by Jeff Skinner
The 2014 Ryder Cup officially got under way today with the opening ceremonies at Gleneagles Scotland. Amid the pipers and anthems and speeches the captains announced their pairings for the opening fourballs segment tomorrow.
Captains Paul McGinley and Tom Watson finally broke their code of silence and gave us the opening day lineup for the biggest event in golf.
Starting off at 2:30am EST on Friday for Team USA is Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson. McGinley countered with Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson. Match two pits Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker against Thomas Bjorn and Martin Kaymer. Match three has rookies Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed facing Stephen Gallacher and Ian Poulter. The anchor match has the trappings of a heavyweight fight with Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley taking on Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy.
For my money Captain Watson who decided not to shake things up with his captain’s picks certainly decided to shake things up a bit with his day one selections. Captain McGinley may have one upped his counterpart with his lineup.
Match 1: Watson elected to put Bubba and Webb out first probably hoping for the mercurial Bubba to start things off with a bang. Bubba can fire up a crowd with his long ball but also has a history of self-destructing at times. Webb, who was a captain’s pick and due to his less than stellar recent play was thought to be one of the weakest links on the team, will be faced with the challenge of keeping Bubba contained and making some birdies. The Americans face a formidable team of Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson. Stenson hasn’t found his amazing 2013 form but Rose has rounded into form during the FedEx Cup playoffs.
This was a natural pairing for Watson as Bubba and Webb are former Ryder and Presidents Cup partners but sending them out first is a bit questionable.
Match 2: Captain Tom wasn’t shy about getting his rookies out on day one and he paired rookie Jimmy Walker (3 wins this season) with Rickie Fowler. Fowler has Ryder & Presidents Cup experience and had a world class major championship season. They face a very experienced team of Thomas Bjorn and Martin Kaymer. Kaymer, the ’14 US Open and Players champion teams with Bjorn who has had a solid season on the European Tour standing at fourth in the Race to Dubai.
Match 3: This is where Watson went off the board in teaming two Ryder Cup rookies and putting them out on day one. This is a bold move by Watson but he feels that Spieth’s Presidents Cup experience and the fact that Spieth played on two Junior Ryder Cup Teams, one of which played at Gleneagles, gives him a veteran’s resume. Watson also loves rookie Patrick Reed’s bravado and self-confidence. Reed likes to think of himself as “a top five golfer in the world” and Watson has called on the rookie to put his money where his mouth is.
They face what could be the most popular team in Scotland, native Scot Stephen Gallacher and Ryder Cup legend Ian Poulter. Needless to say Gallacher will get the loudest cheers of all the players and Poulter’s experience and penchant for holing putts could very well overwhelm the American rookies.
Match 4: This matchup has to be billed as the main event of the morning. Each captain elected to put out their heavyweight teams. Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley who have had good success in the past will face the new and impressive team of Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia. Mickelson has said that teaming with Bradley had reignited his love for the Ryder Cup. Bradley has been labeled as the emotional center of the American team and they may need it as they face the most impressive team of the week.
World number one McIlroy and world number three Garcia team to make the highest ranked team of the week. Their recent newfound friendship will serve them well as the favorites in this match. Both Rory and Sergio have had very good second halves of the season while Mickelson is coming off his worst season in a decade and Bradley has had a lackluster season and needed a captain’s pick to make the team.
Going into this Ryder Cup the European Team was said to be the stronger of the teams and the two man teams in the morning fourball session is no different.
With Watson keeping world number four Jim Furyk and number nine Matt Kuchar on the bench and the Euro’s having four of the top six ranked players in the world playing early the European Team has to be an overwhelming favorite…on paper.
But we all know that “on paper” sometimes doesn’t translate into reality.
For the American Team to win back the Ryder Cup success on day one is critical and we all know what a fickle game, even at this level, golf can be.
Bubba and Webb will need “the good Bubba” to show up. Rickie and Jimmy will be pressed to overcome a very experienced team. Can the U.S. rookies withstand a mismatch? Phil & Keegs will need Rory & Sergio to stumble if they want to earn a point.
I see it going in the European Team’s favor with Rose & Stenson winning, match 2 will see a split, and I am betting on the rookies to earn a surprising half point but Sergio & Rory will top Phil and Keegan giving the European Team a 3-1 lead at the end of the morning fourball.
Captain Watson will need some Ryder Cup Magic to find some momentum for his underdog American team.