Yes, the two captains participating in the 2018 Ryder Cup (Sept. 28-30) at Le Golf National outside Paris aren’t about to give away any secrets before the first tee shots are hit, meeting and filling in their pairings in top-secret gatherings behind closed doors. But here’s one writer’s educated guess on a handful of pairings you can expect to see in Paris.
Tiger Woods-Bryson DeChambeau (U.S.)
Tiger, 42, is set for his eighth Ryder Cup after that stirring victory at East Lake in the Tour Championship. This is Tiger's first Ryder Cup as a player since 2012. He has taken a liking to DeChambeau, a three-time winner in 2018 who will playing in his first Ryder Cup. DeChambeau, 25, has taken a different, more scientific approach to the game. Woods, for one, appreciates that. He says that all the great players in history have carved out their own distinctive paths in this game.
“He has figured out a way to play this game his own way,” Woods said of DeChambeau, “and he’s very efficient on what he does, and he’s not afraid to think outside the box on how he can become better.”
Woods and DeChambeau (and fellow Ryder Cup rookie Tony Finau) joined up for a practice round at East Lake before the Tour Championship. DeChambeau appreciates any knowledge he can glean from Woods.
"I mean, he's Tiger Woods," DeChambeau said. "So I respect him. I have the highest respect for him. ... He's been fantastic to me, and I can't thank him enough for being as nice as he has."
Brooks Koepka-Dustin Johnson (U.S.)
Power, meet power. U.S. Captain Jim Furyk could not find two more cooler gunslingers than Koepka and Johnson, who live near one another in South Florida, work out together, and have become close friends. When Koepka won the U.S. Open this summer at Shinnecock, he said Johnson would be one of the first to call, and he was.
These two are known for their length, which could be neutralized some by a golf course that makes it mandatory to keep a ball in the fairway. But if paired together in four-balls, Koepka and Johnson might be able to get one ball in play and take on some interesting risks/options with the other. Johnson ranks first in strokes gained: off the tee and strokes gained: total, is first in birdie average (4.74), and sixth in driving distance (314.2 yards); Koepka is sixth in strokes gained: off the tee, 15th in strokes gained: total, sixth in birdies and eighth in driving distance (313.0). They are ranked Nos. 2 (Koepka) and 3 in the world.
Henrik Stenson-Justin Rose (Europe)
This pairing came out of a lunch the two shared at the 2014 BMW Championship in Denver. As they looked toward Gleneagles, Rose’s longtime caddie, Mark Fulcher, suggested that the two play together. It made sense, they rang up Captain Paul McGinley, and he was glad he made it happen. The two went out and won their first three games in Scotland.
These two were former neighbors at the Lake Nona Club, and make a seasoned pair, the comfort level evident when they play foursomes together. Their talent level is world class, with major championships and gold (Rose) and silver (Stenson) Olympic medals validating that. Rose is coming into the Ryder Cup in nice form, having posted back-to-back runner-up finishes in the FedEx Cup Playoffs and taken over the No. 1 ranking in the world. Stenson struggled with injury this summer, but he is working hard to get his game ready. He and Rose are tough to beat.
Jordan Spieth-Patrick Reed (U.S.)
There has been discussion about Spieth branching out and playing with other partners at some point (Justin Thomas, perhaps?) but for now, there’s no reason to break these two apart. Since pairing at the 2014 Ryder Cup as rookies in 2014, these two have managed to post a 4-1-1 mark alongside one another.
Part of the magic? When they play four-balls, these two fiery Texans go out and try to beat each other every hole. Hey, it’s working pretty well, don’t you think? Spieth failed to make the Tour Championship for the first time in his career, so his week has been spent in Texas practicing. His putting was troublesome at the beginning of the season, but got better in the summer. Reed has had a quiet season since breaking through to capture the Masters, his first major. But he is simply a different player when he puts on the red, white and blue. Furyk jokes he may be captain, but Reed is Captain America.
Phil Mickelson-Tony Finau (U.S.)
