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Analysis: Morning should presage tight week

PGA.com
Analysis: Morning should presage tight week
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Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker will anchor the morning pairings for Team USA.(Getty Images)

By Steve Eubanks, PGA.com

MEDINAH, Ill. -- There are only two American major champions this year. And both are sitting on the bench in the opening session of the Ryder Cup. So is the Players Champion and one of the hottest guys in the latter half of the season.

Masters winner Bubba Watson and U.S. Open champ Webb Simpson, who played most of their practice rounds together and seemed like a perfect pair from the moment they set foot on Medinah, will miss the morning session, a decision Captain Davis Love III characterized as "surreal."

But no more surreal than sitting Matt Kuchar, the reigning Players Champion and one of the best iron players in the game, and Dustin Johnson, one of the hottest players on the planet since the PGA Championship.

"We had a tough decision and it wasn't on who to send out, it was on who to sit down," Love said. "I had to talk to four of my guys and somehow come up with a rational explanation of why they weren't going to play."

Love kept referring back to his "plan" and saying that he intended to stick with it, even referencing an old coach from his days at North Carolina.

"Dean Smith just ran his offense," Love said. "And he ran it and ran it and ran it until the game was over. And I think that's what we're going to do. We have a plan, we have some great players and we are just going to let them play until we run out of holes."

Yes, but Dean Smith didn't start the championship game with Michael Jordan and James Worthy on the bench.

"Obviously the first tee on Friday morning of the Ryder Cup is going to be a pretty exciting, loud place," Love said. "We wanted some guys that we felt could handle that situation and that wanted to get out of the gate and get going."

The opening sessions look, on paper at least, to be as exciting as everyone expected.

7:20 a.m.: Jim Furyk/Brandt Snedeker vs. Rory McIlroy/Graeme McDowell

Three of these four were battling it out near the top of the leaderboard at the Tour Championship. Furyk led at the end of the day last Friday, and McIlroy started the final round only two shots back. Snedeker shared the lead on Saturday and stretched it to three shots by the end of Sunday, so these guys are accustomed to slugging it out.

But an 18-hole alternate-shot match to 72 holes of stroke play is like sending a starting pitcher out to close a game in the bottom of the ninth. Snedeker never looked at a leaderboard in Atlanta. On Friday, he'll have no choice. The leaderboard will be playing right next to him.

Advantage Europeans in match one.

7:35 a.m.: Phil Mickelson/Keegan Bradley vs. Luke Donald/Sergio Garcia

Three of the most passionate and emotional men in these matches: Mickelson and Bradley have played every practice round together and seemed to enjoy their foursome sessions. But Garcia is hot and hungry. After serving as an assistant captain in 2010, he played his way onto this team and cannot wait to get back out.

The quiet guy in this group is Donald, former No.1 player in the world and a superb putter.

The advantage in this one has to go to the Americans, as Mickelson and Bradley are kindred spirits who will hit it farther, find more fairways, and have shorter irons into the greens. In theory, that should yield shorter birdie putts, which skews the odds in their favor.

7:50 a.m.: Jason Dufner/Zach Johnson vs. Lee Westwood/Francesco Molinari

This one is a toss-up. Johnson and Dufner are in a battle with Jim Furyk for the title of Shortest Hitter on the U.S. team, so they will give up yardage to Molinari and Westwood. But Westwood's putting has been spotty in late summer and Molinari can get down on himself if he loses a couple of holes.

Call this one a halve.

8:05 a.m.: Steve Stricker/Tiger Woods vs. Ian Poulter/Justin Rose

This is the one everyone will want to see. Poulter is the new Colin Montgomerie, the Englishman every American loves to hate. And he and Woods have a history. Poulter has disparaged Tiger at various points in their careers, which is like poking a dangerous animal in a flimsy cage.

On the other side, no two players are more mild-mannered and likable than Stricker and Rose.

This one will be fire and ice. But you have to give the edge to the Americans in a close one.

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