Commentary

Love playing mix, match at Ryder Cup

Originally Published: September 25, 2012
By Farrell Evans | ESPN.com

MEDINAH, Ill. -- Davis Love III has said that one of his toughest decisions this week as U.S. captain will be which four players to sit during each session when the Ryder Cup matches start with the alternate shot format on Friday morning.

This is easily his least favorite part of the job.

"Maybe somebody will come and go, hey, you know what, my back is hurting and I'm not hitting it as far as I thought and maybe I ought to sit two times," Love said on Tuesday. "We just haven't had anything like that, any reason to think we ought to sit a guy out. That's going to be my challenge is going to be getting everybody enough starts."

Yet it might not be as hard a predicament as Love makes it out to be. With four points on the line in the Friday morning foursomes, the Americans have to build some early momentum if they want to retake the Cup from the Europeans, who have won four of the past five Ryder Cups.

To meet those ends, Love is probably going to go with experience.

For starters, Tiger Woods is mostly likely going to play with Steve Stricker. Expect Phil Mickelson, who rebounded with a good FedEx Cup playoffs after a midseason slump, to get paired with rookie Keegan Bradley. And rounding out the morning pairings should be Jim Furyk/Brandt Snedeker and Matt Kuchar/Dustin Johnson.

That leaves Webb Simpson, Bubba Watson, Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner to sit out the Friday morning session. That's a very formidable foursome on your opening-day bench for the Americans. All of these players are perfectly capable of helping the American squad win points in the morning. Simpson and Watson are both 2012 major champions, the U.S. Open and the Masters, respectively. Dufner and Zach Johnson both won twice this year. Yet these four players combined for only three top-10s in the four-tournament FedEx Cup playoffs: Watson, 2; Simpson, 1; Dufner and Zach Johnson, 0.

With match-play pairings so much about how players jell with one another, Love isn't making his decisions based on the playoffs, but they do give a window into the state of a player's game.

Dufner said on Tuesday that he thought he would make a good alternate shot partner because of his consistency. That self-confidence and his cool demeanor might be enough to sway Love to send him out with Dustin Johnson, bumping Kuchar from that team.

Under any Friday morning scenario, Love won't make all his guys happy, but it's important that he get a couple of his rookies out early with Ryder Cup veterans to ease them into the scene, in pairings such as Mickelson/Bradley and Furyk/Snedeker.

Love might have an easier time in the Friday afternoon four-balls. He could start by benching Furyk, who is an abysmal 1-8-1 in his career in the format at the Ryder Cup. The Tiger-Stricker duo will most likely stay intact. Watson can spray his driver all over the place, go find it and hit it again. And let Webb Simpson help him stay relaxed and focused.

Dufner likes how his game matches up with Zach Johnson's, so they might play together after sitting out the morning. Mickelson and Bradley could take a seat Friday afternoon to make way for a Kuchar/Dustin Johnson pairing.

Love and his assistants certainly have a lot of work to do over the next couple days to figure out how to keep all these supersized egos happy and do what's best for the American team.