Woods and Jim Furyk, unbeaten in the three matches at the Presidents Cup, will be the first to tee off Friday morning in a fourball match against Colin Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington, Europe's toughest tandem in the last Ryder Cup.
That sure wasn't the case last time.
In a notorious start at Oakland Hills, Woods and Phil Mickelson played together for the first time. Montgomerie and Harrington birdied the first hole and never trailed, a 2-and-1 victory that gave Europe an emotional lift on it way to its largest victory ever, 18 1/2 -9 1/2 .
'The first point is important,' U.S. captain Tom Lehman said. 'You want to lead with your best.'
Mickelson also found a good partner at the Presidents Cup last year when he and Chris DiMarco were unbeaten in four matches. They will bring up the rear for the Americans in the opening session in what figured to be the most emotional match Friday. They will face Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland, whose wife died of cancer five weeks ago.
'It's a big occasion for Darren tomorrow, and playing with one of his best friends,' European captain Ian Woosnam said. 'I think that's going to boost Darren right up.'
In between were a couple of mild surprises, with Lehman starting two of his four unheralded rookies.
J.J. Henry, who has played as well as anyone in the three days of practice at The K Club, will join Stewart Cink in the second fourball match against Paul Casey and Robert Karlsson. In the third game, David Toms and big-hitting Brett Wetterich will take on Sergio Garcia and Jose Maria Olazabal.
Woods has lost seven consecutive matches on opening day at the Ryder Cup, dating to his debut match at Valderrama in 1997. He and Furyk come into this Ryder Cup on top of their games. Woods has won five of his last six tournaments and Furyk won the Canadian Open two weeks ago, although both lost in the first round of the World Match Play Championship last week.
Montgomerie and Harrington, Ireland's best golfer, won both their matches at Oakland Hills without reaching the 18th hole.
'Monty always just seems to raise his game for this tournament,' Woosnam said. 'Obviously he stands on that first tee, he changes into a different person. ... He's got a fantastic record and not very often he gets beat.'
Montgomerie had said last time that beating Woods and Mickelson was worth two points because of the emotional lift. Woosnam believes a victory over Woods and Furyk would do the same.
'It's going to be a big boost for us if we can beat that pairing,' he said.
Lehman said he had his opening-session pairings in mind before arriving on Monday, and nothing he saw in practice changed his mind.
Woosnam, meanwhile, relied on his gut feeling watching his players this week. That much was obvious with his pairing of Casey and Karlsson. The original plan was for Karlsson to play with fellow Swedish rookie Henrik Stenson.
Casey won the HSBC World Match Play Championship last week, and Karlsson reached the semifinals.
'I decided last night on that pairing,' Woosnam said. 'And that's why they went out together today, to give them a chance to play together. They both hit the ball extremely long. They hit in the same club and hit the same shots into the green, and I think that's what made me go for that pairing.'
Another surprise was Garcia and Olazabal.
Woosnam said he hoped they could deliver the kind of magic Olazabal and Seve Ballesteros brought to Europe in the 1980s, when the 'Spanish Armada' produced the most successful tandem in Ryder Cup history.
Ballesteros was a mentor to Olazabal, however. Garcia has never been particularly close to either Spanish star.
'They both got this love of match play,' Woosnam said. 'Obviously, they might be talking Spanish all the way around.'