With the last pieces now firmly in place for this year’s Ryder Cup in Paris it’s time to pivot from endless speculation over potential picks and detached vetting, to possible pairings and matchups.
Although captains care little for marquee value and entertainment purposes when filling out their dance cards – opting instead for statistical similarities and individual personalities – there are no shortages of potential must-see matchups now that each side’s dozen has been fit for their uniforms.
In no particular order, we’ve concocted a list of possible matches and pairings that would make arguably the game’s most compelling competition even more entertaining.
Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson vs. whomever (fourballs):This experiment went horribly in 2004 when Hal Sutton tried it, with the uber duo going 0-2 on Day 1 at Oakland Hills, but times, and the game’s two biggest stars, have changed.
The two have started to play practice rounds together and have scheduled a made-for-TV match later this year in Las Vegas. “I hope we are teammates at the Ryder Cup,” Mickelson admitted at The Northern Trust.
Jordan Spieth-Patrick Reed vs. Justin Rose-Ian Poulter (foursomes): There is no subtext here, no quirky history between this foursome that would give the match added value, just two teams that have proven to be virtually unbeatable.
Spieth and Reed have gone 4-1-1 in six Ryder Cup team matches, the second-most successful pairing for the United States, while Rose and Poulter are 4-1-0 in five team matches. These types of matches rarely live up to the hype, but this one could be as good as advertised.
Bryson DeChambeau-Bubba Watson vs. whomever (fourballs): We’re not saying there’s any potential of these two meshing into an unstoppable force; just that the chance to catch a clip of DeChambeau trying to explain his Newtonian theories on the golf swing or standard deviations to “Bubba from Bagdad (Fla.)” has the potential to be comic gold.
And if they could pair them against Paul Casey and Tommy Fleetwood, just for their reactions, that would be terrific.
Dustin Johnson-Brooks Koepka vs. Francesco Molinari-Alex Noren (fourballs): This is clearly an “odd couple” deal, with the long-hitting Americans taking on a pair of tactical, fairways-and-greens specialists, but it’s worth a look for several reasons.
Johnson and Koepka teamed together during the Day 2 fourball session in 2016 and got rolled, 3 and 1 (they did go 2-0-0 as a team at last year’s Presidents Cup), but everything about the duo screams better-ball heavyweights. Add to that a golf course that, by all accounts, will mitigate the U.S. power advantage and you increased intrigue.
Bryson DeChambeau vs. Jon Rahm (singles): Although the play from two of the game’s most dynamic players is sure to be worth the price of admission, what we’re really waiting for here is an inevitable meltdown.
Rahm – who had a particularly heated implosion at the U.S. Open – is fueled by emotion and the biennial matches will only magnify that (think adding jet fuel to a campfire) and DeChambeau was spotted during the PGA perched on the edge of an emotional abyss. Match play always produces explosive play and in this case probably a few explosive outbursts.
Phil Mickelson vs. Sergio Garcia (singles): Although neither veteran seems to be at their best at the moment and both needed nods from their captains to even make their teams, the history between the two provides a compelling narrative.
There’s also the added sidebar of where the duo’s Ryder Cup career is headed, with both Mickelson and Garcia often mentioned as potential captains when the matches are played at Bethpage in 2024.
Tony Finau vs. Tyrrell Hatton (singles): In the ultimate showdown between bomb-and-gouge and small-ball, this match could add much to the ongoing distance debate in golf.
Finau ranks third on the PGA Tour this season in driving distance (316.3-yard average) while Hatton ranks 83rd with a 298-yard average. They say Le Golf National is a ball-striker’s golf course and this match could prove it.
Ian Poulter vs. Tiger Woods (singles): Consider this prophetic after the Englishman famously figured in 2008, “I know I haven’t played to my full potential and when that happens, it will be just me and Tiger.”
Poulter and Woods are ranked 34th and 21st, respectively, and both needed to be captain’s picks for this year’s matches, so it’s not exactly a clash of titans, but their history and the gallery’s response would be priceless.
Rory McIlroy vs. Patrick Reed (singles): Preferably if this could be the final match on Sunday with the outcome still in doubt that would be best and add even more drama to what would be the marquee bout of the Ryder Cup.
After the duo’s epic duel in 2016 when Reed won, 1 up, it’s hard to imagine how they top that, but it would be fun watching them try.