You wanted Rory McIlroy. Now get him if you can.
That was the stark message European skipper Jose Maria Olazabal sent Davis Love last night when he put the world No 1 in the opening foursomes with 2010 match winner Graeme McDowell.
The Northern Ireland pair will spearhead Europe’s bid to regain the Ryder Cup with McDowell , the man who denied the US at Celtic Manor, back to haunt them in the first match of the day with veteran Jim Furyk and rookie Brandt Snedeker.
It’s the fourth time in the last five Ryder Cups that an Irish golfer will hit off in the first group and while the SuperMacs haven’t decided who will get the honour of the opening tee shot, they are thrilled with Olazbal’s vote of confidence.
McDowell joked: “We are going to use the World Number One’s power and precision and I will just knock a few tap-ins in.”
But he added: “It is a great honour – we didn’t do that at Celtic Manor so it is a big thing for us both. For me personally it is huge because I was last man out in the last match and I am first out here. I am very proud to be playing alongside my great friend and the greatest player on the planet.”
Players like Furyk and Tiger Woods, who goes out last with Steve Stricker against Ian Poulter and Justin Rose, have said that McIlroy will have to deal with being a marked man.
But the time for talking is over and Furyk and FedEx Cup winner Snedeker will have to take McIlroy out with their golf clubs.
McIlroy is certainly ready for all comers in a game that will see an Irishman hit the opening Ryder Cup shot on US soil for the second match in a row following Padraig Harrington’s fairway-splitting missle in Valhalla.
“It is a great honour to lead Europe out there,” the 23-year old said. “To be honest they are not the opponents we were expecting. We know that their team is so strong all the way through but it was a little surprise to see a rookie in their first group.”
McDowell added: “I was expecting Phil and Keegan to go first but obviously Davis has his strategies and it will be a great match no matter who we are playing.
“Jim is a hell of a player, a seasoned campaigner and Brandt is obviously on a hell of a high after last week and winning the FedEx Cup.”
Getting off to a fast start will be important in terms of silencing the crowd but the Ulstermen are up for the job.
“It’s huge,” McDowell said. “Tomorrow morning’s session is hugely important and José María has stressed that. We know they are all important but we really feel that it is very important to make a fast start.”
McIlroy said: “I just can’t wait. I am so excited right now – I just can’t wait to get out there to try and get the first point.”
“Couldn’t agree more with my partner,” McDowell chipped in. “We are pretty pumped for this whole thing so let’s get out there and get the blue on the board.”
Furyk believes he has a similar style to Snedeker, who will be expected to get hot on the greens and keep the Irish pair in check.
“We have a tough pairing with Rory and Graeme,” Furyk said. “But it’ll be nice for us to get out there and get a point and set the tone early against probably their strongest team. You draw from all those experiences and I’m comfortable. I know what to expect tomorrow, and I’m happy to be here on home soil.”
Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia, unbeaten in foursomes with any partner, will bid to extend their foursomes record to five wins out of five when they take on left-hander Phil Mickelson and rookie Keegan Bradley.
And while Olazabal stuck to tried and tested pairings for the first two games he opted for the new partnership of Lee Westwood and straight-hitting Francesco Molinari against rookie Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson.
Assessing the pairings, Westwood said: “We have strength all the way through and they do too so it’s important to get off to a fast start as a team and get a lot of blue on the board early to silence the crowd.
The final match is a heavyweight affair with Ian Poulter and Justin Rose facing US top dogs Stricker and Woods.
“Yeah, Strick and I are very comfortable together,” Woods said. “We’ve had some pretty good success over the years, and we both have been playing well.
“Our captain said that would be a good fit, and he wanted us out there to anchor. We’ve got a great matchup in Rosey and Poults.”
Rose, who shares coach Sean Foley with Woods, knows they face a tough task but he’s determined to make Olazabal proud.
Speaking of Woods, Rose said: “He is one of the greatest players to have played the game, if not the greatest, so he is the scalp. I think we go into this game with nothing to lose. They are at home, they will have the crowd behind them, so we have everything to gain tomorrow.”
Poulter and Rose will be feeding off the spirit of Seve Ballesteros, Olazablal’s late friend and the man who put some latin passion in Europe’s Ryder Cup revival.
“Seve unfortunately is no longer with us but we have his right hand man in Jose and we also have Seve on the bag and that for us is huge,” Poulter said.
“Jose Maria did an incredible job on stage today. It is going to be an emotional rollercoaster for him this week and for us to have Jose Maria as captain and Seve in our hearts means everything to everyone on this European team.”
Olazabal said he was looking for consistency in choosing his strongest possible foursomes pairings.
Asked whether he was sending out a message by putting McIlroy in the opening group, he said: “Well, we are not hiding anything. We are not second-guessing here.
“We are just going out and try to win points, period, that’s it. That’s the only way I see we might have a chance of winning this event.
“We have to go for it. I know we are playing away. The crowds are going to be on their side. They set up the course to their liking.
“So, you know, at the end of the day, you have to make a bunch of birdies out there to win points. So just send the best players out there and see if they can perform well, and manage to win those points.”
Foursomes (Europe first, Irish time)
1:20 Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell v Jim Furyk and Brandt Snedeker
1:35 Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia v Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley
1:50 Lee Westwood and Francesco Molinari v Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson
2:05 Ian Poulter and Justin Rose v Steve Stricker and Tiger Woods .