Phil Mickelson will not let a sore back dampen his excitement at leading off the United States’ Presidents Cup defence alongside Ryder Cup playing partner Anthony Kim tonight in San Francisco.
As the Americans begin their attempt to beat an International side for the sixth time in eight meetings in the Ryder Cup-style competition at Harding Park, US team captain Fred Couples has resurrected a pairing which earned 1.5 points out of two on the opening day at Valhalla a year ago against Europe.
Mickelson and Kim gave then-captain Paul Azinger an opening half point in morning foursomes against Padraig Harrington and Robert Karlsson and then beat Harrington and Graeme McDowell 2up in afternoon fourballs in Kentucky to help the home side to a 5.5 to 2.5 lead over Nick Faldo’s team.
Twelve months on and Mickelson, fresh from his victory in the Tour Championship two weeks ago, will team up with Kim against South African Tim Clark and Canada’s Mike Weir in the first of the day’s opening six foursomes matches against Greg Norman’s International team.
“We are going to have a difficult match, but Anthony and I are looking forward to competing in the first group and hopefully leading our team,” Mickelson said.
“We want to get out early. Anthony and I, we both are excited and we both have a high energy level and want to get out there and play, and we don’t typically relax until we get out on the golf course.
“So we are excited to be able to lead us off and hopefully play some good golf.”
Mickelson arrived at Harding Park nursing a back problem incurred following his victory at the FedEx Cup finale, but he insisted it was only a minor inconvenience.
“I was getting ready to go practice and it just tightened up,” he said. “I wasn’t doing anything. It just tightened and it’s not that it’s an issue. It’s a little muscular deal. It’s not a big deal. It feels great now.”
In the second match out, Couples has paired another Valhalla hero Hunter Mahan with debutant Sean O’Hair against Australian Adam Scott, one of Norman’s two captain’s picks, and Ernie Els of South Africa, a tried and tested pair that has won two of its three previous Presidents Cup foursomes outings.
Vijay Singh and Robert Allenby will take on America’s 2009 major champions in Lucas Glover and Stewart Cink while Masters champion Angel Cabrera forms an all-South American team with Camilo Villegas against the USA’s Zach Johnson and Kenny Perry.
Norman has paired his second pick, Japanese teenage rookie Ryo Ishikawa, with Geoff Ogilvy against Couples’ big guns Steve Stricker and Tiger Woods while Retief Goosen and US PGA champion Y E Yang face Jim Furyk and Justin Leonard.
“To be honest with you, Anthony Kim and Phil played at The Ryder Cup and enjoyed it, so that was a pretty easy one,” Couples said. “We have two young guys, Hunter and Sean, who play a lot together. And the list goes on and on.”
The American captain also said the Stricker-Woods team had been long in the planning.
“Tiger and Steve both wanted to play together,” Couples said. “They came way back at Liberty National (at The Barclays) which I believe was the first (FedEx Cup) play-off event and that was a given. They deserved that.”
Norman was also happy with the way his pairing against the world numbers one and three, Woods and Stricker, took shape.
“I asked Geoff, I went to him earlier in the week and I asked him, because he’s one of the statesmen of the game,” Norman said of his fellow Australian Ogilvy.
“He is as consistent as you can get as a player. And I asked him, do you have any problems playing with Ryo. He said, ’I was going to tell you somewhere during the week before that I wanted to play with him’, so that was an easy one.”