Finau and DeChambeau are the U.S. team’s two “true” rookies (Justin Thomas is also a first-timer, technically, but he’s won a major and played in a Presidents Cup). So why not put the new guys alongside a couple of veterans such as Tiger and Phil?
Mickelson and Finau would make a formidable pairing in the four-balls. Mickelson, who is playing in his 12th Ryder Cup, ranks fourth in birdie average, and Finau ranks 11th.
"Any one of the 11 guys I'd love to play with, Phil included," Finau said on Wednesday. "I think he's obviously shown us he shines at the biggest moments, especially at the Ryder Cup. To have that opportunity to play with him would be extremely cool for me; and to be on a team with Tiger and Phil is really cool for me."
Rory McIlroy-Jon Rahm (Europe)
McIlroy will become the first player to have won four majors and play in five Ryder Cups by the age of 30. He’s a seasoned leader on the European side. He did a terrific job guiding first-time Ryder Cupper Thomas Pieters around Hazeltine in a losing effort two years ago (they went 3-0 as a team). So why not put another birdie-making rookie aside him this time in Spaniard Jon Rahm?
Both players are intense competitors and a pairing with the two will be interesting to watch. Rahm sometimes lets his emotions ride too high and get in the way, and you can bet he’ll be charged up at Le Golf. McIlroy might be the perfect influence alongside him to keep his emotions in check and channeled in a positive way.
Justin Thomas-Rickie Fowler (U.S.)
These two are good friends who live in close proximity and play lots of golf together at home in Jupiter, Fla., so they make a natural pairing. The two gave it a try at last fall’s Presidents Cup and were unbeaten (2-0-1) in three matches.
Thomas is third in strokes gained: tee to green, strokes gained: approach the green, and strokes gained: total. He ranks first in eagles (holes per, at one per 82.6 holes) and fifth in birdie average. Fowler is 11th in strokes gained: total and ranks 17th in birdies. They both can be aggressive and are good putters. And their personalities work well together, Thomas playing with more fire, Fowler the more level, calm and collected one.
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Fowler considers himself a “rover” in team play and can branch off and play with most anyone (he has paired with Phil Mickelson before). Don’t be surprised to see Thomas get a game with Tiger Woods at some point.
The Englishmen (Europe)
Thomas Bjorn has some nice options on his team with five English players. If you figure Rose will pair with Stenson, at least for one of the formats, it still would allow Bjorn to make two English pairings if he so chooses, mixing two veterans with two first-time Ryder Cup players.
Paul Casey and Tommy Fleetwood played together earlier this season in the EurAsia Cup, which Europe won (and in which Fleetwood went 3-0). Ian Poulter, who has been called the heartbeat of the European team (along with Sergio Garcia), could help to guide rookie and fellow Englishmen Tyrrell Hatton around Le Golf National. Hatton is a very good putter who sometimes can go off the rails with is emotions. In such a tense environment, who better to put him alongside than Poulter, Mr. Ryder Cup himself?
Bubba Watson-Webb Simpson (U.S.)
The long-hitting Watson, a three-time winner in 2017-18, and Simpson, who has not only overcome his putting woes, but has become one of the more consistent putters on the PGA Tour, could re-enact a pairing from 2012 at Medinah that produced a pair of blowout victories in four-balls play.
Both players are excited to get back to the Ryder Cup after not playing two year ago, when the U.S. won at Hazeltine, and eager to erase a poor opening-match performance together at Gleneagles four years ago. In 2016, Simpson was busy trying to figure out his putting after the U.S. Golf Association's ban on the anchored putting stroke, something he had done since he was in college. Watson wasn't chosen for the team despite being in the top 10 in the world. In a generous gesture, he texted Captain Davis Love III and said he still wanted to be part of the team at Hazeltine in some way. So he was added as a vice-captain. Brandt Snedeker credited Watson with helping him to get around his matches with success.
"Playing with Bubba again, that would be nice," said Simpson. "I love playing with him, and we’ve had good success in the past. I definitely love that thought."