The wait is finally over. We have official pairings for the first session of the 44th Ryder Cup. And now the instance analysis can begin. Here’s a breakdown of Friday morning’s opening fourball session, exploring the four matches and what we can expect when play is under way
Scottie Scheffler/Sam Burns (US) v Jon Rahm/Tyrrell Hatton (Europe)
Record in foursomes: Scheffler (0-0-0), Burns (rookie); Rahm (2-0-0), Hatton (0-1-0)
US outlook: Zach Johnson clearly isn’t messing about, jumping straight in with the World No. 1 and his closest pal on the US team. Still, it comes with question marks. The pair lost both foursomes (and a fourball) matches at last year’s Presidents Cup. Hardly the most auspicious record, but one which will surely have incentivised the good friends to do much better this time round.
European outlook: You get the feeling Luke Donald saw something like the opening American pair coming. Hence his own start with one of the strongest pairs Europe has to offer. Rahm is the only one of the four participants who has won a Ryder Cup foursomes match. And Hatton is one of the steadiest players on the team. On paper at least, this is a formidable — and temperamental — partnership.
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Max Homa/Brian Harman (US) v Viktor Hovland/Ludvig Aberg (Europe)
Record in foursomes: Homa (rookie), Harman (rookie); Hovland (0-2-0), Aberg (rookie)
US outlook: Edge to the Americans, sort of, in a match-up of players with little to no experience. Among the four, only Homa has foursomes success as a pro, going 2-0 in last year’s Presidents Cup. He’ll have a good partner in Harman, the Open Championship winner, who already is familiar with handling a tough crowd. Each is among the top putters on the US side. Homa will need to be on with his strong approach game.
European outlook: No surprise that Donald put the solid ball-striking pair of Hovland and Aberg together, particularly given their shared Scandinavian heritage. Hovland lost both foursomes matches two years ago at Whistling Straits with partners Paul Casey and Bernd Wiesberger, and Aberg gets an immediate (and thus possibly surprising?) baptism. Bet he handles it just fine. Both men showed strong form and won big events late in the season. All in all, this is a solid match-up.
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Rickie Fowler/Collin Morikawa (US) v Sepp Straka/Shane Lowry (Europe)
Record in foursomes: Fowler (1-3-2), Morikawa (2-0-0), Straka (Rookie), Lowry (0-0-0)
US outlook: This is a surprising pairing on both sides — the two California natives are teaming up for the first time — but Fowler is possibly the most surprising inclusion of all. Foursomes has been his worst format in previous Ryder Cup appearances, with just one win in six matches. Morikawa played in both foursomes sessions in his first Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits, winning twice with Dustin Johnson. Apparently the statistical models are seeing something appealing in this pairing. Needless to say, that will be put to the test in the third match.
European outlook: Like Fowler, Lowry is a bit of a head-scratcher only because in his only previous Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits, he never played a foursomes session (he went 1-1 in two fourball matches before losing to Patrick Cantlay in singles). Nevertheless, the former Open champion will serve as the sherpa for rookie Straka, the 30-year-old Austrian who has spent large parts of his life in the US and will look to duplicate the form that saw him win the John Deere Classic and stage a strong FedEx Cup playoff run. The two were paired together twice in the practice sessions this week at Marco Simone, and the big question will be whether Lowry, whose form has been middling at best for much of the year, can find his form to give Europe a fighting chance in a sneakily important match.
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Xander Schauffele/Patrick Cantlay (US) v Rory McIlroy/Tommy Fleetwood (Europe)
Record in foursomes: Schauffele (2-0-0), Cantlay (2-0-0); McIlroy (5-5-1), Fleetwood (2-0-0)
US outlook: If the Ryder Cup gave out tag-team championship belts like professional wrestling does (and let’s be honest, the Ryder Cup should absolutely do this), Schauffele and Cantlay are the reigning champs. The American super-duo are undefeated in foursomes play in their careers together at the Ryder and Presidents Cups, racking up a 5-0-0 record over three events. With the questions around Justin Thomas’ play, the Schauffele-Cantlay combo will need to be the pair the Americans can count on for at least three sessions. They are two of the better players in the world from tee to green, and Schauffele has been lights out this year on the greens (third in SG/putting). If there is any pair that will be unfazed by playing in front of the crowds that will follow McIlroy, it’s this one. In that same breath, an early blow to this American duo could quickly put the US in a bad spot. It’s only one point out of 28, but it’s a point that could mean a heck of a lot for the Americans to grab.
European outlook: As much as McIlroy is associated with this event, he has lost seven of his last 10 matches dating back to the Sunday at the 2016 match at Hazeltine National. Certainly, that is not all indicative of his play, but Europe desperately need him to be at his best. The good thing for Europe is McIlroy enters in fine form, ranking behind only Scottie Scheffler in terms of true strokes gained over the past six months. In that same breath, pairing McIlroy with Fleetwood is one way to get McIlroy off on the right foot. Not only is Fleetwood undefeated in foursomes, but his ball-striking is the type of dependability wished out of a partner. If there is a question mark with these two it’s their putting, both which can be suspect at times. Conversely, Marco Simone’s greens aren’t the fiercest and Europe historically slows the putting surfaces down at home events, which should negate whatever woes Fleetwood and McIlroy theoretically encounter.
Main image: Ramsey Cardy