Thursday, September 26, 2002
Analysis of Friday morning's pairings
By David Kraft
Woods/Azinger vs. Clarke/Bjorn , 3 a.m. ET
The match: Neither American has been particularly successful in the best-ball format -- Tiger Woods is 1-3 in his two Ryder Cups; Paul Azinger is 1-4-1 in his three. On the other side, Darren Clarke and Thomas Bjorn are a combined 3-1. But Strange is determined to get out quickly, and that means Woods. Azinger's job will be to keep the ball in play and gamble when necessary; Woods' job will be to make birdie after birdie after birdie. But Clarke and Bjorn both have experience beating Woods -- Clarke beat Woods and Duval in a fourball match in 1999; Bjorn rallied to beat Woods with a final-round charge at the Dubai Desert Classic a year ago.
Curtis Strange says: "Paul likes to play with Tiger, Tiger enjoys Paul. Azinger is a gambler. (He's) one of those guys that can play both best ball and alternate shot. He gives me the flexibility."
San Torrance says: "Clarke and Bjorn have been fantastic all week. They're birdie machines. They're ideal for fourball."
Prediction: Birdies galore. If Woods is hot, the Americans win, but not easily. Neither team has this one in the bag going in.
Duval/Love vs. Garcia/ Westwood , 3:15 a.m. ET
The match: David Duval and Davis Love III are both big hitters who had some success as a team at the President's Cup two years ago. They traveled to Ireland together for the American Express Championship, even staying in the same house. Sergio Garcia is among the world's best, and he teamed with Jesper Parnevik to be Europe's surprise stalwarts three years ago. Lee Westwood has struggled greatly, falling to 141st in the world, but he played well at the World Golf Championship event at Sahalee in late August.
Strange says: "It's almost a no-brainer for me, that one."
Torrance says: "Garcia is obviously one of the best players in the world. Westwood has been struggling, but he's been great through this week. It's not how you're playing, it's how you respond to pressure and he's very good at that."
Prediction: Unless Westwood picks it up and plays better than he has in the last 18 months, it's Garcia playing against two. And that's not good for the Europeans.
Hoch/ Furyk vs. Montgomerie/ Langer , 3:30 a.m. ET
The match: Colin Montgomerie and Bernhard Langer have combined to play 23 fourball matches in their Ryder Cup careers. They won 12 and halved two. Scott Hoch and Jim Furyk have played just two as a team -- Furyk 0-2. But Hoch is tenacious and loves match play, and Furyk can run off birdies. Montgomerie says his back is in good shape and Langer usually plays his best in big matches.
Strange says: "Scott Hoch has played very, very well. He enjoys match play and he's a heck of a competitor, as Jim Furyk is. I think they match up very, very well together.
Torrance says: "They could have gone anywhere. And it's wonderful to be able to put them together."
Prediction: Experience counts for something here, but Hoch/Furyk will be formidable. Still, the Europeans would like to think of this as a point in their column. Or at least a halve.
Mickelson/ Toms vs. Harrington/ Fasth , 3:45 a.m. ET
The match: Strange made no secret of his love for this pairing all week. This may not be the last time we see it. Phil Mickelson is 3-2-1 in fourball, but it's his propensity for making birdies that makes him always dangerous. He made as many birdies as Woods last week at the American Express Championships. David Toms struggled at the PGA Championship and hasn't played much match play in his career. Padraig Harrington didn't play fourball during his first Ryder Cup experience three years ago, and Niclas Fasth is a rookie. Tough to get a read on either, though Harrington's had a fantastic year, especially in the majors.
Strange says: "An aggressive player, both physically and mentally, tends to make a good match play player. You have to make birdies in match play. I think Phil Mickelson is the best match play player on my team, because of his record."
Torrance says: "Niclas Fasth is the only rookie I'm playing the first morning, but he's capable of handling it, and he's got a great partner in Harrington. I like them."
Prediction: Mickelson's birdies and Toms' steadiness give the Americans a leg-up heading in. Harrington will play well; Fasth is the wild card. But on paper, Strange is counting on a win here.
Not playing Friday morning
United States -- Mark Calcavecchia, Hal Sutton, Stewart Cink, Scott Verplank
Europe -- Jesper Parnevik, Pierre Fulke, Paul McGinley, Phillip Price
Strange strongly hinted that all of his players may be in action on Friday, though he didn't exactly come out and say it in so many words. Torrance said he can't promise, but that he's "intending to" play everybody before Sunday.
Sutton and Parnevik are on the sidelines because they haven't played well this year. Both will get into matches however, though as Torrance said of Parnevik on Thursday: "He understands he's not on top of his game and knows he's not going to play the first morning. He was absolutely fine with that. If he doesn't play until Sunday, he said 'I'll be fine with singles.' " Ominous for his chances.
Calcavecchia talked with Strange and told him he's much more comfortable playing with Tiger Woods in the foursomes competition, so pencil him in for a pair of starts there.
Cink and Verplank were both captain's picks and neither has Ryder Cup experience. Sutton and Verplank played together in foursomes practice for much of the week. Cink is more likely to play fourball.
McGinley played well with Harrington in the Seve Trophy competition, so they could be a foursomes team Friday afternoon. Price and Fulke have seen their games slip, so they may see only one match before Sunday -- if that.