Intriguing fourballs for Ryder Cup opener

Ready to go. The preliminaries are finally over. Picture Eoin Clarke,

Has Paul McGinley been overthinking? Or has he got it spot on? Will Stephen Gallacher and Ian Poulter be able for US young guns Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed? Can Sergio and Rory hit it off and gun down Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley in the anchor match? Has Watson taken too many chances?

Add to all that the prospect of Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson — both far from hitting top form right now — against Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson in the opening fourballs and it's clear that the first session of Ryder Cup warfare has all the ingredients of a thriller.

McGinley has gone for four untried pairings and decided to blood a rookie in Scottish hero Gallacher alongside one of his talisman in Poulter. Watson has gone even further, putting all three of his rookies out on the first morning with Jimmy Walker alongside Rickie Fowler in the second match against Thomas Bjorn and Martin Kaymer.

There is enough food for thought there to keep any golf anorak talking until the foursomes pairings are announced later in the day with Graeme McDowell expected to be paired with Victor Dubuisson and Lee Westwood getting a game with Jamie Donaldson.

As for the US, they've left Jim Furyk, Zach Johnson, Hunter Mahan and Matt Kuchar on the sidelines with all four interchangealbe in any foursomes line up.

"It's a mixture of a lot of experience and some rookies in the pairings tomorrow, kind of what we expected," McGInley said. "Tthis is the first time I've actually looked at the pairings. I have not really studied them before now, and yeah, I see a lot of experience at the top and bottom and then three rookies in the middle two groups.

"But you know what, we are more concerned with our receives and getting our ducks in a row and getting our house in order and getting our attitude and motivation right.

"They have a template with Bubba and Webb who have been very successful together in the past; and so have Phil and Keegan and he's gone 1 and 4 with them, and a very similar mind-set to ours, which is obviously, you know, in terms of World Rankings, guys that are very low in World Rankings at the top and bottom.

"And we have some experience there in the middle, as well, too, and we have got a rookie in there in Stephen, and obviously put him with a very experienced player in Ian Poulter."

Brushing aside worries about his decision to create four new pairings, McGinely said: "Template doesn't necessarily mean the same. These guys all know each other very well and you move forward.

"Two years down the road, a different view and take on things, and games have evolved in slightly different ways and guys become more experienced. 

"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 Poulter fits that bill.

"Justin and Henrik spent a lot of time together at Lake Nona over the years, know each other very, very well, obviously there during the year.

"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 template doesn't mean pairings have to be the exact same pairings."

Watson took a similar view and though many were surprised to see Spieth and Reed in the first session, the Texas pair have been practicing together all summer.

"Obviously looking at the pairings, looking at some similarities that Paul and I did, we put some strong teams together, some teams that you are obviously familiar with Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson and Webb Simpson and Bubba Watson together," Watson said.

"And it just turns out that it looks like they are playing a very strong team, both of them, and Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson, and Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy. As well as putting out Stephen Gallacher.

"We put out some rookies early, too. I'm sure Paul has the same idea as I do as far as playing somebody that has not played in The Ryder Cup before, you would like to get them to play all 18 holes, play their own ball and get them out that way.

"That's the reason I put the two rookies out together, Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed. They have been playing some practise rounds together and doing very well. 

"I told them today, I said, I'm going to throw you in the ocean without a life preserver. You're on your own. You get out there and you get it done. They are all in...."

"There was a great story told to me by Byron Nelson in his first Ryder Cup. He was paired up with somebody [Ed Dudley] and they were playing -- I wish I could remember the team he was playing against [Alf Padgham and Henry Cotton], but it was the top team. The day of the match, when it was announced, the first round of the matches were announced like they are today, the morning papers said, "The Lambs Are Thrown to the wolves."

And of course Byron beat the stars [4&2], and the headline the next day was "The Lambs Eat the Wolves." I remember that story very succinctly.

"The fortunes that go with The Ryder Cup, you look at these matches right here, and you can see some scenarios that would really be something very special for just the opening matches."


MATCH 1: 07:35 Justin ROSE and Henrik STENSON (First time together) v Bubba WATSON and Webb SIMPSON (Fourball record together P2 W2) . Referee: John Paramor 

Next door neighbours at Lake Nona, Rose and Stenson come together for the first time to face the US "God Squad."

"I think tomorrow morning will be electric," Rose said. "There's no doubt we'll hear it for about for about 45 minutes while we warm up and I'm sure it's going to be an amazing buzz on the first tee."

"I think it's going to be magical," Stenson said. "The reception on the first tee is going to be something to remember and cherish forever. Feeling good being out with Justin. He's playing good. We played two out of three days here in the practise days. He's playing nicely, so I'm happy to have him as my partner and hopefully we can bring a point home tomorrow morning.

