AUCHTERARDER, Scotland – There was still an air of suspense hanging over Gleneagles’ Centenary Course, what with a crucial morning four-ball match still on the course.
But what settled over the Ryder Cup festivities was a blanket of shock, courtesy of U.S. captain Tom Watson’s foursomes lineup for the afternoon. It did not include Phil Mickelson. Stunning stuff, for it is the first time in Mickelson’s record-setting Ryder Cup career that he has sat out an entire day of action.
Mickelson and his hand-picked partner, Keegan Bradley, had won a dramatic match Friday morning, rallying to beat Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia in four-balls. But in the afternoon, the 44-year-old Mickelson struggled in foursomes with Bradley, losing to Graeme McDowell and Victor Dubuisson. For 16 holes, Mickelson and Bradley were 3 over, sloppy at times, rarely sharp, and seemingly weary.
Having gone 3-0 together at Medinah, Mickelson and Bradley were earmarked as one of Watson’s top teams, yet they were not in the lineup for the four-balls Saturday morning. Being left out of foursomes was an even wider shock.
To no one’s surprise, captain Watson also left Webb Simpson out of the afternoon foursomes, the third straight session he’ll sit after playing so poorly in a four-ball debacle Friday morning.
Instead, Watson went with the players who had performed so well in the morning four-balls, while European captain Paul McGinley countered with an afternoon lineup that was a bit more predictable. Here’s how the foursomes will proceed Saturday afternoon:
- Match 1: Zach Johnson and Matt Kuchar vs. Jamie Donaldson and Lee Westwood.
- Match 2: Jim Furyk and Hunter Mahan vs. Garcia and McIlroy.
- Match 3: Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed vs. Justin Rose and Martin Kaymer.
- Match 4: Jimmy Walker and Ricky Fowler vs. McDowell and Dubuisson.
Breaking up Rose and Henrik Stenson, three times a winning team already, is not controversial. Stenson asked to sit, given his lower back pain. It might raise eyebrows to see McIlroy and Garcia back together, since they didn’t play that crisply in two tries Friday, but it seems the best fit for McGinley.
Donaldson and Westwood were very strong in foursomes Friday, as were McDowell and Dubuisson, and Kaymer is a more seamless partner for Rose.
When the moves are analyzed, it means that each captain will have one of their picks (Stephen Gallacher for Europe, Simpson for the U.S.) in for just two matches. Nothing dramatic there, but giving Poulter, Mickelson, and Bradley just three games each would not have been imagined coming into the week.
Arguably the no-brainer of the day came when Watson returned Spieth and Reed to the afternoon foursomes. After their dominating four-ball win Friday morning, the rookies were bitterly disappointed to find out they were sitting out the foursomes. Watson conceded he left himself open for second-guessing and when the Americans got toasted, 3 1/2 – 1/2, he said he might have joined the parade of critics.
Watson did a little bit of a twist with his four versatile players. Friday, Furyk and Kuchar were beaten in foursomes, as were Johnson and Mahan. So after Furyk teamed with Mahan for a four-ball win Saturday morning, the captain kept them together, moving Kuchar in with Johnson.