U.S. needs strong opening pairs to win Cup
The Americans must get off to a good start in the Ryder Cup if they're going to win. In recent years, they’ve fallen behind early and have been unable to make up the deficit. Paul Azinger's captain’s picks, and his decision to play alternate shot first, show that he gets this. These are the teams that will give the Americans the best chance to get ahead early. First Match: Kenny Perry and Steve StrickerKenny is the local hero and will have a strong gallery. He's having a career season and is a great choice to hit the opening tee shot in the alternate-shot format. Stricker is a Ryder Cup rookie, but the guy is a veteran who has been around, and I predict he’ll be one of the stars this week. Steve may be the best wedge player in the world, so they'll need to strategize: Stricker should take most of the short-iron shots while Kenny, the better driver, should be on the tee when finding the fairway is crucial.
I believe Nick Faldo will counter with his strongest team of Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood. They have been awesome together in past Ryder Cups, and Nick will want to start with his best team. Second Match: Phil Mickelson and Anthony Kim A veteran and a rookie with a twist -- Kim has been the best American player the past few months. Phil has a lackluster Ryder Cup record (9-8-3), but in past years he tended to take off the last third of the season. The FedEx Cup playoffs have extended his season into September, so maybe he'll be in better form than in previous Ryder Cups. They should motivate each other, and Kim's youth and passion could make for a dream pairing. The best strategy would be to take advantage of Kim’s length off the tee and Mickelson's short game precision and creativity.
I believe Faldo will pair Robert Karlsson with Paul Casey; they were very good at Ireland’s K Club in 2006. Third Match: Jim Furyk and J.B. Holmes Another veteran-rookie pairing. Jim has such a solid all-around game that adding J.B.’s length to the equation could create one of the strongest teams out there. Again, they'll want to maximize the effect of J.B.’s length and Jim’s approach shots. J.B.’s Kentucky roots should draw a large gallery. My only concern is that Furyk's usually stellar putting has faltered this year, and J.B. is streaky.
Nick’s move will be to pair the Irishmen, Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell. Padraig has been the hottest player in the world the last few months, and Graeme has won twice this year in Europe. Fourth Match: Stewart Cink-Chad Campbell/Boo WeekleyStewart is the most solid American and the leader on the team, so pairing him with Campbell or possibly Boo Weekly in the last match of the morning would be a good fit. Chad and Boo are extra strong tee-to-green to go along with Stewart’s all-around game
Nick will counter with Justin Rose and Ian Poulter, two young guys who are great friends. Wouldn't you like to play for your country with your best friend as your partner? Poulter has been inconsistent this year, but he notched several great finishes, including second at the British Open. Justin has played great but just can’t seem to break through for a win. U.S. Players Left Out Hunter Mahan, Boo Weekley, Ben Curtis, Justin Leonard Hunter will be great for the best-ball format and will make lots of birdies. Weekley is solid and can play any format. Curtis is more suited for alternate shot, but his smooth tempo and calm demeanor could be a perfect addition at any time. Leonard has a lower ball flight that isn’t ideal for Valhalla, but his experience and history of making clutch plays will make him an easy add-in for Zinger after the morning matches Europe Players Left Out Miguel Angel Jimenez, Oliver Wilson, Henrik Stenson, Soren Hansen Jimenez and Stenson are two solid veteran players. If they sit out, that says more about the top-to-bottom talent of Europe than about their personal skills. Jimenez and Stenson will play two or three of the four matches before singles. Wilson is a rookie who played quite well to make the team, and Hansen has had multiple top 10s lately, but to bring these two into the fold with 10 veterans will be hard for Faldo.