"I thought the first tee at K Club was very, very special and the boys that played at Celtic Manor said it was even bigger and louder. I would imagine this to be even more so to exceed those two. That's going to be great. Just for my own game, I might have wished for a little bit better, perhaps. We'll see tomorrow if we're firing on all cylinders hopefully."

Watson revved up the crowd, calling for constant noise as he hit his first tee shot in Medinah. Will he do that again? It remains to be seen.

"We're excited," Simpson said. "We love leading off. We love getting off to a quick start, and should be a good pairing for us against Rose and Stenson. They're obviously great players. We have to go out and take care of business early."

Watson said: "First of all, I had to explain to Webb that we were playing at 7.35, so he was like, whoa, whoa, that's a little early for me, buddy. We'll have a couple of coffees and we'll be ready to go.

"It's about making putts. You know, hit the fairways, hit the tee shots good, always try to put pressure on the other guys. 

"That's what you got to do. You've got to hit the middle of the greens, or hit it close to the holes and try to make a few putts here and there."

Rose is certainly looking forward to the challenge, admitting: "Poults and I beat them in four-ball, foursomes and I lost to them in four-ball at Medinah. A dangerous partnership and certainly no underestimating them."

MATCH 2: 07:50 Thomas BJØRN and Martin KAYMER (First time) v Rickie FOWLER and Jimmy WALKER (First time). Referee: Brad Gregory

The Dane will hit his first Ryder Cup shot for 12 years alongside the US Open champion Kaymer in what will be a tough game with America's golden boy and the rookie from Texas.

"We know what we're up against," Bjorn said. "We've a great friendship for so many years. We fancied it earlier when we knew there was a chance we were both to going to make if team and we've fancying it all the way.

"We relayed that information to Paul and he's taken that on board, and now he has put some trust in us and hopefully we can go and deliver tomorrow."

"Rickie and I have played a lot of golf this year together," Walker said. "I think we're ready to roll."

Who will hit the first tee shot has yet to be decided but Fowler is up for it.

"We haven't exactly discussed that yet, but I'm leaning towards me hitting it," Fowler said. "But if he's strongly about going for it, I'm not going to argue. But I'm ready to go."

MATCH 3: 08:05 Stephen GALLACHER and Ian POULTER (First time) v Jordan SPIETH v Patrick REED (First time). Referee: Ben Groutage

The Scottish rookie and Mr Ryder Cup versus the two young rookies on the US team is likely to produce a ton of birdies.

"Absolutely buzzing, playing with Stevie G, home course, in Scotland, first Ryder Cup. It's going to be amazing," Poulter said. "So playing against two good rookies, two great players, and I can't wait now to walk through that tunnel. The last picture we are going to see is Seve as we walk out the other end, walk on the tee to a loud, rapturous applause, and I can't wait to smash it down the middle.

Gallacher said: "For my first Ryder Cup, having it in Scotland, couldn't have done better than to play with Poults. Epitome of The Ryder Cup, the passion, everything it involves and he's been there and knows what to do. He will be a calming influence, as well. Similar players, so just going to go out there and enjoy it and hopefully lots of birdies.... I'm planning on having a full night's kip and up early, do some stretches and go through the same routine."

Criticised for saying he felt like he was one of the top five players in the world, Reed will get a chance to play against one of his idols in Poulter.

"I think it's a comforting factor for us and I think we'll go out there and kill it," Reed said of his familiarity with Spieth from amateur golf.

"I don't think you could have picked out two people that we want to play against more," Spieth said. "I mean, get out there against Ian, obviously, with his Ryder Cup history and fire. I feel like our job is to win a point. We can do that with those two guys. We're going to really lower their team morale, I feel like....There won't be much small talk."

MATCH 4: 08:20 Sergio GARCIA and Rory McILROY (First time) v Phil MICKELSON and Keegan BRADLEY (P1 W1). Referee: Mats Lanner

The battle of the big guns.

"I couldn't ask for a better partner," Garcia said. "It's going to be a great match....Obviously Keegan and Phil played really well at Medinah a couple years ago, so it will be nice to go out there and play well and play like we know how to play and take a point away from there, I think would be very important."

McIlroy agreed: "Yeah, Sergio is one of my closest friends on Tour and we always got a long 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 obviously against Phil and Keegan. So it's an exciting match."

Mickelson said: It's going to be a difficult match against what we perceive as the strongest team that Europe has and I know what a great player Rory McIlroy is and I've played with Sergio for a number of years and know what a great player he is. We have our work cut out for us, but we're on top of our games as well, and hopefully we'll have a good match."

Bradley added: "Yeah, Rory and Sergio is a really strong team. They are all strong here at the Ryder Cup, but Rory, No. 1 player in the world, and Sergio is an unbelievable Ryder Cup player. It's going to be a fun week.

"Rory lives in Jupiter. We are a member of the same club. I played with Sergio a bunch. I mean, tomorrow we're going to want to beat each other, and then after the tournament we'll hang. That is just the nature of this event."