and the former, for obvious reasons, is sure to raise the roof when he appears.
“It’s a big occasion for Darren,” added Woosnam. “Playing with one of his best friends I think is going to boost Darren right up.”
Thankfully for fans and players alike conditions were much better than feared for the opening ceremony, which was in itself preceded by the team photo shoot.
Usually both teams are given the trophy to pose with, but the Americans did not have it this time.
Lehman said he was unaware of the protocol on that. He will simply be happy to have it on Sunday night, but three tough days – possibly four if the weather is really bad again – lie ahead.
Pairings for opening day fourballs in 36th Ryder Cup at The K Club: (European names first)
Friday, September 22:
0800 Colin Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington v Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk
0815 Paul Casey and Robert Karlsson v Stewart Cink and JJ Henry
0830 Sergio Garcia and Jose Maria Olazabal v Brett Wetterich and David Tomas
0845 Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood v Phil Mickelson and Chris DiMarco