Day 1 Four-Ball Pairings Yield Surprises

RSS

SUTTON COLDFIELD, England -- The United States and European teams released their match-ups for Friday mornings four-ball matches, and if you have been paying attention this week, there might be a couple of surprises.
 
Tiger Woods and Paul Azinger will face Dane Thomas Bjorn and Northern Irelands Darren Clarke. They will be the first group out at 8:00 AM local time.
 
David Duval and Davis Love III will face Spaniard Sergio Garcia and Englishman Lee Westwood at 8:15.
 
Scott Hoch and Jim Furyk will go out 15 minutes later to face veterans Colin Montgomerie and Bernhard Langer. Phil Mickelson and David Toms will play in the final match against Padraig Harrington and Niclas Fasth.
 
The match-ups were done blindly, with each captain putting his team in slot, 1-4. However, Clarke and Bjorn both have a history of taming Tiger, as both have beaten the worlds No. 1 head-to-head.
 
Clarke defeated Woods in the 36-hole final of the 2000 World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship. Bjorn bettered Tiger while playing alongside him for 72 holes in the 2001 Dubai Desert Classic.
 
Clarke also paired with Westwood to defeat Woods and Duval in four-balls in 1999.
 
I had no idea where he (Strange) put Tiger, no, Torrance said when reminded of his pairings record against Woods. Ill remember that for the team meeting tonight. Thank you. That might be my best point tonight.
 
Toms and Fasth are the only Ryder Cup rookies competing in the morning session.
 
Rookies Scott Verplank and Stewart Cink will sit on the sidelines for the Americans, along with Hal Sutton and Mark Calcavecchia.
 
European Captain Sam Torrance benched rookies Pierre Fulke, Phillip Price and Paul McGinley, as well as Jesper Parnevik.
 
United States Captain Curtis Strange stuck mostly with the same pairings he had deployed each of the first three practice rounds. The only exception was Woods and Azinger, who played nine holes of alternate-shot together Wednesday.
 
Woods played mostly with Calcavecchia, but when Calcavecchia, who is a career 4-0-0 in foursomes and a career 0-4-0 in four-ball, admitted he would be more comfortable in the alternate-shot format, Strange made the switch.
 
With that discussion, I thought it best for our team that I put Azinger with Woods and leave Mark Calcavecchia for the alternate shot, said Strange, who added the other three pairings were the same ones he had in mind well before the start of the week.
 
Paul likes to play with Tiger; Tiger enjoys PaulI think they bring out the best in each other.
 
On the European side, Clarke and Bjorn, and Harrington and Fasth had played exclusively together in the practice sessions. Garcia had been playing mainly with Langer, as had Montgomerie with Westwood.
 
But Torrance made the change after careful observation.
 
They (Montgomerie and Langer) were actually a couple of my floaters, they could have gone anywhere. And it was wonderful to be able to pair them up together, Torrance said.
 
Other teams gelled so well together that I didnt have to split them up, so it was great to be able to put them together.
Langer and Montgomerie easily have the most experience of all the morning pairings as Ryder Cup teammates.
 
The two, who have played in a combined 16 Matches, have teamed together on four prior occasions.
 
The two defeated Corey Pavin and Steve Pate in four-balls in 1991. They then went 2-1 as partners in 1997. They defeated Woods and Mark OMeara in foursomes, and defeated Furyk and Lee Janzen in the same format. They lost to Woods and OMeara in four-balls.
 
Duval and Love are the only American pairing with prior Cup experience. They halved their Saturday afternoon four-ball match against Parnevik and Garcia in 1999.
 
Duval and Love have played together in Presidents Cups, good friends, good big hitters, similar games, good personalities, Strange said. They traveled to Ireland (site of last weeks event) together, stayed together, traveled, obviously, with the team here. Its almost a no-brainer for me.
 
As for Parnevik, Torrance said the Swede gracefully accepted his seat on the bench. Parnevik went 3-0-1 while playing with Garcia in 1999, but has struggled throughout the 2002 season.
 
Jesper is not on top of his game yet, but hes very close, Torrance explained. I didnt want to put the pressure on him, when his game is not right in the first match.
 
If history is any indication, the Europeans have the early advantage ' on paper, at least. Their morning pairings have a combined 14-13-5 record in Ryder Cup four-balls. The American pairings are a combined 6-16-3.
 
Mickelson (3-2-1) is the only U.S. player with a winning four-ball record.
 
Mickelson and Toms, thats what I would call another no-brainer, Strange said. Theyre both playing exceptionally well, similar games. Mickelson is longer, but Toms is very consistent, just in best-ball thats what you want. It just looks like a wonderful pairing.
 
Woods is 1-3-0 in this format; Love is 1-4-0; Azinger is 1-4-1. Only Montgomerie (3-4-2) and Langer (5-6-2) have losing records on the European side in four-balls.
 
After the conclusion of four-balls, players will take a 15-minute break before beginning the afternoon foursomes.
 
Strange has said he will play everyone on his team at least once before the Sunday singles, Torrance made no such commitment.
 
Im intending to, but theres nothing cast in stone, Torrance said. Im not going to give points away. If somethings not right, Im not putting them out.
 
After four days of practice, dinners, fun and ceremonies, all involved are finally ready to start the 34th version of the Ryder Cup Matches at The Belfry.
 
I think the fun aspect is usually Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Torrance said. But its pretty serious now. Were all settled, were all ready and we just cant wait to get going.
 
Full coverage of the 34th Ryder Cup Matches