LOUISVILLE, Ky. — One thing is clear from a quick glance at Friday morning’s foursomes pairings. Captains Paul Azinger and Nick Faldo know each other pretty well.
Each man put his best duos off first and last, no doubt knowing his opponent would do likewise. Americans Phil Mickelson and Anthony Kim are off first against British Open and PGA champ Padraig Harrington, who will play with Robert Karlsson. Jim Furyk and home-grown Kentuckian Kenny Perry will play last against Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia.
Mickelson asked to be paired with Kim, who won twice on the PGA Tour this year. A half dozen other players also requested Kim, Azinger said. “Mickelson called me personally and said he’d love to play with Anthony,” Azinger said. “I said, way to go out on a limb, Phil; you want Anthony, really? So I granted his wish for this first go-round.”
Faldo wanted his best player, Harrington, in action right away. “It’s pretty tough to beat a three-time major champion,” he said.
Azinger had hinted that he might send Perry off first with fellow Kentuckian J.B. Holmes to get the crowd involved, but Holmes is not in the morning lineup. He’s a monster driver but an erratic performer and a Cup rookie, so it never made sense to start him out in alternate shot. Still, Holmes should play in the afternoon. “My intention is to get 12 players out the first day, and I’m going to stick to that,” Azinger said.
A few minor surprises: Steve Stricker, who did well with Hunter Mahan in last year’s Presidents Cup, is benched for the morning. For the Euros, the Stenson-Casey pairing was a bit of an eye-opener because they were both wild-card picks.
Here’s a breakdown of Friday’s matches (All Times Eastern):
8:05 Phil Mickelson/Anthony Kim vs. Padraig Harrington/Robert Karlsson
Azinger knows how important a good start is, and the Americans haven’t had one in years. That’s why he sent out his strongest twosome first. Harrington and Karlsson may be Faldo’s best duo, although Westwood and Garcia are also formidable. This is a crucial match. If the U.S. loses or falls way behind early, the naysayers will be in full voice. Mickelson hasn’t played his best golf this summer; Harrington and Karlsson have been super-Euros over the last two months.
Analysis: A classic showdown, but recent form points to Swedish-Irish power.
The pick: Europe
8:20 Justin Leonard/Hunter Mahan vs. Henrik Stenson/Paul Casey
This match will be a contrast in styles. Mahan, a very good iron player, leads the American tour in greens hit in regulation, and Leonard has always been a control-finesse player with a great short game. They’ll hit fairways and greens and are not likely to beat themselves. Stenson and Casey are long hitters off the tee, so it’ll be the Euros’ long ball against the Yanks’ straight ball.
Analysis: I like straight, and I like Leonard to win his first Ryder Cup match nine years after his last appearance.
The pick: United States
8:35 Stewart Cink/Chad Campbell vs. Justin Rose/Ian Poulter
The Americans have two more precision iron players here in Cink and Campbell. That’s who you want in alternate-shot play. Poulter gets a chance to get past the pressure and controversy of being the wild-card pick ahead of the beloved Irishman Darren Clarke. Poulter’s performance could determine how often he plays in the rest of the matches. Cink is seen by many as being a little soft in stroke play, but he’s come up big in match play on a number of occasions. Remember how he crushed Garcia in singles last time, just about the only American highlight at the K Club?
Analysis: The consistent Americans simply wear down the inconsistent Euros.
The pick: United States
8:50 Kenny Perry/Jim Furyk vs. Lee Westwood/Sergio Garcia
Everyone knew this Euro pairing was coming because Garcia and Westwood have played together before in four-ball matches, although not foursomes. Westwood fills in for Garcia’s regular alternate-shot pal, Luke Donald, who’s out with a wrist surgery. Garcia is 8-0 in this format. This is another big point. Knocking off Sergio would send a message that the Americans are underdogs, but they’re not dogs. It would also give momentum to the Kentucky fans, who will be hooting and hollering for Perry.
Analysis: Until somebody finally beats Garcia in foursomes, he’s magic.
The pick: Europe