Commentary

Friday pairings show U.S. depth

Originally Published: September 27, 2012
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

MEDINAH, Ill. -- There have been years when the U.S Ryder Cup team was lacking in major championship star power. Not this year. The Americans have two players who won two of the biggest tournaments in the game in 2012 -- and both will have a seat on the bench Friday morning.

Has Davis Love III been in the sun too long? Or does the U.S. Ryder Cup team captain simply have a wealth of riches that allows him to hold out a couple of major champions during the first session of the 39th Ryder Cup?

Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson played well together last year in the Presidents Cup, going 3-1 as a team in Melbourne. So let the second-guessing begin if you so choose, although Love acknowledged wanting to get his first-timers on the course while the decision to wait on his two major champions was not easy.

"To go to Bubba and Webb out on the golf course [during Thursday's final practice session] and say, 'You guys, I'm going to ask you to sit down,' is just surreal. … To go ask those guys not to play right off the bat in the Ryder Cup," Love said. "But that tells you what a great team we have."

Love decided on the risky move of putting three of his four Ryder Cup rookies out in the first session. In the first foursomes match, he put rookie Brandt Snedeker with veteran Jim Furyk, and they will take on the formidable Northern Irish duo of Rory McIroy and Graeme McDowell.

It seemed McIlroy and McDowell knew all along they were going first. But they couldn't predict they'd get Snedeker and Furyk.

"To be honest they are not the opponents we were expecting,'' McIlroy said. "We know that their team is so strong all the way through but it was a little surprise to see a rookie in their first group."

McIlroy said he figured to get Mickelson and Bradley first, but they are going second. Their pairing is no surprise. Bradley is ready to tear down the mammoth Medinah clubhouse in order to get out onto the course. Mickelson and Bradley are frequent practice-round buddies, and their pairing was no secret. They will play Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia, who are undefeated as a team in the Ryder Cup and have combined to go 22-8-5 in Ryder Cup play.

Another American rookie, Jason Dufner, is playing with Zach Johnson against Lee Westwood and Francesco Molinari, followed by the predicted team of Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker against Ian Poulter and Justin Rose. The last match should be a good one, as both teams are formidable and have had success together.

Love suggested he did not put his team out without consideration for what European captain Jose Maria Olazabal might do.

"It's just this is the best four we felt like to start us off," Love said. "And order-wise, there wasn't a whole lot of rhyme or reason to it, except that maybe pace of play, we wanted to get Brandt going; he likes to get out there and get after it. Brandt was a good one to lead off.

"Obviously Phil and Keegan are a little bit excited to be playing too, so get them going. And then we've got some pretty cool customers at the end that can handle whatever happens in the last two matches."

Both Love and Olazabal said they were undecided about their afternoon pairings, although Love said he has "a plan" and you can easily see it involving Watson and Simpson replacing the team of Snedeker and Furyk -- who has a horrible four-ball record (1-8-1) -- in the afternoon format, while Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar would take over for Zach Johnson and Dufner.

Olazabal's afternoon decisions are less clear, as the McIlroy-McDowell, Donald-Garcia and Poulter-Rose teams are all strong and it would not be a surprise to see them stay together.

"I wanted to have my strongest foursome pairings tomorrow for the first session," Olazabal said. "And that's the logic behind these pairings. I know that the matches are going to be tough. The U.S. team is playing great."

Great enough that Love could put his major champions on the sideline for the beginning of the Ryder Cup? Apparently so.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com