Playing With Matches

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. ' Now is the time for all good golfers to come to the aid of their country..or continent.
 
The picks are in for Friday mornings four foursomes matches that will kick off the three-day adrenaline rush that goes by the name of the Ryder Cup.
 
Europe has won five of the last six of these biennial golfapalooozas. And one of the key common denominators is the fast starts the Euros have gotten off to in all five of those victories.
 
To whit: In each of the last five Ryder Cups, the Europeans have led after the first days matches. That includes the four fourball matches that, at Valhalla Friday, will be played in the afternoon.
 
The combined first day total of points in those five Ryder Cups is Europe 26 -U.S. 13 .
 
American captain Paul Azinger and European captain Nick Faldo are acutely aware of those numbers. So what follows is an analysis, in order of the Friday morning matches (the pairings for afternoon play wont be announced until late Friday morning).
 
MATCH 1, 8:05 a.m.: Phil Mickelson and Anthony Kim (USA) vs. Padraig Harrington and Robert Karlsson (Europe):
 
THE SCOOP: Faldo said Thursday he thought about putting Sergio Garcia, 8-0-0 lifetime in foursomes, in this spot. But he deferred to Harringtons stature as the reigning two-time British and one-time PGA champion. Pretty tough to beat a three-time major champion out of his seat, Faldo saidAzinger said six different guys asked for rookie Kim as a partner. He awarded Kim to MickelsonLast time Mickelson went out first on Friday in Ryder Cup was infamous 2-and-1 loss partnering with Tiger Woods against Harrington and Colin Montgomerie at Oakland Hills four years ago.
 
THE EDGE: Europe.
 

MATCH 2, 8:20 a.m.: Justin Leonard and Hunter Mahan (USA) vs. Henrik Stenson and Paul Casey (Europe):
 
THE SCOOP: Leonard and Mahan close Texas friends. Both disciples of Dallas teacher Randy Smith.Leonard 0-3-5 career in Ryder Cup and desperate for a full point..Stenson and Casey, both bombers, better matched off tee than Mahan and the shorter Leonard..Mahan and Leonard both better putters, on paper, than the Euros here..Casey one of five Englishmen on Englishman Faldos team and even Stenson has a Faldo connection: His caddie, Fanny Sunesson, used to carry Faldos golf bag.
 
THE EDGE: Europe.
 
MATCH 3, 8:35 a.m.: Stewart Cink and Chad Campbell (USA) vs. Justin Rose and Ian Poulter (Europe).
 
THE SCOOP: Steady as she goes for both Cink and Campbell in alternate shot and both are perfect in this spot with Ryder Cup experience..Rose is a talented rookie who has lacked closing power in stroke play events.Poulter has become something of Faldos teachers pet in the lead-up to the matches and the pressure may be greater on him than any other player on the European squadLook for Cink to play all five matches. Ditto for Kim, Jim Furyk and Mickelson.
 
THE EDGE: USA.
 
MATCH 4, 8:50 a.m.: Kenny Perry and Jim Furyk (USA) vs. Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia (Europe).
 
THE SCOOP: Garcia and Westwood are Europes best team by far in this event. And to repeat, Garcia is 8-0-0 lifetime in foursomes. Which makes this an absolutely great nothing-to-lose spot for native son Perry to pull off the upset that would set the galleries on fire. Remember, Tiger Woods is no longer the player at these matches with the biggest target on his back. The player now, on either side, with the bulls-eye on him is Garcia.Steady Furyk is the perfect partner for Perry in alternate shot although hes 2-5-0 career in Ryder Cup foursomes..Westwood is, and always will be, an underrated player until he wins a couple of majors..His poker face is a perfect complement to the voluble Garcia.
 
THE EDGE: Halve.
 
FINAL THOUGHTS: A lot of people are surprised that long-hitting Kentuckian J.B. Holmes isnt playing Friday morning. But, upon closer inspection, it was the right move by Azinger. Holmes game is built for fourballs not foursomes. And look for Azinger to send him off first in the afternoon matches to get the Valhalla crowd into the afternoon session right off the bat. Boo Weekley would be an engaging choice as Holmes partner.
 
The other big surprise Thursday was the emotional state of the normally-steely Faldo at the press conference where he announced his team. Faldo was near tears at least twice and confessed to it. I need to get it out somewhere, Faldo said, adding, This is really the best experience Ive ever had inside, outside the ropes, as a non-player, inside, outside the ropes. This is the most special moment, week of my life right now.
 
And the matches havent even begun.
 
Email your thoughts to Brian Hewitt
 
Related Links:
  • U.S. Report Cards
  • European Report Cards
  • U.S. Ryder Cup Team and Records
  • European Ryder Cup Team and Records
  • Full Coverage - 37th Ryder Cup