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2018 Ryder Cup pairings, preview and predictions for Friday

PARIS – Brooks Koepka and rookie Tony Finau will lead the Team USA lineup out in the 42nd Ryder Cup, taking on World No. 2 Justin Rose and high-powered Jon Rahm in the opening-session’s leadoff four-balls match. As U.S. Captain Jim Furyk noted, there’s a lot of firepower in that group. And the three matches behind them Friday should also be quite exciting.

Why Koepka and Finau out first? Furyk had asked Koepka about the opportunity earlier in the day, when he and Finau were practicing, and he obviously enjoyed the thought of it.

“I think we love the chemistry there,” Furyk said. “They both really jumped on it (the opportunity to go first), saw me out in practice today and made a beeline for me and said they would like that opportunity.

Tiger Woods will be in the anchor match of the morning session for the U.S., partnering with Captain America himself, Patrick Reed. They will play Open Championship winner Francesco Molinari and rookie Tommy Fleetwood.

“I think the fact that Tiger spent so much time with Jordan (Spieth) and Patrick the last couple years; their knowledge of each other's games, surely of Tiger knowing Patrick's game, helped a significant amount,” Furyk said. “You know, again, a number of different reasons. I think different styles of games, as well. I think, you know, Patrick's a guy that really enjoys that moment and enjoys that big stage, and Tiger's the one that brings it.”

Reed had been part of a very successful pairing with fellow Texan Jordan Spieth, but Spieth will play in the third match alongside his old pal Justin Thomas. Those two will face Englishmen Paul Casey and Tyrrell Hatton. In the morning’s second match, Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler will play Rory McIlroy and Thorbjorn Olesen.

European Captain Thomas Bjorn has five rookies to work into his lineup this week, and he’ll get all but one (Alex Noren, the 2018 French Open champion)out in the first session. Furyk is playing two of his three rookies, Thomas and Finau. Neither captain would disclose on Thursday whether he plans to play all 12 players on the first day, but with so many rookies playing early, there seems to be a good chance that will happen.

Here's a breakdown of morning four-balls matches and predictions for how we think the morning session will play out at Le Golf National: 

Match 1: Brooks Koepka-Tony Finau (U.S.) vs. Justin Rose-Jon Rahm (Europe), 8:10 a.m.

Koepka, the PGA Tour’s Player of the Year and a two-time major winner in 2018, joins up with rookie Tony Finau to lead off the powerful U.S. lineup, taking on freshly minted FedEx Cup champion Justin Rose, the World No. 2, and high-octane rookie Jon Rahm of Spain.

This match will feature four players ranked in the top 11 in birdies on the PGA Tour: Rose ranks second, and Rahm third. Koepka was eighth in birdie average, and Finau 11th. So lots of fireworks in this pairing, even on a difficult golf course.   

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Finau and Koepka hadn’t played much golf together until recently, but were paired during the FedEx Cup Playoffs and hit it off. They are two of the longest hitters on the PGA Tour, ranking fourth (Finau) and eighth (Koepka) in driving distance. 

Rose is one of the hottest players in the game, coming off top-10 finishes in eight of his last 10 starts, and was T-4 or better in three of his FedEx Cup Playoffs starts. He is 11-6-2 in the Ryder Cup. Rahm is No. 8 in the world.

Prediction: Rose-Rahm, 2 up

Match 2: Dustin Johnson-Rickie Fowler (U.S.) vs. Rory McIlroy-Thorbjorn Olesen (Europe), 8:25 a.m.

Dustin Johnson heads out with his South Florida neighbor, Rickie Fowler, who is looking to secure his first full point in Ryder Cup four-balls (he is 0-1-2). Johnson, a powerful player and three-time winner this season on the PGA Tour, leads the Tour in birdie average. He and Fowler have not paired previously.

McIlroy heads out with rookie Thorbjorn Oleson of Denmark at his side. There will be a lot of pressure on Olesen, the rookie in this match, and thus a lot of pressure on McIlroy to pull him along. He was able to do that two years ago when he paired with another rookie, Thomas Pieters. 

“I believe in this team, 1 through 12,” Thomas Bjorn said. “They (McIroy and Olesen) both wanted to play with each other. They get on really well. The thing about Thorbjorn is, he’ll go out in that match and really take it on, really enjoy it. He never ceases to amaze me in the way he approaches things.”

Prediction: Johnson-Fowler, 2 and 1

Match 3: Jordan Spieth-Justin Thomas (U.S.) vs. Paul Casey-Tyrrell Hatton (Europe) 8:40 a.m.

It was clear that Jordan Spieth was going to play with a partner other than Patrick Reed at some point in this Ryder Cup, so why not put him with his old pal from his junior days, 2017 PGA champion Justin Thomas? The two know each other very well. Thomas likes to partner with players whose games he knows, because he says he can almost serve as an extra caddie. He gets his wish here with Spieth. 

TEAMS AND COURSE: USA team roster | Europe team roster | Le Golf National course tour

Spieth did not have a very good season. He was the lone player on the U.S. side not to make it to the Tour Championship. He spent the week at home in Dallas practicing and working on his game, and knows a victory in the Ryder Cup could salvage a season. This should be a pairing that inspires him. 

Casey hasn’t played a Ryder Cup since 2008, a full decade, but getting back here means a lot to him. He has a 3-2-4 record. And he’ll be guiding rookie Tyrrell Hatton, a fellow Englishman who has great talent and plenty of fire. It will be interesting to see how Casey handles his mentor role with him.

Prediction: Spieth-Thomas, 4 and 3

Match 4: Tiger Woods-Patrick Reed (U.S.) vs. Francesco Molinari-Tommy Fleetwood (Europe), 8:55 a.m.

Tiger Woods makes his first Ryder Cup appearance in six years, and he does so alongside Patrick Reed, who arguably has been the best U.S. Ryder Cup player to come along in decades. (He has a record of 6-1-2.)

Reed and Jordan Spieth have formed a formidable partnership, so it was somewhat surprising that Furyk broke that up in the first match out. Perhaps Reed and Spieth will pair again in foursomes.

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Molinari was the best player on the planet this summer, winning the BMW International, The Greenbrier, and then the Open Championship at Carnoustie. He’s an excellent ballstriker who is streaky with the putter. 

Woods and Molinari were two of the key combatants at Carnoustie. Molinari came out on top, and Woods has a long memory. Will he be fresh after an emotional week in Atlanta? Molinari and Fleetwood are good friends, and it will be a comfortable pairing for Fleetwood in his first match. 

“It just doesn’t get any better,” Fleetwood said. “My first Ryder Cup match, I couldn’t pick anyone better. It’s a massive match, but they’re all going to be big. It’s down to what we do.”

Prediction: Molinari-Fleetwood, 2 and 1