MEDINAH, Ill. – Ryder Cup pairings are treated like state secrets by players and captains, but they’re really not tough to determine if you’re paying attention. You see, these practice-round pairings aren’t all fun and games. They’re meant to simulate the partnerships that will continue into the competition days. And so here’s what we can glean from what we’ve seen during the past two days at Medinah Country Club’s No. 3 Course, site of the 39th Ryder Cup:
• We’ll start with Tiger Woods, who has had Steve Stricker in his group for the past two days. That’s no surprise, since captain Davis Love III let it be known that their compatibility was a big reason why Stricker was selected for this team.
• Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar joined Woods and Stricker on Wednesday. Johnson/Kuchar would combine pure power with a player known for being strong with the wedge and putter. Brandt Snedeker and Jim Furyk joined Woods/Stricker on Tuesday. Snedeker and Furyk were together again Wednesday, so it seems that Love likes pairing the Ryder rookie with the veteran.
• Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson have been together the past two days. They’re two players bonded by their Christian faith, and also the two Americans to win majors this year.
• Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley are expected to be partners, as Mickelson is a mentor and frequent practice-round partner of Bradley’s. They were joined Wednesday by Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson.
The European team played just nine holes Wednesday. Northern Irishmen Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy have played together both days. No surprise there. They took on Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia in a practice foursomes match on Wednesday. McDowell-McIlroy was 1-1-1 in 2010. Garcia and Paul Lawrie joined the Northern Irishmen on Tuesday.
• The all-English pairing of Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood, Luke Donald and Justin Rose played together Tuesday. Rose and Poulter were paired again Wednesday. They played three times in 2008 – the last time Rose was on the European team – and went 2-1.
• Peter Hanson and Martin Kaymer accompanied Poulter-Rose on Wednesday. Hanson and Kaymer were joined by rookie Nicolas Colsaerts and Francesco Molinari on Tuesday.
“The way we’ve all looked at it is, if we threw the names in a hat and drew them out, our guys are all happy with each other, they’re comfortable, they’re all playing great,” Love said. “It’s not like you can make a bad pairing; it’s just you can make a fun pairing and a comfortable pairing. If you can put the buddies together or if you put the guys that play together in practice rounds on Tour, then you’re good.”
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DYNAMIC DUO: We’re talking about Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, but not as four-ball partners. Nope. Apparently the titans are doing beautifully in team table-tennis competition.
At least according to Mickelson.
“You know, Phil and his imagination sometimes gets a little out there,” Steve Stricker said with a smile.
Stricker did give Woods and Mickelson high marks for what they have done as a team in table tennis, but he wasn’t about to follow the left-hander’s lead. Everyone knows that Matt Kuchar clearly is the dominating table-tennis player wearing red, white and blue. “And I know Phil is not playing Kooch until Sunday, I think, just because he doesn’t want to get any bad mojo going before the tournament starts.”
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COLORFUL STORY: Oh, they had on white (the hat) and blue (the shirt), but it was the red that really stood out. We mean, really stood out, because it’s not often that you see Phil Mickelson, Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk and Tiger Woods – the veteran nucleus of Team USA – in red pants.
“Never happened before,” Stricker said, when asked the last time he wore red pants. “It will be the last time, too.”
Truth is, among the younger Americans – Webb Simpson, Keegan Bradley and Brandt Snedeker, that is – the red pants were OK. But, sorry, it was not a good fit with the veterans.
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BAD DRIVING: Medinah is set up so that players can swing hard and hit it far, but unfortunately you still have to be careful where you’re taking golf carts. Stricker discovered that when he hopped in with assistant captain Scott Verplank and headed toward the media center to keep his scheduled press conference.
Stricker said he hit his tee shot at the downhill par-3 17th but decided that there wasn’t enough time to play out the hole. As he sat with Verplank going down the steep hill off the 17th green, Stricker said he sensed that the vehicle was sliding a bit on the grass.
“So I bailed,” Stricker said.
He hopped out safely, but his caddie, Jimmy Johnson, got thrown out, and Verplank finally got the cart settled.
“Fortunately, nobody was hurt,” Stricker said.
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READING BETWEEN THE LINES: Given that he never has missed a chance to criticize a Rees Jones product, Phil Mickelson’s comments about Medinah’s 15th hole were revealing.
When Jones orchestrated changes to this course several years ago, he shortened even more this previously short and easy par 4. The idea was to tempt players to drive the green, which Jones brought in tight next to a pond.
It is 391 yards, but depending on where the tees are positioned, it could play much shorter.
It does not, however, tickle Mickelson’s fancy.
“I just think it’s overdone as a hole that would try to entice you to drive it,” Mickelson said, “unlike the 10th at Riviera, which really entices you and gives you options.”
Mickelson said the 15th at Medinah wouldn’t tease that many players, most of whom he predicted would lay up. “I think that it’s an easy birdie laying up, and as disappointing as the fans are going to be to see that, we have to play what’s there in front of us.”