GLENEAGLES, Scotland – The anchor match of the opening session of the Ryder Cup intrigues as a heavyweight bout that makes everything else feel like the undercard.
USA’s Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley vs. Europe's Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia.
Yes, all the matches matter equally - they’re all worth a point - but Match No. 4 pits the best American team from 2012 against the world No. 1 (McIlroy) and world No. 3 (Garcia). It pits Mickelson against McIlroy, whom Mickelson poked fun at Wednesday, when he said American players get along just fine and aren’t in litigation against each other like the Euros. He was making light of McIlroy and Graeme McDowell being in a legal wrangle over contracts McIlroy has with an agent they once shared.
“You have to like all the contests, but the last contest, that's the striking contest,” U.S. captain Tom Watson said. “That's the one that’s kind of the main event, you'd have to say. You all know that. It's not rocket science here. That's what we're going to be looking at tomorrow. We're going to be looking at the first three matches, and 'Oh, yeah, there's Sergio and Rory playing Phil and Keegan.' Looking forward to that. I know that and you know that. But again, every match is really important.”
Mickelson and Bradley swept all three matches they played together at Medinah two years ago, winning in routs. None of their matches reached the 18th green. They were a dynamic duo, with Mickelson playing off Bradley’s exuberance and emotion. They whipped the formidable European team of Garcia and Luke Donald 4 and 3 in foursomes and thumped the team of Donald/Lee Westwood 7 and 6 in foursomes.
If you’re handicapping this match, though, you have to make McIlroy and Garcia the clear favorites based on form. World No. 1 McIroy won the British Open and PGA Championship this summer. Garcia won the Qatar Masters earlier this year with seven finishes of fourth or better.
Mickelson is enduring his first winless season in more than a decade. Bradley is also winless this year.
McIlroy and Garcia were fired up about being paired together for the first time in a Ryder Cup.
“Sergio is one of my closest friends on tour, and we always got along well,” McIlroy said. “I think that it was only a matter of time before we got together in the Ryder Cup and played. What a great way to start, obviously, against Phil and Keegan. So, it's an exciting match. I again couldn't ask for a better partner. He's playing fantastically well. I know that I can rely on him, and he's such a solid player.”
Garcia is 16-8-4 in Ryder Cup play. He endured that loss to Mickelson/Bradley two years ago when teamed with Donald in foursomes.
“Obviously, Keegan and Phil played really well at Medinah a couple years ago," Garcia said. “It will be nice to go out there and play well and play like we know how to play, and take a point away from them. I think would be very important.”
McIlroy also lost to the Bradley/Mickelson team when paired with McDowell in foursomes at Medinah, but McIlroy defeated Bradley in singles there. Mickelson is 1-4 in Ryder Cup matches against Garcia. He was 0-4 until teaming with Bradley to beat him at Medinah.
“We have our work cut out for us, but we're on top of our games as well, and hopefully we'll have a good match,” Mickelson said.