SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France — Europe took the early lead in surprise pairings after captain’s Jim Furyk and Thomas Bjorn announced the 2018 Ryder Cup’s first-session matchups.
Grades are for each captain’s initial Day 1 decisions.
Match 1: B+
Brooks Koepka/Tony Finau vs. Justin Rose/Jon Rahm
Hitting the opening tee shot is no picnic for anyone at any Ryder Cup, but this one is a real beast. Furyk thinks Koepka and Finau are up to the task and who can blame him after the way Koepka held off Tiger at Bellerive? These two have been America’s preeminent birdie-makers all season. As for Bjorn’s decision, having Rose leading off makes great sense and the pairing with Rahm was a curveball few saw coming given the history of Rose with Henrik Stenson. Bjorn reasons that Rahm plays better being the center of attention and he will sure get his wish opening up this Ryder Cup with Europe’s top player.
Match 2: B
Dustin Johnson/Rickie Fowler vs. Rory McIlroy/Thorbjorn Olesen
On a golf course where accuracy off the tee will be necessary, how does Bjorn not give Rory McIlroy an accurate driver to allow him to attack with his own ball? McIlroy was chatting up with Pete Cowan on the range Thursday, Olesen has a mediocre track record here and lousy driving accuracy stats. The Johnson-Fowler teaming has been expected and certainly looks good on paper.
Match 3: A
Jordan Spieth/Justin Thomas vs. Paul Casey/Tyrell Hatton
Strong calls by both, with Furyk bucking history and breaking up the vaunted Reed/Spieth team by putting the old AJGA buddies out in what logically seems like a natural teaming. Bjorn sticks two Englishman together who should make a great team while giving Hatton a smart, solid veteran by his side to kick off his Ryder Cup career.
Match 4: A
Patrick Reed/Tiger Woods vs. Francesco Molinari/Tommy Fleetwood
This is a formidable European team with the British Open champion and the U.S. Open runner-up in Molinari and Fleetwood. A no-brainer as an anchor match and likely to play together again in afternoon foursomes. As for Reed and Woods, does this late start mean Friday is a day Tiger only plays one session, or just an opportunity to let Tiger start his day when temperatures are north of 55 degrees? This team has been telegraphed all week and should be a good one.
Europe: Sergio Garcia, Alex Noren, Ian Poulter, Henrik Stenson
U.S.: Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson, Webb Simpson, Bryson DeChambeau
Depending on how the morning plays out, Furyk will have the teams of Watson/Simpson, Mickelson/DeChambeau in the bullpen to go if he doesn’t like what he sees from the morning play. Bjorn is sitting three of his captain’s picks. He insists Stenson is fine physically. Garcia’s ballstriking is reliable, his record incredible and his play of late encouraging, yet he gets bypassed for Olesen?