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Splitting (c)up? Spieth, Reed look prepped for new partners

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SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – It’s the secretive topic of this Ryder Cup – that all signs point to the highly successful Jordan Spieth-Patrick Reed partnership, if not altogether ending, at least taking a brief hiatus.

U.S. captain Jim Furyk has avoided the subject.

So has Reed.

Spieth has remained mum.

But practice-round pairings are typically an indication of how the captain is leaning, and it’s noteworthy that Spieth and Reed – who are 8-1-3 in team competitions together – were in the same group for only one of the two days here at Le Golf National. And when they were on Wednesday, they didn’t play together, as partners.

That means either Spieth and Reed have new dance partners this year, or they’re trying to mess with fans, media, and Thomas Bjorn and Co.

Instead, for the first two days of practice, there have been two constants:

Reed with Tiger Woods.

And Spieth with Justin Thomas.

Understandable, both of them, and it might be a beneficial move for each if they split up USA Golf’s version of the Dream Team.

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Reed has long been drawn to the tenacity and single-mindedness that made Woods an untouchable legend for more than a decade. He’s tried to model his career after Woods’, so much so that for years he even wore black pants and a red shirt on Fridays, to honor him. Woods was in charge of overseeing Reed’s pod at the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine, and it was Woods whom Reed credited with calming him down before his epic singles match against Rory McIlroy. If he’s paired with his childhood idol this weekend, it’s easy to see Reed running through a wall for him.

Spieth and Thomas, obviously, make perfect sense, too: They’ve been friendly rivals since they were 12, they’re frequent practice-round partners and they’re intimately familiar with each other’s games.

“It would be cool; it would be fun,” Thomas said. “We know each other’s games well enough that you almost have another caddie if you need it. That may be something that doesn’t seem like a big deal to others, but it’s a pretty big deal in the grand scheme of things. It could be fun, but you just have to wait and see, I guess.”

Indeed, the answer will (mercifully) be revealed late Thursday afternoon, during the opening ceremony, but it’s a safe bet that Spieth and Reed will be broken up at some point, if not for all of the team sessions.

The timing is right for a split.

Spieth enters this Ryder Cup, for the first time, as one of the U.S. question marks. This season he has regressed with his iron play and putting, and though he nearly stole two majors, Spieth still wasn’t productive enough to qualify for the Tour Championship. That meant an extra week at home to rest, regroup and reassess.

Despite Spieth’s relative struggles, Furyk said Wednesday that he “loves where Jordan is right now” and raved about the 25-year-old’s increasing influence in the team room, as the de-facto leader of the 20-something brigade.

“For his age, he’s very mature, and all those guys his age group, when Jordan speaks, everyone seems to listen,” Furyk said. “He’s helped out a lot.

“Having a week off, having some fresh legs, a fresh mind, I would guess he’s chomping at the bit right now. He’s probably ready to go this week, and I think it’ll be a real good week for him.”

Reed’s form hasn’t been ideal, either. The Masters champion stayed hot into the early summer, but he’s posted just one top-10 in his past 10 worldwide starts, including a 29th-place showing in the 30-man field at East Lake. Reed might be one of the few, however, whose recent form can be discounted – like European igniter Ian Poulter, Reed turns into a different dude when Ryder Cup Friday beckons. 

Even with his new stature in the game as a major champion, Reed remains motivated by slights, whether real or imagined. It’s in his competitive DNA: He was overlooked as a standout junior; he was overlooked at Augusta State, despite going 6-0 in NCAA match play; and maybe he was even overlooked in the run-up to the 2014 matches at Gleneagles, with his well-established reputation as a talented but combustible personality. Before he earned the “Captain America” nickname, there were whispers about with whom Reed could pair. In one of his few brilliant moves, 2014 captain Tom Watson matched Reed with Spieth, a fellow Texan and America’s darling.   

Heading into the opening session, Reed said, “The biggest thing was, for me personally, I felt like I had something to prove. I felt like I had to come out and prove to myself that I can go out and play well and win my matches, just to validate that mindset that I have, that I belonged here.”

By week’s end, there was no doubt.

Reed and Spieth thrived together, going 2-0-1 as one of the lone bright spots for the Americans. But they also were an unconventional pair with an awkward internal dynamic.

“We just want to beat the crap out of each other, to be honest,” Spieth said a few years ago. “We’ve always seemed to play well in the same groups, and part of it is because we want to beat each other. We’ve always wanted to.”

They took a break for the 2015 Presidents Cup, playing together for just one victorious fourballs match, before settling into their expected roles at both Hazeltine and Liberty National.

Overall, they have been nearly unbeatable together, solidifying themselves as one of the best American duos. For much of the past two decades, the U.S. has struggled to find consistency and continuity among its partnerships, but they seemed to have found that missing piece in Reed, 28, and Spieth, 25, both of whom seem destined for at least another half-dozen cups.

Now, it appears, they’ll continue to be teammates but not necessarily a ready-made pairing.  

It’s a calculated risk that Furyk seems likely to take – even if he’s not yet ready to discuss it.