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Suspense ends as captains unveil their first-day Ryder Cup lineups
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Team USA Captain Paul Azinger and his European counterpart, Nick Faldo, appeared to have similar philosophies in putting together their lineups for the opening Foursomes at the 37th Ryder Cup.
Both led with strength and saved another powerhouse team to bat clean-up at Valhalla as the Americans try to end a three-match losing streak.
Phil Mickelson and Anthony Kim will open for Team USA against Padraig Harrington and Robert Karlsson at 8:05 a.m. ET. Mickelson and Harrington are both three-time major champions, with the Irishman taking the last two of 2008, while Karlsson was a winner on the European Tour just last Sunday.
"It's going to be exciting," Harrington said. "First tee in the Ryder Cup is always nervous. First match heightens it a little bit."
"Mickelson and Kim is one of, if not the, Americans' strongest pairing and obviously they want to them go out early on and get it going, and that's the plan for us as well -- to get some momentum," he said.
And the final match at 8:50 a.m. should get the home crowd rocking as Kenny Perry and Jim Furyk face Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood. Kentucky fans may be disappointed not to see J.B. Holmes with Perry, but clearly this match is a formidable challenge.
Garcia is unbeaten in eight matches of alternate-shot competition at the Ryder Cup. Two of those foursomes wins came with Westwood, and the two have a 2-1-1 mark together in fourball. Garcia called the European pairing "fabulous."
Azinger sees the match as a golden opportunity for his two veterans.
"When you go out and play a guy who's never lost, you're going to have everything to gain and nothing to lose," he said. "I couldn't have drawn that up any better, I don't feel. To have Jim Furyk and Kenny Perry play against those two guys, I like that a lot."
Rounding out the other foursomes, Justin Leonard and Hunter Mahan face big-hitting Europeans Henrik Stenson and Paul Casey at 8:20 a.m., while Americans Stewart Cink and Chad Campbell battle long-time friends Justin Rose and Ian Poulter at 8:35.
"I spoke to them yesterday and their eyes came alive, so that was a nice moment for me," Faldo said of the English duo who finished fourth in the World Cup last year.
Rose said Cink had developed into a "real hardcore competitor for the American side" and paid tribute to the Campbell's ball-striking. Poulter, who was roundly criticized for skipping the final European Tour qualifying event, said the chance to play with his long-time friend "totally made up for the last three or four weeks."
"When you see it on paper, all the hullaballo and peripheral stuff goes out the wind and it's me and Poults against these two," said Rose, who used to room when Poulter on the road when the two started their pro career. "It's going to be awesome."
Azinger said Mickelson called him as soon as the 23-year-old Kim, who won two PGA Tour events this year, locked up his spot on Team USA. Mickelson, and several others, Azinger was quick to add.
"I said, 'Way to go out on a limb, Phil. You want Anthony, really?'" he recalled with a smile. "So I granted his wish for this first go-around. They got paired together a couple of times in some of this (FedExCup) Playoffs stuff. They know each other pretty well."
Kim is one of six rookies on Team USA but Azinger had no qualms about sending him off first with Mickelson, a veteran of six Ryder Cups.
"This guy made the clinching putt at the Walker Cup," Azinger said. "I'm not worried about him. The guy has won two tournaments this year on the two hardest courses we play all season. I have a lot of confidence in Anthony Kim. I like my first pairing."
Azinger said he paired Mickelson with the electric and energetic Kim was simply to honor a request. He wasn't trying to light a fire under Mickelson, who has won just 1 1/2 points in the last two Ryder Cups, which resulted in lopsided U.S. losses.
In fact, Azinger is only looking to the future. That's why he changed the automatic qualification process to include money earned in the current year and arranged for four captain's picks, rather than two.
"As far as anything that's happened in the past, I can't emphasize enough that if you dwell on the past, especially in this game, you're not going to be very successful," Azinger said.
"In the end, you have two pretty big thrashing, so what do you do? You make the necessary adjustments to try to win the rematch. In Ryder Cup, the rematch doesn't always mean the same players. I just don't see why I would look to the past. We're all about what's going on here and now, and the group we have together.
"I've got both hands on the steering wheel," he added. "I'm trying to do everything right, dot the Is and cross all the ts and it's like drawing back a bow string. For two years now, I've been pulling that string back and now I've got to let it you. I just hope I've got it pointed in the right direction. What more can I do?"
|Friday's Foursomes Matches|