It’s the match everybody wanted, America’s top two players against Europe’s own top pairing as Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson face Padraig Harrington and Colin Montgomerie in the first match of The 35th Ryder Cup Matches at Oakland Hills Country Club.
Over the last three practice days there had been plenty of speculation over the possible combinations but few predicted the titanic battle in the opening fourball match.
Harrington, Europe’s top player in the Official World Golf Ranking, and Montgomerie, Europe’s on-course leader, have been handed the formidable task of taming the World Numbers Two and Four.
Two years ago at The De Vere Belfry they joined forces to successfully stop Mickelson and David Toms achieving a clean sweep in the first four matches and now they have the task of putting Europe’s first points on the board. They tee off at 8.10am.
Second out will be Darren Clarke and Miguel Angel Jiménez against the experienced David Love III and Chad Campbell at 8.25am.
Luke Donald is the sole rookie taking part in the opening session and he will make his debut alongside the hero of The De Vere Belfry, Paul McGinley against Stewart Cink and Chris Riley.
The final group re-unites Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood, a partnership which secured three points out of four at The De Vere Belfry, against David Toms and Jim Furyk at 8.55am.
“Phil and Tiger are obviously some of the crowd favourites, no matter where they play,” said Langer on the opening match. “I think I have two very good opponents for them to match up. So it should be a thrilling match and it will be exciting. It will come down to who makes a few putts here and there as it usually does. I think it’s a wonderful pairing for the spectators and it’s a great way to start off The 35th Ryder Cup Matches.”
“I don’t want to get into a situation where I am three or four points behind. I want to get out into the lead if possible, and I think I’ve sent out some very strong partnerships, and obviously, it’s the same on the other side,” said Langer.
When asked why he had put Clarke and Jimenez together he joked: “They both like wine. They both smoke cigars. Shall we go any further?”
“The two of them, they like each other. They like playing together and like interacting out there. I think they will do well,” he added.
Langer’s only real unsuspected move was placing McGinley with rookie Donald. It had been thought that Paul Casey would team up with Donald thus reforming a highly successfully Walker Cup partnership.
However, Langer said he had been very impressed by the form of McGinley over the past month and felt it wise to pair Donald with a player who already had Ryder Cup experience.
“I saw Paul McGinley play these last couple of days and he really impressed me. So I felt it might be better to send Paul and Luke out at first and see how they are doing and then give Paul Casey a chance later as the matches progress,” said Langer.
He was also full of praise for Donald.
“He’s extremely steady and just has wonderful rhythm and tempo and controls his length of shots very well which is key on this course, the second shots. He does everything good and has no weaknesses,” said Langer.
Langer’s final morning pairing reunites a Westwood and Garcia partnership that was so successful two years ago.
“Sergio is extremely excitable and bounces and jumps and it just all over the place. And Lee is the opposite. He’s very calm and nothing flusters him or whatever. So I think they are great team,” said Langer.
Sutton was equally glowing about his charges, clearly sending his big guns out first. “The Team is ready,” said Sutton. Referring to his decision to put his top two players out first, Sutton said: “I told these two guys that I felt the perception of the world was that the US Team didn’t bond and we don’t come together as a team. I said, “I can’t think of any other message that we could send any louder than to put the two of you guys out first”. Both were committed to it. I don’t know that we could pair two guys together that were matched for one another than those two guys.”