GLENEAGLES, Scotland – Both Ryder Cup captains had more than a few surprises in place for Friday’s opening fourball session.
In the day’s first match, U.S. captain Tom Watson went with Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson to play Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson; followed by Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker vs. Thomas Bjorn and Martin Kaymer; and Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed vs. Stephen Gallacher and Ian Poulter.
The captains saved the morning’s marquee match for last, going with Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson vs. Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia.
“That’s the main event in the first round,” Watson said. “You all know that. It’s not rocket science.”
Mickelson caused a stir on Wednesday when he jokingly referenced the ongoing legal troubles involving McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, but acknowledged the American’s Round 1 opponent as Europe’s best team.
“It's going to be a difficult match against what we perceive as the strongest team that Europe has,” Mickelson said following the opening ceremony. “We have our work cut out for us.”
While Mickelson and Bradley, who went undefeated in team play two years ago at Medinah, were an easy pairing, McIlroy has never played with Garcia in a Ryder Cup match and some guessed the world No. 1 would be paired with fellow Northern Irishman McDowell.
Similarly, Rose and Poulter had been paired together five times in Ryder Cup play and were believed to be an obvious team. Instead, Euro captain Paul McGinley broke up the tandem for the best-ball session.
“It's not a big deal,” McGinley said. “The bottom line is we need to get 14 ½ points if we are going to win a Ryder Cup, and whatever way we do it, we do it.”
Perhaps the biggest surprise, however, will be in the morning’s third match of Spieth and Reed, both Ryder Cup rookies, against Scotland’s Gallacher and Poulter.
“You would like to get them to play all 18 holes, play their own ball and get them out that way. That's the reason I put the two rookies out together,” Watson said. “They have been playing some practice rounds together and doing very well.”
Jim Furyk, Matt Kuchar, Hunter Mahan and Zach Johnson will sit out the morning session for the United States; and Victor Dubuisson, Lee Westwood, Jamie Donaldson and McDowell are not playing for European.
(All tee times Eastern; BST +5 hours)
Match 1 (2:35 a.m.): Bubba Watson/Webb Simpson (USA) vs. Justin Rose/Henrik Stenson (Europe)
Match 2 (2:50 a.m.): Rickie Fowler/Jimmy Walker (USA) vs. Thomas Bjorn/Martin Kaymer (Europe)
Match 3 (3:05 a.m.): Jordan Spieth/Patrick Reed (USA) vs. Stephen Gallacher/Ian Poulter (Europe)
Match 4 (3:20 a.m.): Phil Mickelson/Keegan Bradley (USA) vs. Rory McIlroy/Sergio Garcia (Europe)