New Ryder Cup schedule might favor Europe
NEWPORT, Wales – The most important thing that happened on the opening day of the Ryder Cup occurred in a back room.
Friday’s weather delay of seven hours, 18 minutes prompted Ryder Cup officials to make major alterations to the playing schedule in an effort to finish Sunday night, weather permitting. The changes limit captain flexibility and probably favor Europe because all players will compete in the six foursome matches in the second session Saturday.
European captain Colin Montgomerie certainly liked the new plan.
“I think I have more of a foursomes team than a four-ball team,” Montgomerie said. “I’m quite happy with it.”
Paul Azinger, the victorious 2008 U.S. captain serving as an ESPN analyst this week, said the adjustment “favors Europe a little bit” because his successor, Corey Pavin, “has some guys he didn’t want to play in alternate shot.” Pavin has the longest-hitting team in Ryder Cup history, one better suited to four-ball because it is more powerful than straight off the tee.
Pavin came to Celtic Manor without intending to use some of those bombers, such as Bubba Watson and Jeff Overton. For one, renowned instructor Butch Harmon, a Sky Sports analyst, emphatically said before the revision that there was “no way” those two players would be sent out in foursomes.
Ryder Cup: Friday four-ball matches
Rain soaked the first round of the 2010 Ryder Cup.
That was then. This is now.
“It’s fine,” Pavin said. “The whole object is to get it in and done by Sunday night. It’s a great solution. It does create a few headaches. It changes things. I had a plan coming in. Now I have to sit down with my assistants and come up with a new one.”
The new schedule means there are four sessions instead of the usual five. Everyone who played Friday will play all four sessions. Everyone who didn’t play Friday, including top American players Jim Furyk and Hunter Mahan, will end up playing three times.
“It is what it is,” Pavin said.
The continuation of Friday’s opening four-ball is scheduled to conclude Saturday morning. That will be followed by six foursome matches in the second session and the start of the third session, comprised of two foursome and four four-ball matches. That third session, weather permitting, will be completed Sunday morning before the 12 singles matches.
Worse-case scenario, play will not start on any hole after 6:37 p.m. Monday unless both sides agree, according to the captains’ agreement. Any match not completed by the termination of play will be declared halved.
The goal, said George O’Grady, PGA European Tour chief executive, is to finish Sunday and still maintain the integrity of the Ryder Cup.
“This timetable is very, very good,” Montgomerie said. “Let’s not second-guess it.”
Well, not so fast, Monty.
Captains would have maintained their flexibility and a semblance of their original plans with this slight tweak: Have four foursome and two four-ball matches in each of Sessions 2 and 3. That way captains wouldn’t have to play every player in foursomes in the second session.
Pavin and PGA of America CEO Joe Steranka said that wasn’t done for pace-of-play reasons, considering the limited daylight until Sunday night.
“With six foursome matches going off (in Session 2), we’ll finish much faster (than four foursomes and two four-balls),” Pavin said. “I think it’s a good solution. Does it change the way you do things? Sure it does. But it also makes it fun.”
Fun for Pavin was watching his team after the long delay. The United States was down in three of the four Friday four-balls before the break but ended the day up in two, down in one and even in the other. Those matches are through 8-12 holes.
No surprise, the Europeans played better in the early-morning rain, the Americans better in the evening calm. On the putting greens, the U.S. clearly was superior to their counterparts after the resumption of play.
But then you could say the day’s biggest development happened in the tournament office, not the golf course.