NEWPORT, Wales — The Friday four-ball pairings are out, and Team USA could take a beating. Here are my picks.
Match 1: Phil Mickelson-Dustin Johnson vs. Lee Westwood-Martin Kaymer.
Captains Corey Pavin and Colin Montgomerie didn’t hold back, sending out what each may view as his strongest duo. Mickelson always likes to go out early, as in first, so it was an easy call that he and Johnson lead off. Westwood is the big man on the European Tour, and apparently soon to be the new World No. 1, while Kaymer may be a future No. 1 in the opinion of many. Mickelson has played erratically of late. Westwood hasn’t played in a tournament since withdrawing from the Bridgestone Invitational, due to a calf injury. Kaymer claimed the PGA Championship and won again on the European Tour a few weeks later. Mickelson isn’t usually fond of slow greens. The pick: Westwood-Kaymer.
Match 2: Stewart Cink-Matt Kuchar vs. Rory McIlroy-Graeme McDowell.
Here, each side pairs a veteran with a rookie. Kuchar had the most consistent season of any American, while Cink struggled with his putter and had to make the squad as a captain’s pick. McIlroy had his sensational win at Quail Hollow and McDowell scored the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. This is a very strong Irish duo. The pick: McIlroy-McDowell.
Match 3: Steve Stricker-Tiger Woods vs. Ian Poulter-Ross Fisher.
Stricker was mired in a putting slump late in the season but got a tip from Woods that reportedly has him back in the groove this week. Woods had a week off during the Tour Championship to ingrain some of the swing thoughts he and new coach Sean Foley are working on, which was probably better for him in the long run than playing at East Lake would have been. Poulter is the Europeans’ show horse, but he hasn’t done much since winning the Match Play title early this year in Tucson. Fisher is underrated, and a former winner of the Europeans’ Match Play tournament. The pick: Stricker-Woods.
Match 4: Bubba Watson-Jeff Overton vs. Luke Donald-Padraig Harrington.
This may be a clue that Captain Pavin intends to get all 12 of his players out the first day, just as Montgomerie said he would do with Team Europe. Watson and Overton haven’t lit up the practice rounds, so there was little likelihood they would be playing in the afternoon’s tougher alternate-shot format. Donald finished just one shot behind Jim Furyk at the Tour Championship and should do well on a course that, though long, will require accuracy due to the length of the rough. Harrington is a veteran with much Ryder Cup experience and is rested and ready after laying eggs in his last two Cup appearances. The Americans, both rookies, will be serious underdogs but are very capable of springing a surprise. The pick: Donald-Harrington.
Perhaps the most notable absence: FedEx Cup winner Jim Furyk, who isn’t playing in the morning. Why? “He said he was very tired from counting money all week,” Pavin joked. “You’ll see him in the afternoon.” The American skipper added that he hoped to get all 12 of his players out the first day but won’t make that decision until just before the Friday deadline for the afternoon pairings. Also missing are the Italian Molinari brothers, Edoardo and Francesco. They’ve been playing very well and always figured to be foursomes partners.
Potential Friday afternoon pairings for the U.S.
Woods and Furyk; Zach Johnson and Cink; Hunter Mahan and Rickie Fowler; Mickelson and Dustin Johnson.