PADRAIG HARRINGTON will be warmly fancied to win his first Ryder Cup match since 2004 when he and Luke Donald take on rookies Bubba Watson and Jeff Overton in the final fourball of this morning’s opening session at Celtic Manor.
The inclusion of Overton, who has yet to win a top-drawer professional tournament, in the opening session has come as something of a surprise. He is probably the least known member of the US team and while lengthy driving is one of the hallmarks of his game, even he doesn’t measure up to left-hander Watson, who revels in the art of driving golf balls miles away into the distance.
However, it will be a big shock and a blow to European prospects of regaining the trophy should the rock steady Donald and three-time major champion Harrington not carry too much experience and craft, especially at this early and nerve-wracking stage of the event. Their captain, Colin Montgomerie, is certainly counting on a point from the encounter.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a strange decision but certainly Luke and Padraig would not have expected to play two rookies in the last game,” he mused. “Both Americans have had a fantastic year, they qualified for the team, they’re both long off the tee and it’s going to be wet in the morning. So, it’s a very tough match and an important one as well.”
Montgomerie’s counterpart Corey Pavin claimed Watson and Overton “would probably go crazy if I waited to play them because they are just champing at the bit to get out there. They have a lot of fire power and can make a lot of birdies. I think it’s a great format for both of them.”
Donald agreed with his captain: “It was probably the one pairing you wouldn’t have guessed in their team. But they’re very long hitters and this is a course that is playing long so they’re likely to make a lot of birdies. No match is easy so we’ll respect them like we would any opponents.”
The Englishman clearly fancies the idea of partnering Harrington, making strong reference to his performance in Paris last week. “He’s an aggressive player who makes a lot of birdies, and I’m quite consistent and will keep the ball in play and put pressure on our opponents.”
The arrangement also sits nicely with Harrington who is desperate to get off to a good start having managed only a half point in each of his last two Ryder Cup appearances.
“It’s great to play with Luke from my standpoint,” he enthused. “His consistency, especially on some of the tougher holes, enables me to open up a little more and have a bit of freedom. It has worked well in practice so far this week. I’ve got every confidence in him and I hope he has the same in me.”
Watson’s reaction at the draw was almost one of disappointment as he stated that “the sad thing is we are all good friends. I played college golf against Luke and had dinner with Padraig last night.”
Montgomerie described the Rory McIlroy-Graeme McDowell pairing as “the worst kept secret in golf” and this is another match that Europe should win and may need to if they are to carry a lead into the afternoon foursomes. Stewart Cink and Matt Kuchar hardly sound like a partnership made in heaven whereas the two Ulstermen are close friends, they played together most successfully in last year’s Vivendi Cup and came second in the World Cup.
McIlroy bristled when asked if he “was up for it yet”. He growled: “What do you mean ‘yet’?” when he knew exactly the meaning behind the question given his infamous “exhibition” remark concerning the Ryder Cup a couple of years ago.
“I have been up for it for a long time and certainly since we got here on Monday,” he insisted. “It has been a slow week in the build-up but today was amazing and the first tee tomorrow is going to be buzzing.”
Pavin also caused more than a few murmurs by omitting Jim Furyk, winner of the Tour Championship in Atlanta as recently as Sunday last. He explained that Furyk was feeling a little tired but that he would definitely play in the foursomes although he gave no guarantee that Rickie Fowler, Hunter Mahan and Zach Johnson would get the call for the afternoon session.
While Montgomerie will have targeted the second and fourth fourballs for points for his team, he recognises that the other two matches are perched on a tightrope. Lee Westwood, arguably Europe’s greatest modern contributor to the cause after the skipper himself, and US PGA champion Martin Kaymer sound like a seriously formidable pair but you could hardly saying anything else about the Phil Mickelson-Dustin Johnson combination.
They get proceedings under way at 7.45am and if the abysmal weather that is being forecast doesn’t materialise, then it could well be a contest of Herculean proportions.
You sense that Montgomerie is hoping for wins from the second and fourth matches and would settle for a half in the other two. A 3-1 lead at lunch would go down very nicely with the Europeans but there could also well be a significant sting in the tail by that time.
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