Predicting Pavin’s Friday four-ball pairings

Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker Tuesday at Celtic Manor.
Jon Super/AP Photos

I’ll admit I’m a little cocky after correctly predicting all six American foursomes pairings before the first session of last season’s Presidents Cup. That week I did my homework, walked with the groups around Harding Park and saw which players were hitting someone else’s golf ball to get a few clues.

This week, having not crossed the pond to soggy Wales where the 2010 Ryder Cup is being contested, I’m making my predictions for Friday morning’s four-ball matches from equally soggy New York.

Team captain Corey Pavin has not said that he’ll continue the “pod system” that Paul Azinger successfully used at Valhalla two years ago, but it certainly looks like he is sticking with that winning game plan. Tuesday morning the Americans practiced in the following three groups of four players:

Group 1 Group 2 Group 3
Zach Johnson
Steve Stricker
Hunter Mahan
Tiger Woods
Stewart Cink
Jim Furyk
Matt Kuchar
Jeff Overton
Rickie Fowler
Dustin Johnson
Phil Mickelson
Bubba Watson

All four of the players in the first group have Ryder Cup experience and are capable of putting the lights out. Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker were a wrecking ball against the International team in last year’s Presidents Cup, winning all four of their matches. They’ll start together for sure—you can write that one in stone.

Zach Johnson and Hunter Mahan have similar styles—relying on smarts and a hot putter instead of power to card birdies. Before today I thought Johnson would likely be paired with his close friend, Stewart Cink, but Mahan makes sense too. Plus, if Pavin needs to break up Stricker and Woods, putting Tiger with Mahan makes sense—both players are now working with Sean Foley.

Cink, who played in the second group today, would be an ideal partner for Matt Kuchar. Both are guy-next-door, friendly Georgia Tech grads, and Cink’s steady nerves and experience will help bring out the best in Kuchar, who was the most consistent player on the PGA Tour in 2010.

I think Pavin will look for the same type of relationship to develop between Jim Furyk, who is $11.3 million richer thanks to winning the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup on Sunday, and rookie Jeff Overton. After a sizzling mid-summer run, Overton has been ice cold. Pavin may be hoping that Furyk will warm him up.

Seeing Dustin Johnson’s name near Phil Mickelson’s shouldn’t surprise anyone. Not only do these guys love to play aggressively and crush the ball off the tee, they share the same coach, Butch Harmon (who also works with Cink). Johnson and Mickelson play lots of practice rounds together, and Mickelson seemed energized by playing at Valhalla with Anthony Kim. (Watching your partner hole everything in sight will do that.) He wouldn’t mind playing alongside Johnson, another talented youngster who is making his Ryder Cup debut.

Four-ball matches are about making birdies, and Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler know how to do that. Close friends off the course, I love the idea of playing these two ultra-aggressive flag hunters together. Pavin should simply pull these two aside and whisper in their ears, “Take dead aim boys, and have fun.”

Only four groups will play in the morning session. So who sits? Group 2, all four guys — Cink, Furyk, Kucher and Overton. But I’ll admit I’m a little less cocky about that prediction.