Unbeaten pair Europe's bankers

  • By: Ben Coley
  • Last Updated: September 28 2012, 9:15 BST

Our Ben Coley previews the first session of the Ryder Cup and fancies Europe to get off to an all-important fast start.

McIlroy and McDowell should win the opener

So far, so good for Europe.

The opening ceremony for the 39th Ryder Cup was, well, it was rather awkward. In fact, I'm not even sure it actually happened. There was this bloke who used to be in N-Sync, someone who won X Factor or something... no, it must have been a mirage.

Then there was the fashion contest. Always intriguing and usually won by a landslide, this year's first round was close, with Europe edging it because their jackets didn't reflect the sun.

And, to serious business, Europe won the battle of the speeches, too. Captain Jose Maria Olazabal struck exactly the right chord with his emotional offering, and while Davis Love III's speech was solid, there was no doubt that the Spaniard came out on top.

All that remained was for the captains to name their line-ups for this morning's foursomes, and to my mind this represented Europe's biggest success. I have to admit to being very surprised by two of Love's pairings, and the bookies agree. Europe were 2/1 outsiders to win the session prior to the announcement, and now they're 6/4 favourites.

Before we delve into each of the four matches, it's important at this point to take something of a reality check. However these teams played out, Europe were always going to have all the stats in the book to make them favourites - the European team, as has always been clear, own superior Ryder Cup records.

And it's too easy to ignore home advantage once we get into the action. The build-up has seen most comment that playing in front of the home crowds is one of the USA's biggest advantages this week, and that hasn't changed regardless of our thoughts on the individuals involved.

So, with that firmly in mind, here's my match-by-match guide to what could be a crucial opening session.

Snedeker & Furyk v McIlroy & McDowell

The first USA pairing that surprised me. Captain Love has made Medinah long and without rough, playing into the hands of his bombers, and yet he's left two of them out and starts his attack with relative short hitters Snedeker and Furyk.

It makes sense to send Snedeker out with a seasoned pro, but for all his qualities Furyk has lost half of his Ryder Cup foursomes matches, winning just three from 10, and it may be that the rookie has to take the lead here - his holing of putts is crucial.

We all knew that McDowell and McIlroy would pair up. They played together three times in 2010, winning one of their foursomes matches, losing the other, and halving their opening fourball.

Then, though, McIlroy remained full of promise. Now he's the real deal. The world number one is exactly that and he's the best player in this tournament. He showed with his run to the WGC Accenture Match Play final that he can carry his game to any format and don't forget he holed a six-foot putt to gain a half-point in the singles two years ago.

The concern here would be McDowell's form, but I'd expect him to leave that behind now back on Ryder Cup duty and he can be below best and still win, if McIlroy continues the form he's shown over the last two months.

My feeling here is that if Europe can edge ahead early, they'll go on and win this well. I can see them running out convincing winners, and evens is a fine price.

Verdict: Europe 3&2

Mickelson & Bradley v Garcia & Donald

I don't know what to make of Mickelson and Bradley. Good friends, yes, and massive talents who have won majors that their opponents crave, but do they work in this format? The jury is out there, although Mickelson's recet upturn in form has come very much at the right time.

Bradley was unfortunate not to make the Presidents Cup team last year and that means he's short of experience in this sort of event; unlike so many before him, Bradley did not cut his teeth in the Walker Cup.

Still, we've learned already not to underestimate Keegan and alongside Mickelson this is clearly a dangerous combination, in some ways not dissimilar to Mickelson and Anthony Kim, who combined for 1-1-1 in the 2008 Ryder Cup.

On paper, Garcia and Donald rate Europe's strongest pairing. Neither has ever lost a foursomes match, a quite remarkable record considering Garcia has played nine and Donald six, and they've won every time they've played this format together.

Mickelson saw how dangerous these opponents are when beaten alongside David Toms in 2006, while they also combined to beat Tiger Woods and Furyk that year, and the formbook suggests that Europe should be odds-on to win again.

Verdict: Europe 2&1

Z Johnson & Dufner v Westwood and Molinari

Perhaps the most surprising pairings from both sides.

Zach Johnson is as tough as they come, but he's lost two and won just one of his four foursomes matches, and his solid overall profile is due to his 1-0-0 fourballs record and 1-1-0 stats in singles.

One of the hottest putters on the American side, he'll benefit from the exceptional ball-striking of Jason Dufner, that's if the laid back rookie can bring that to the biggest of all stages.

For me, Dufner has gone slightly off the boil of late and, although he says this course suits his eye, I'd have preferred to see him alongside a bigger hitter who can take the pressure off his long game somewhat.

There will be no better ball-striking pairing all week than Molinari and Westwood, make no mistake about that.

And, were this at Celtic Manor, or even Oakland Hills, I'd have them as backable odds-on favourites. But we've all read the professionals label this a putting contest, and we all know that neither Molinari nor Westwood excel on the greens.

Of course, once the Ryder Cup starts, stats go out of the window. Colin Montgomerie, don't forget, was never known for his brilliance on the greens, that is until he strode out as Europe's talisman.

It has to be said, though, that Molinari hasn't yet won a match in the Ryder Cup and although he's only played three and is a better player than two years ago, it puts me off Europe.

Westwood and Molinari get on well and they could hit all 18 greens here, but if Johnson gets hot on the greens they could do so and still lose. Ultimately, it's too close to call.

Verdict: Match halved

Woods & Stricker v Poulter & Rose

What a match this is set to be.

Woods and Stricker won one and lost one of their foursomes matches together two years ago, but the defeat was an absolute hiding from Westwood and Donald and they suffered the same fate at the hands of KJ Choi and Adam Scott in last year's Presidents Cup.

That said, they own two of the strongest overall records in this American team and Tiger's game is arguably in the best shape it's been for three years, and certainly better than it was before he top-scored for his team in the last Ryder Cup.

Stricker has gone off the boil a tad in the second half of the season and that's a slight concern, but Tiger is hitting a lot of irons close at the moment and Stricker is the man to take advantage.

Everyone knows about Ian Poulter and the Ryder Cup. They also know that he has formed a strong bond with Justin Rose.

But Poulter has lost three Ryder Cup matches, and two have been against Woods. Furthermore, the other came in the opening foursomes the last time the Ryder Cup was played in the USA, and he was alongside Rose.

This match more than any of the others may come down to early momentum, but I can't see Europe winning from behind whereas I can the USA and this should be a home win.

Verdict: USA 2&1

Summary

The best bet just has to be Garcia and Donald at evens. The formbook says they should be odds-on, and while Bradley and Mickelson could really hit it off, they'll have to just to be competitive if Donald and Garcia produce their best.

I also like McDowell and McIlroy along with Stricker and Woods, and the double pays around 3/1 which looks well worth taking.

Match three is very hard to call and there could be some mileage in the tie, priced at a general 6/1, but I'll steer clear.


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