Two's company: Potential European Pairings
The Ryder Cup has thrown together some remarkable pairings over the years, from Ballesteros and Olazabal to Faldo and Woosnam, Clarke and Westwood. But who will Captain Olazabal pair together at Medinah?
For the team historically regarded as underdogs, it has in the past been the unique camaraderie of the Europeans that that has galvanised individuals into a team of world – or in this case – American beaters. And with it, Ryder Cup golf has thrown together some remarkable pairings over the years.
These formidable duos have come in all shapes and sizes since the introduction of Continental European players to the line-up in 1979, and in doing so, a team was formed that to this day remains the only one in mainstream sport to pit European sportsmen side by side under one flag.
And when you put it like that, it is no wonder that sparks tend to fly every couple of years, but what is it that makes a truly great Ryder Cup pairing?
Maybe it is a mixture of age and experience offering a guiding hand to the youthful exuberance of a rookie. As a case in point, Europe’s record points scorer Nick Faldo led a then inexperienced Lee Westwood to both a fourball and foursomes point at Valderrama in 1997.
Or perhaps it is two old heads putting to good use their years of experience, with no greater example than that than when Ryder Cup legends Colin Montgomerie and Bernhard Langer came together in 2002 at The Belfry to collect two and a half points out of a possible three.
But you cannot talk legendary pairings without making mention of the most successful Ryder Cup partnership of all time in the original swashbuckling Spaniards, the late Seve Ballesteros and this year’s Captain, José María Olazábal, who amassed an amazing 12 points from 15 matches together.
With all of this in mind, the big question that faces the man at the helm of Team Europe in 2012 is just who to pick, and below we have a few suggestions.
Foursomes is first up on Friday morning and there are no two golfers in the European line-up with better records in this format than Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia, the former having earned six points from six outings while the latter has only surrendered half a point in nine foursomes matches in his entire Ryder Cup career.
It would be no surprise, therefore, if these two names featured somewhere on Olazábal’s opening team sheet come Thursday afternoon, and considering that they have won four out of four together as a foursomes pair they will almost certainly be coupled together.
Alongside this twosome many would expect to see the all-English pair of Justin Rose, and Mr Ryder Cup, Ian Poulter, who together won two out of three points together at Valhalla in 2008. Both are comfortable playing golf in America, having also plied their trade on the US PGA Tour for a number of years, and with their friendship dating back to their early years on Tour it would be no surprise if they were pitted beside each other once more at Medinah.
As a veteran of the European Team and a man with proven pedigree as one of the most accurate hitters in the game, Lee Westwood would be expected to start, but his potential partner is perhaps less clear.
Francesco Molinari is playing in his second Ryder Cup and having looked in fine form all summer - largely thanks to his immaculate long game - he is an ideal candidate to be paired with Westwood. As is Peter Hanson, who is fresh off a win at the KLM Open to solidify a breakout year for the Swede during which he led his first Major Championship after 54 holes at the Masters Tournament. Johnnie Walker Championship winner and renaissance man Paul Lawrie, meanwhile, is also an ideal candidate to play alongside Westwood.
Last but not least there is World Number One, and US PGA Champion, Rory McIlroy, who most will expect to see paired against his countryman and Celtic Manor hero Graeme McDowell. They contributed one and a half points together from a possible three in 2010, and will be strong contenders for an opening berth come Friday morning in Illinois.
Moving onto the afternoon fourballs, with the expectation that everyone will play on day one in Chicago, big hitting Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts – the only European rookie in 2012 – will be sure to play as he looks to take on the daunting length of Medinah’s No. 3 Course. Pairing him with the experience of Westwood could make sense, as the Englishman’s cool temperament could help to harness Colsaerts’ gung-ho style and inevitable nerves.
Garcia will possibly feature again here having carved out an impressive fourball record in his European career, winning six and a half points from ten matches, while Martin Kaymer, in his only appearance at Celtic Manor, is two for two in this format and coming back into form in just the nick of time. These two would certainly make for a very exciting pair.
Lawrie with Hanson is another potential pairing that would make a lot of sense. Both men have strong records in this type of golf and are in excellent form, while the final duo could once again be the Northern Irish pair of McIlroy and McDowell – of whom much will be expected of again.
Based in some fact, plus a certain degree of conjecture, that should give a feel for the kind of pairings that might be on the mind of Captain Olazábal as we edge ever closer to Friday’s opening session, but what do the fans of @RyderCupTeamEUR on Twitter expect to be the line-up come the first set of foursomes?
@alex_crawford: G-Mac & Rory, Sergio & Lee, Colsaerts w/ Poults & Justin w/ Luke
@Doc_jero: GMac-Rory, Donald-Garcia, Westwood-Molinari, Poulter-Rose
@Donsy_27: McIlroy/McDowell Rose/Poulter Donald/Garcia Westwood/Molinari
@Johnmc72: Poulter & Rose, Rory & GMac, Lee & Lawrie, Donald & Garcia
@andykenny77: P.Hanson & L.Donald, L.Westwood & S.Garcia, Poults & J.Rose, Rory & G.Mac
So there you have it, a hypothetical glace at what we might expect as the excitement builds ahead of the first session of play next Friday morning at Medinah Country Club.