Thursday, 26 September 2002
Tiger Woods will lead out the American Team in the company of Paul Azinger when The 34th Ryder Cup Matches begin at The De Vere Belfry at 8.00 am BST on Friday morning.

But Woods will go out knowing that he will have to overcome two men who have already beaten him in head to head competition.

The draw for the first series of fourballs has thrown up the intriguing prospect of Woods and Azinger facing Thomas Björn and Darren Clarke, which is bound to rekindle memories of the Dane and the Northern Irishman defeating the World's Number One coming down the stretch.

Clarke was the first to do so when he defeated Woods 4 & 3 in the final of the 2000 WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship at La Costa CC in California. The Dane repeated the feat after playing all four rounds with Woods at the 2001 Dubai Desert Classic at the Emirates Club.

European Captain, Sam Torrance, indicated that it had not been his intention to put Björn and Clarke at the top of the order in the hope that they would be paired against Woods. However, he did confirm their victories would feature strongly in the speech he planned to give to his team after the official opening ceremony.

The draw for the opening foursomes produced four intriguing contests. Elsewhere, the second match, out at 8.15 am BST, pitted Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood against the formidable combination of David Duval and Davis Love III. Behind them, Colin Montgomerie and Bernhard Langer will be harnessed together for the fifth time in Ryder Cup competition, and will face Scott Hoch and Jim Furyk. Bringing up the rear, Ireland's Padraig Harrington will team up with Swedish rookie Niclas Fasth against Phil Mickelson and David Toms.

Langer and Montgomerie are the only one of the four European combinations to have played together in previous Ryder Cups. They have teamed up four times previously, in 1991 and 1997, winning three out of those four matches.

Coincidentally, the American Captain, Curtis Strange, selected just one pair who have played together before. That was Love III and Duval who halved with Sergio Garcia and Jesper Parnevik in the second series of fourballs three years ago. They have also combined in two President's Cup matches, winning on both occasions.

Torrance admitted that two of his first selections had been decided prior to his arrival at The De Vere Belfry. "Monty and Langer were one, Björn and Clarke were the other," he said.

"I decided on Garcia and Westwood later," he said "Garcia is obviously one of the best players in the world and I have paired him with Lee because I think it will work. Westwood has been struggling coming in here. But he's been great through this week. In any case, it's not how you are playing, it's how you respond to pressure, and he's very good at that.”

The European Captain then went on to pay tribute to Fasth, the sole rookie to make the starting line-up on the opening morning.

"Fasth is an old head on young shoulders. He's playing great and has a good swing. He's ready for anything. His performance coming down the stretch at last year's Open (where he was second) was exemplary, for a kid to almost win the Open at the first go was fantastic. This is obviously another deal, but I am sure he is well able for it."

Strange admitted that three of his opening pairings had been settled prior to flying to England.

"I changed Tiger Woods and Paul Azinger, that's the only one," he said.

"I had Woods and Calcavecchia for a while, thinking Calc was a better best ball player. But when I got here, and realised that he was 4-0 in alternate shots and 0-4 in best ball, I changed my mind and the decision was reinforced when I talked to them both.”

The American Captain then went on to explain his reasons behind pairing Scott Hoch and Jim Furyk. "I feel like it's a very good pairing. I don't know what else to say. Scott has played very, very well this season. He enjoys match play. He's a heck of a competitor as Jim is too. They have similar games, they are both good drivers of the ball, good putters. They're a good twosome.

"Duval and Love have played together in President's Cups. They're good friends, big hitters, similar games, good personalities, a lot of things. They travelled to Ireland together, stayed together. It was almost a no-brainer for me."

"And Mickelson and Toms was much the same. They are both playing exceptionally well. Similar games, Mickelson is longer, but Toms is very consistent, and in best ball that's what you want. You want a guy in play all the time if it works out like that. It just looks like a wonderful pairing. I like it. It looks right.”

Traditionally, the first series of Ryder Cup Matches tends to be very close. Three years ago, at The Country Club, the Europeans held a one point advantage at 2 ½ -1 ½ but, before that, the previous three opening series were shared 2-2. That included 1997, the last time the opening series comprised fourballs rather than foursomes.

. U.S.A. Europe
8.00 Tiger Woods & v Darren Clarke &
. Paul Azinger Thomas Björn
8.15 David Duval & v Sergio Garcia &
. Davis Love III Lee Westwood
8.30 Scott Hoch & v Colin Montgomerie &
. Jim Furyk Bernhard Langer
8.45 Phil Mickelson & v Padraig Harrington &
. David Toms Niclas Fasth

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