Thursday, 18 September 2008

Morning Foursomes - Azinger the poker demon had got his cards close to his chest after all - he certainly didn't flash them in front of no cameras...

Cruisin' in the bacak of a Maybach, Azinger still wears shades so as to give no clues to his team.
Faldo meanwhile waxes lyrical to the driver on how good Lee and Sergio are together...

So, the announcements have been made and there was only the one slight surprise in the European pairings. Ian Poulter, the most controversial Wild card we've seen since Andrew Coltart was picked for '99 by Mark James (only he knows what he was thinking with that one...), has been thrown in early alongside Justin Rose. It's perhaps a wise move by Captain Nick Faldo to get him into the thick of it sooner rather than later and give him a chance to prove his worth; leaving him on the sidelines would only have built the considerable pressure he's under.

That bloody note was accurate enough, though Faldo was true to his word in saying there were no numbers on it and the order may not be finalised. The first balls to be struck for the European side will be by Open and USPGA Champion Padraig Harrington and recent winner Robert Karlsson. They go out to take on the intimidating combination of world No.2 Phil Mickelson and this years bright young thing Anthony Kim. It's a real humdinger of a match to kick off proceedings, Harrington and Mickelson being seen as the unofficial leaders of their respective sides and they will be dying to get one up on each other.

The second match sees big hitting combination Henrik Stenson and Paul Casey take on Justin Leonard and Hunter Mahan. I really fancy the two Europeans in this tie, Justin Leonard has yet to register a win from eight matches at the Ryder cup, five halves and three losses his tally, while rookie Hunter Mahan has it all to prove after his players as slaves outburst earlier in the year. Casey loves matchplay and Stenson is one of Europes most polished performers, I have a feeling this match could provide the first point of the day for Europe...

Their match will be followed by Justin Rose and Ian Poulter up against Stewart Cink and Chad Campbell. This is a tougher one to call but you would think the best buddy pairing of the two Englishmen should prevail; Cink is a tough competitor but Chad Campbell has kind of been in the wilderness for a while. You can sure Poulter will be well fired up for the occasion anyhow and Rose has become a really complete player these past two years. It's easy to forget he's the reigning Order of Merit winner.

Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia are last out against Kenny Perry and Jim Furyk and I will be stunned if it's not a European win here. Garcia and Westwood have a blinding record together and whilst that record is mostly in Fourball partnerships, their record in the Ryder Cup is frankly ridiculous and they have both had one of the best years of their careers. Jim Furyk is a wily old goat mind and won't go down easy and support will be strong for home boy Kenny Perry but I still back Lee and Sergio to the hilt on this one. Why should you out the mortgage on that? Westwood has not lost a rubber of any format since 2000, while Sergio, get this, has eight points from eight matches in foursomes... That's quite special.

All in all I reckon it should be a slight lead for Europe or no worse than honours even after the first round. I favour an American win to start off (Harrington struggled badly at the K club if you remember) though it could go either way, likely a half in the third but I'm pretty sure two wins shall come from Casey's game and Sergio's.

Speaking about his choice for the opening pair, Faldo said

"I had a couple of good options, but this is the one I've gone with - our current Open and PGA champion and the most recent winner anywhere out of the two teams."

"That's a pretty strong four pairings, eight pretty strong guys"

No arguments here, though Jimenez and McDowell will be sorry to be missing out, they'll be itching for the fourballs.

Justin Rose was excited to get the nod and to be paired with old chum Poulter.

"Ian and I have a great camaraderie and will find a way to get it done. It's great to see it on paper. We can get the juices flowing and psyche ourselves up. I've been waiting a long time for this."

Steady on Justin, it's only a round of golf remember, keep your "juices" to yourself...ahem. His partner Poulter was bullish about it all and well aware that he has a point to prove this week.

"I can't wait. It is going to be awesome, and I have to say I am buzzing.I missed out the last time (2004) on the Friday morning and I really want to be a big factor in this side. This has totally made up for the last three or four weeks, which have been tough for me. But I am big enough and ugly enough to keep all of that at bay."

That's the spirit Ian, do it for your continent, cause if you don't, you'll be spending even more of your year playing in America, for quite some time...

The American pairings do have a few more surprises in there. That's the poker player in Azinger coming out. The JB Holmes and Kenny Perry combo that was mooted to lead the team out and get their home crowd going didn't materialise. It will be very interesting to hear when alls said and done if Faldo's note had anything to do with that. It'll all come out in the wash. JB is left out altogether, along with fellow big hitter Boo Weekley. A brave move considering Holmes had knocked a driver on the green on a par four during the week, a green protected by water in front; what European would have fancied matching that... If he's thinking of the two monster drivers together in the afternoon fourballs that would be an audacious and probably brilliant move. Azinger has blooded only two of his six rookies in the morning then, will he be brave enough to get the rest involved in the afternoon? Time will tell. I can't wait!

The PGAT Morning Prediction - US -1.5 Europe 2.5

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