The first session at a Ryder Cup is rarely pivotal – only last time, when the US swept a foursomes session 4-0, and the rout of 2004, when the US managed just half a point in fourballs, could they be regarded as being the writing on the wall.
Europe hasn’t won a first session since 2006, yet they’ve won the cup four times out the six played since then. The way that the pairings will gel is probably much more important to both captains; one assumes that at least four of those named for this morning are ones that the captain concerned would hope to field in all four sessions before the Sunday singles.
The main surprise is that Phil Mickelson does not play fourballs. It’s surely unthinkable that the most experienced player on the US team will sit out the entire first day, so it’ll be very interesting to see how he goes if he plays with rookie Bryson DeChambeau, as has been touted much of the week.
8.10 Brooks Koepka and Tony Finau vs Justin Rose and Jon Rahm
Both captains put out rookies with experienced men in the opening fourballs, Rose in particular appears to have been given the job of harnessing the volatile Rahm’s aggression and letting him flourish. Koepka is maybe the best big-game player in the world right now, and has a huge responsibility in nursing Finau into the competition.
Rose’s vast experience and role as an anchor of the last three European teams possibly gives Bjorn a slight edge here. If he helps Rahm get over the early nerves to an opening morning victory, it could be quite the momentum charge for Europe.
8.25 Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler vs Rory McIlroy and Thorbjorn Olesen
The pairing of World No 1 Johnson and Fowler had been widely predicted, even though they haven’t played together before in Ryder or in President’s Cups for the USA. Fowler played both fourballs sessions at Gleneagles – with Jimmy Walker both times – and halved them both. Johnson’s fourball record is surprisingly not that great – just two wins from six outings.
McIlroy and Olesen have been friends for a long time and it was expected that they would be paired by Bjorn at some point. Fourballs is definitely the best way to get the rookies into the matches, and both captains have acknowledged this. But this piles most of the pressure on McIlroy, and he hasn’t reacted that well to it in recent months.
8.40 Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas vs Paul Casey and Tyrrell Hatton
For Europe to win, you feel at least one of Bjorn’s five rookies has to play an absolute, Thomas-Pieters-like blinder. Rumour was that Hatton was a borderline choice here, but it makes sense to get the often fiery Englishman out in the first session with Casey, making his return to the European team after a 10-year absence.
The pairing of the two childhood Texan friends, even though it meant splitting up the partnership forged at Gleneagles of Spieth and Patrick Reed, was an obvious one for Jim Furyk. The pair are close and know each others’ games inside out. Even if Spieth isn’t in the greatest of form and Thomas has been playing with a strapped wrist for a couple of weeks, you have to think the US have the edge for a point here.
8.55 Patrick Reed and Tiger Woods vs Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood
A grandstanding pairing by Furyk of Reed, who despite poor recent form the US still believe can be the heartbeat of their team, and Tiger, fresh from his Tour Championship triumph, and if the opening ceremony receptions yesterday are anything to go by, it’ll be plenty noisy. Woods has never been the greatest partner in the past, but Reed’s certainly an intriguing choice to try and get a positive reaction out of him.
You can see Bjorn riding the pairing of the Open champion and Fleetwood all the way through the first two days; a dual ball-striking machine that will hit the fairways and greens of the tightened set-up at Le Golf National. If they take Reed and Tiger down on the first morning, Europe gets a surge of momentum almost irrespective of what happens in the three preceding matches.