MEDINAH, Ill. – And on the fifth day, finally, there will be golf. Meaningful golf, with national pride at stake, on a global stage.
The 39th Ryder Cup begins Friday morning at Medinah Country Club’s No. 3 course, and European captain Jose Maria Olazabal clearly has a plan in mind: Try his best to quiet the partisan Chicago crowd, expected to be as large as 40,000, as early as he can.
He’ll send his two top foursomes pairings out first: the Northern Ireland tandem of Rory McIlroy-Graeme McDowell, who’ll take on Jim Furyk and Brandt Snedeker; and the formidable team of Luke Donald-Sergio Garcia, who will play Phil Mickelson-Keegan Bradley. Garcia, who was a vice captain in Wales the last time these teams met, is 8-0-1 in foursomes; his partner, Donald, is 6-0.
“Well, I wanted to have my strongest foursome pairings tomorrow for the first session,” Olazabal said. “And that’s the logic behind these pairings here.”
U.S. captain Davis Love III decided to slot what is regarded as his strongest team – Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker – in the fourth and final spot in his lineup. They will take on the English tandem of Ian Poulter-Justin Rose.
“We play practice rounds together. We’re very comfortable out there,” Woods said of his pairing with Stricker. The players were 2-1 in Wales two years ago. ”We know what to expect from each other. There are no hidden surprises out there for us. We’ve been through a lot of matches together and have played a lot together, so we’re fine.”
In the morning’s third match, Europeans Lee Westwood and Francesco Molinari will play Zach Johnson and rookie Jason Dufner.
Love has said his biggest challenge this week won’t be whom he will play and pair together, but whom he will sit. Those he’s sitting on Friday morning when the Ryder Cup gets under way include a Masters champion (Bubba Watson), a U.S. Open champion (Webb Simpson), a Players champion (Matt Kuchar) and a captain’s pick who was in good form through the FedEx Cup playoffs (Dustin Johnson). It’s likely those four will compose two of the four-ball teams for the afternoon session, with Watson and Simpson forming one group, and Kuchar-Johnson another.
“I’ve got four of the best players in the world that love this golf course sitting on the bench,” Love said, “and I’m going to have to get them in the game.”
Love will play three of his four rookies in the opening session, splitting them among the first three pairings. Furyk, competing in his eighth Ryder Cup, will take one of those rookies, Brandt Snedeker, under his wing to get the day under way.
“I’ve definitely learned a little bit about momentum and getting out in front, and I know getting off to a good start tomorrow will be key to us, and we’re setting the tone,” Furyk said. “We’re in the first group; we have a tough pairing with Rory and Graeme, but it’ll be nice for us to get out there and get a point and set the tone against probably their strongest team.”
Love said he didn’t give much thought to what the European pairings might be, or whom the Americans potentially could be slotted against in different spots in the lineup, and said there was “no rhyme or reason” to his order outside of wanting to get Snedeker, the FedEx Cup champion, out early.
“The more you get to know Brandt Snedeker, the more you’ll understand why he’s going off first,” Love said.
Said McIlroy, who will be leading off for Europe for the first time in this, his second Ryder Cup, “To be honest, they (Furyk-Snedeker) were not the opponents we were expecting. We know their team is strong all the way through, but it was a little surprise to see a rookie in their first group.”
In the opening ceremony, Love and Olazabal, each of whom turned pro in 1985 and holds great respect for the other, stressed that this Ryder Cup will be hard-fought and intense, but contested in the proper spirit.
Love said the 24 players competing this week arrived to Chicago as friends, “and we’ll leave that way, too.”
Olazabal saluted several of the former European captains who were on hand at Medinah, and also paid homage to Spain’s first Ryder Cup captain, the late Seve Ballesteros, the man who was such a great mentor to Olazabal.
Asked what advice Ballesteros might give if he were around, Olazabal said, “Just play hard, play with passion and win the damn points.”