SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, FRANCE | In making his pairings for Friday morning’s opening session of the Ryder Cup, U.S. captain Jim Furyk considered the advantage of keeping the successful Jordan Spieth-Patrick Reed pairing together versus the potential payoff of putting them with different partners.
Furyk opted to double down and split his high-profile pair.
Reed will team with Tiger Woods in Friday’s anchor four-ball match against Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood while Spieth will be with Justin Thomas facing Paul Casey and Tyrrell Hatton in the third match.
“I think you saw those guys together a lot with Tiger as a vice captain, and you also saw them in practice this week. Tiger and Patrick and Jordan and J.T.,” Furyk said. “Kind of looked at our options. … We had one very good pairing. I think we came out of it with two very good pairings. The idea was to double up and try to get two.”
There had been indications that Woods and Reed might form a new American pairing this week.
“We’ve been looking forward to teaming up and doing something like this together,” Woods said.
Another interesting twist was putting Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler together for the first time. They will face Rory McIlroy and Thorbjørn Olesen in the second match.
“Mentioned that to the two of those folks weeks and weeks and weeks ago, had them talk about it, think about it,” Furyk said. “Golf balls, mannerisms, what they like in their partner, personalities.
“They work together in a lot of different ways. Both have that kind of laid-back mannerism that they both like and I think they pair up real well. So again, we’ll see.”
Neither Furyk nor European captain Thomas Bjørn would commit to playing all 12 players on the first day but, particularly on the American side, it seems likely that Webb Simpson and Bubba Watson will play afternoon foursomes together as will Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau.
With five Ryder Cup rookies on his team, Bjørn put four of them out Friday morning with Jon Rahm drawing the first match with Justin Rose against Brooks Koepka and Tony Finau.
“Jon’s a guy that he wants to be out there. He wants to have a responsibility. He wants to feel like he’s in the sense of what is,” Bjørn said.
“So we’ll send him out tomorrow morning with probably one of the best players or the best player in the world, arguably, at the moment. That’s a pretty good place to be for a rookie. I would look forward to it if it was me.”
Here’s a quick look at Friday morning’s four-ball matches:
Match 1: Brooks Koepka/Tony Finau vs. Justin Rose/Jon Rahm
How important is the first match?
Over the last 19 Ryder Cups, the side that won the first match has won the cup.
This match should provide an immediate indication of how much the American power can be an advantage or how substantially they will be forced to throttle back because of Le Golf National’s thick, dense rough and the nature of the layout.
Match 2: Dustin Johnson/Rickie Fowler vs. Rory McIlroy/Thorbjørn Olesen
When Fowler was asked Thursday how he would like partnering with Johnson, he said, “I think anyone would be kind of stupid to say that they weren’t willing to go to battle with him.”
The two Americans don’t have a great four-ball record, having gone a combined 2-5-2 in the better-ball format.
Olesen may be the most under-the-radar player in the event and he will take his cue from McIlroy, who needs to remedy the driving issues that afflicted him in the Tour Championship final round.
Match 3: Jordan Spieth/Justin Thomas vs. Paul Casey/Tyrrell Hatton
There can’t be a more comfortable American pairing than these two. Spieth’s game hasn’t been sharp this season but he’s a terrific big-moment player and it doesn’t get any bigger than this.
Casey and Hatton are a new-look pairing created by Bjørn and both have games that seem suited to Le Golf National’s demand for accuracy, particularly off the tee.
Match 4: Patrick Reed/Tiger Woods vs. Francesco Molinari/Tommy Fleetwood
The Woods/Reed pairing may be a masterstroke for Furyk and the Americans. Reed’s love of match play and his willingness to play the role of villain can be ideal for Woods but it can also backfire. It hasn’t through two Ryder Cups, however.
If grinding away is part of the secret sauce in this Ryder Cup, Molinari and Fleetwood will be a formidable pair.