After years of preparation, one postponement, speculation around playing behind closed doors and speculation around whether it would be played at all, the 2020 Ryder Cup is finally here, in 2021, at Whistling Straits.
The longest pre-amble in golf is at an end and with it, the opening foursomes matches are mere hours away. With rumours abound all week surrounding the pairings of both Captains, after a lengthy opening ceremony it was finally revealed that the Spanish duo of Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia would get the ball rolling against the All-American juggernaut of Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth [1.05pm Irish].
The Friday morning pairings.
— Ryder Cup (@rydercup) September 23, 2021
Captain Padraig Harrington will hope the all-Spanish pairing will emulate the legendary duo of Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal who set the bar by winning 12 points from 15 matches during their historic Ryder Cup career.
It would be wrong to think that Rahm and Garcia share the same fraternal bond as the iconic pair of Seve and Olazabal but you have to start somewhere and where better than Whistling Straits with the Europeans in desperate need of a fast start in the team competitions where they ordinarily excel.
Match 2 is another intriguing contest that pits Norwegian first-time Viktor Hovland and England veteran Paul Casey against Dustin Johnson and Collin Morikawa. Casey has waxed lyrical about the atmosphere in the European camp all week and alongside the fearless Hovland, the duo should make things difficult for what looks like a marquee American pairing.
Match 3 sees compatriots Lee Westwood and Matt Fitzpatrick take on Brooks Koepka and Daniel Berger in what many observers believe is the mis-match of the opening session. However, if reports on the ground at Whistling Straits are to be believed, then the English duo have played themselves into a pairing worth trusting, impressing all week during windy practice and on links-like turf that should suit them.
Their task has been made no easier, however, after Koepka blasted the media ahead of Friday’s foursomes for spinning his pre-tournament comments around the Ryder Cup in a negative light. Koepka had been vocal about his misgivings towards the biennial contest but he insists he was only suggesting it was different, not bad.
“I wouldn’t be nervous on the first tee if I didn’t care,” Koepka says, who might just be playing with a chip on his shoulder this week, and a wounded animal can be a dangerous proposition.
The last match is sure to be another hotly contested affair with Ian Poulter and Rory McIlroy pairing up for the fifth time in their Ryder Cup careers to face-off against Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele.
It’s the fourth Ryder Cup in which the Postman and McIlroy have played at least one session together having put two and a half points on the board for Europe thus far. The pair will hope to make experience count against their U.S. rookie rivals with McIlroy especially excited to team-up again with Poulter in the anchor match of the morning session.
“Really excited,” said McIlroy. “It’s almost been a decade that Poults and I have been playing in this thing, all the way back to 2012. Yeah, we’ve put points on the board for Europe which is really important but we’ve also had a lot of fun doing it. So we are going to go out there this week and enjoy ourselves and play our absolute hearts out and try to put points on the board for our team.”
For Shane Lowry, his Ryder Cup debut will have to wait until the afternoon fourballs with Harrington letting slip that all 12 players will play on the opening day in Wisconsin. That means the guessing games will recommence around pairings for session two with Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton and the third debutant Bernd Wiesberger all waiting in the wings.
For now though, the focus is on the foursomes. Three years since Le Golf National and with a pandemic in between, that’s precisely where it should be. In the grand scheme of things, Ryder Cups don’t come around all that often. Ryder Cups involving two standout Irish players and a Captain who’s arguably the country’s greatest ever sportsman are even more rare. Treasure it. Enjoy it. Support the team, so let’s go Europe!
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