Sunday, 21 September 2008

Ryder Cup Singles Pairings - Is Faldo a certifiable genius, or just certifiable...

Nick Faldo once more refused to do what virtually every pundit, expert, and armchair observer would have done and left himself open to charges of losing the Ryder Cup for Europe. He's chosen to leave two of his biggest names, Harrington and Westwood, at the end of the order along with in-form Poulter and McDowell. This is a ploy that Hal Sutton employed when he sent Tiger Woods out last, leaving the world number one finishing his match in pure irrelevance; Europe already had the Cup in the bag as they hoovered up the early matches.

But then we were all convinced his use of his players yesterday was the sign of a man who had completely lost his head. In the end his choices seemed inspired as his big men all got a rest while the so called weaker players claimed valuable points and halves to give Europe the opportunity to head into the singles only two behind.

Faldo has once more said to the less high profile names in his team that he has faith in them to keep the match alive. After all it's not like we don't have any big names left to lead the team out. Mr Ryder Cup himself, Sergio Garcia is the man to set the tone for Europe and he will be in a potential classic against the American version of El Nino, the excitable Anthony Kim. The Spaniard will be out to how the original is still the best, accept no imitations.

Azinger, who has kept with the more conventional wisdom of sending out your best early, said he'd decided to go with three of his most aggressive guys, and it's the two men who formed an unexpected Golden pairing on Day One, Mahan and Leonard next. Again, while they may not be of the stature of Westwood and Harrington, Casey who faces Mahan, is a former world Matchplay winner while Leonard's opponent Karlsson played crazy golf on the back nine last night to haul back Mickelson and Mahan - six birdies in seven holes. It's not exactly a weak start for the Europeans.

Mickelson will be huge favourite against Justin Rose, however, Kenny Perry has been in cracking form and faces Henrik Stenson while Oliver Wilson, the Rookie who did so well to come back from nowhere to beat Mickelson and Kim has been handed probably the most intimidating match he could have faced. He faces a cacophony of hoots and hollers and Choruses of boos as he lines up against Boo Weekley. It's a massive ask for Wilson, but crikey, crumbs and gosh, if he did a job for Faldo that would be massive in terms of the match.

Big hitter JB Holmes will also be keeping the noise levels high against Soren Hansen followed by a match-up of two veterans, Furyk and Jimenez, who both exhibited some incredible iron play yesterday.

It is when we reach this point that you feel Faldo's masterplan could pay off. As long as the early guys are no worse than sharing the points with the Americans, Faldo has a tail which should wag much more fiercely than Azinger's. Stewart Cink went off the boil yesterday after carrying Chad Campbell to one of the most unlikely of wins on day one. He is up against Graeme McDowell who was nothing short of sensational yesterday, putting like an absolute demon and pretty tasty tee to green as well. He's a heavy favourite for this tie.

Then we have Steve Sticker, a rookie only in name really, whose putting exploits have been fairly incredible too. But will he fancy the challenge of the on fire Poulter who has three from four and looks like the most determined man in Christendom.

Then we have two of the most lopsided pairings you could think of as Ben Curtis, who has been muted at best, takes on Lee Westwood, who has been very unlucky thus far to have three of the toughest matches in the tournament to play and will be licking his lips at the thought of playing Curtis. Rested for the first time in a Ryder Cup, he'll be raring to go.

The final match, should it come down to it, sees Chad Campbell, who has been comfortably the USA's weakest player, up against Padraig Harrington, Open Champion, USPGA Champion and another who has played really well on the greens this week but been up against on fire opposition.

The final two may have poorish records on single matches by their standards, but they have been asked in the past to play all five sessions and face one of the American big guns. Here they've had a breather and are up against much lesser opposition. As long as the guys can keep the match alive long enough for it to come down to these guys, Faldo's pairings may look like an act of genius. Such experience if they turn into deciding matches could be crucial. I hope for his sake, it turns out that way, for the press will be all over him like a rash.

Draw for Sunday's Ryder Cup singles (US players first): Times in BST

1703 Anthony Kim v Sergio Garcia

1714 Hunter Mahan v Paul Casey

1725 Justin Leonard v Robert Karlsson

1736 Phil Mickelson v Justin Rose

1747 Kenny Perry v Henrik Stenson

1758 Boo Weekley v Oliver Wilson

1809 JB Holmes v Soren Hansen

1820 Jim Furyk v Miguel Angel Jimenez

1831 Stewart Cink v Graeme McDowell

1842 Steve Stricker v Ian Poulter

1853 Ben Curtis v Lee Westwood

1904 Chad Campbell v Padraig Harrington

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